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Apparently Ohio still prohibits transportation of alcohol (even for personal use) across its state lines, without a license ("H permit"), while Pennsylvania legalized it in 2015/2016 and Iowa was considering doing the same in 2018.

Even in states where (and when) it was still illegal, these laws are apparently hard to enforce (and also unknown to many).

Is there a more complete picture in which US state transporting alcohol into the state is still illegal even for personal use, without a license?


Grovkin's answer centers on Granholm v. Heald, but this probably not sufficient to completely answer the question. E.g. a 2011 NYT article mentions that

In the six years since [Granholm v. Heald], several states have liberalized their wine laws. But many restrictions remain.

Alabama oenophiles can order wine only from an out-of-state producer if they have received written approval from the state’s Beverage Control Board. Wineries can ship into Indiana and Delaware only to consumers who have visited the winery and made a purchase in person. In 37 states, residents are prohibited from ordering wine from online retailers or auction houses or even joining wine-of-the-month clubs.

Possibly such states are prolonging their lucrative tax advantage while waiting to be sued following Granholm v. Heald, or the latter decision doesn't fully cover the need to acquire a license to transport alcohol across a state border.

The Wikipedia article that Grovking linked/quoted also mentions that

Different states have enacted different regulations. An editorial article on the commercial wine selling web site Appelation America says that many of the conditions in these regulations are either so complex or so expensive as to discourage wineries from complying.

Which seems to imply that a [state] license is still needed for on-line sales (including from out-of-state wineries). Given that, presumably states can still require a transportation [across state border] license as well, if their laws require one, despite Granholm v. Heald. Also, the Pennsylvania and Iowa press articles on liberalizing their transportation laws don't mention Granholm v. Heald at all.

And we're getting into a big aside here, but even for direct shipment, on which better information can be found on-line

The majority of states have statutory provisions that allow for out-of-state manufacturers to ship alcoholic beverages directly to consumers. The majority of states restrict the direct shipments to wine.

Out of the 54 states, territories and commonwealths, three states—Alabama, Oklahoma and Utah—specifically prohibit the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers. Mississippi, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands do not have statutes that specify that direct shipments are allowed. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have had statutes ruled unconstitutional by state courts in those states.

Delaware have statutory provisions that require orders to be processed and shipped through licensed wholesalers. Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina have statutory provisions that allow wine to be shipped into the state when purchased by the customer on-site at the winery. Rhode Island allows intoxicating beverages to be shipped when purchased on-site.

Five states—Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Nebraska and New Hampshire—and the District of Columbia authorize the direct shipment of all spirits as specified. Eight states allow the direct shipment of beer and wine as specified: Delaware, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia. The remaining states only allow direct wine shipments.

And note that being able to ship doesn't mean no license is required for that, e.g.

Tex. Alcoholic Beverage Code Ann. §16.09

(a) The holder of a winery permit may ship wine to the ultimate consumer, including ultimate consumers located in dry areas. Delivery must be by the holder of a carrier permit.

This doesn't answer my question about personal transportation though. Texas does have a personal transportation exemption, but is pretty convoluted, still requiring a Texas tax even without a permit:

Sec. 107.07. IMPORTATION FOR PERSONAL USE; [...]. (a) A person may import not more than 24 12-ounce bottles or an equivalent quantity of malt beverages, 3 gallons of wine, and 1 gallon of distilled spirits for the person's own personal use without being required to hold a permit. A person importing alcoholic beverages into the state under this subsection must pay the state tax on alcoholic beverages and an administrative fee of $3 and must affix the required tax stamps. [...] A person importing alcoholic beverages under this subsection must personally accompany the alcoholic beverages as the alcoholic beverages enter the state. A person may not use the exemptions set forth in this subsection more than once every thirty days.

Perhaps worth mentioning: Texas gives in Sec. 107.11. an exemption from the 107.07(a) tax & quota for the "IMPORTATION OF PERSONAL COLLECTION" of someone relocating their household into the state.

So in view of the latter, I guess a better question would be (rather than outright import ban without a license/permit): how many states require a state [alcohol] tax even on [personal] transports for personal use?

  • @grovkin What does this have to do with taxes? For that matter, it doesn't have anything to do with international trade either. – Brythan Jun 8 at 0:20
  • @Brythan states only prohibit import of alcohol to avoid state taxes on it. Ok, I should say "can potentially prohibit because it would allow avoiding state taxes", but I don't think I need to be careful in a comment. – grovkin Jun 8 at 0:22
  • While that could be a reason to prohibit transportation, that's not discussed in the question. If you have citations for that, then it would make more sense to put it in an answer than a tag. As a tag, it sort of eliminates the need for the question. – Brythan Jun 8 at 0:27
  • @Brythan I can edit as a hypothetical into the question, but any good answer would have to at least address this point even if it's not mentioned in the question. – grovkin Jun 8 at 0:29
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    I wonder if this isn't a question better suited for Law.se? – ouflak Jun 8 at 10:12
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The main motivation that states have for making importing of liquor from out of state illegal, both for commercial re-sellers and for individual consumers, is protectionism. Consumers buying and bringing liquor from out of state would also be avoiding in-state liquor taxes.

The last time (until this time) SCOTUS took up the issue of whether a liquor product can be sold across state lines was in 2005.

Wikipedia page for Granholm v. Heald states

Granholm v. Heald, 544 U.S. 460 (2005), was a court case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in a 5–4 decision that ruled that laws in New York and Michigan that permitted in-state wineries to ship wine directly to consumers, but prohibited out-of-state wineries from doing the same, were unconstitutional.

Based on the Dormant Commerce Clause, SCOTUS ruled that that the states do not have the power to enact anticompetitive laws that discriminate against sellers in other states without the permission of Congress.

So while laws may exist (on the books) which prohibit importing liquor from out of state, this ruling makes their application very narrow if not entirely forbidden. A state would have to make such a prohibition in such a way that it does not interfere with commercial viability of alcohol sales originating in other states vs the sales originating in the state where the alcohol is being transported. Given that the sales taxes and other market-place conditions make sales different across state lines, this would be near impossible.

It appears that Tennessee is currently trying to test an exception to this rule in a SCOTUS case Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas. Rather than making a prohibition based on the origination location of the alcohol, Tennessee prohibits a sales license to anyone who hasn't been a resident of the state for 2 or more years. The case is currently before the court (October Term 2018) and it is not yet (as of 6/7/19) known how it will be decided.

  • +1 but there seem to a catch here. States could not prohibit direct on-line sales to consumers following Granholm v. Heald. It's not clear they cannot prohibit transportation (without a license) by the consumer from another state after they have bought the stuff (physically from another state). The on-line seller could well have a license for the state(s) in which they are selling. If Granholm v. Heald is relevant for the latter, I wonder why the press articles on Pennsylvania or Iowa (law changes) didn't mention it at all. – Fizz Jun 8 at 4:17
  • @Fizz, The OH link in the question is to a site of a criminal attorney advertising their services. It's light on details as to what laws they believe the courts have upheld which allow this prohibition. Nor do they mention the relevant cases. As I mentioned, there may still be laws on the books which can be applied, but only very narrowly. Someone transporting a liquor container bought out of state is technically delivering it.... even if they are delivering it to their own home address. So it's not clear to me why Granholm v. Heald would not apply. – grovkin Jun 8 at 4:39
  • @Fizz it's also possible that the laws, which exist, would not survive a challenge based on Granholm v. Heald. But no one has challenged them since 2005. – grovkin Jun 8 at 4:41

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