As we reported back in August, Alabama is attempting to place huge restrictions on its craft beer industry after at first seeming to try and promote it. The state legislature passed a bill to allow breweries and brew pubs to sell beer for off-premise consumption for the first time (yay), but limiting such sales to a case, 288 ounces, per customer, per day (boo). In order to make sure people stick to these bizarre restrictions, the Alabama Alcoholic Big Brother Beverage Control Board (ABBBC) is proposing a regulation as part of this rule-making to require the craft breweries themselves to record the names, addresses, phone numbers and birth dates of customers who buy beer for off-premises consumption. The breweries would then have to report that information to the ABBBC board every month.
In our reporting back in August, we reacted with the appropriate amount of astonishment and snark, but luckily other professional people beyond our website walls are taking notice and trying to fight against these byzantine provisions on behalf of the good brewers of Alabama. One group in particular, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), filed a comment letter with the ABBBC and reached out to us to help spread the word on their efforts. The PLF is a non-profit organization that litigates issues affecting the public interest, including important issues of economic liberty and free enterprise. Founded in 1973, PLF is the oldest and most experienced public interest legal foundation of its kind. The group was instrumental in helping to overturn Florida’s ridiculous ban on growler fills.
In the comment letter, PLF attorney Anastasia Boden takes the entire issue to task. You can read the whole thing for yourself here, but the most devastating portion simply plays out the scenario the ABBBC is trying to create. Sometimes pointing out the absurdity of something only requires a mirror:
This law imposes an unnecessary burden on industrious brewers, who must persuade their customers to divulge private information just to buy a beer. And because the brewers must maintain the information safely, it drives up the cost for craft brewers to earn a living by providing honest services to the public.
The rule would require small companies to come up with a quick and efficient method of recording thousands of patrons’ personal information, and storing it in a fashion that protects their privacy. The undeniable result is to impose additional overhead costs on craft brewers, but not their bigger counterparts. And it will increase wait times at these small breweries, which have a more limited capacity. Because they often lack established distribution lines, small breweries routinely have lines out the door, and consumers report waiting hours to get their hands on the newest brew. Adding an additional administrative requirement like the proposed rule will exacerbate that problem, deterring potential customers.
Moreover, many consumers will be uncomfortable divulging personal information — to be stored and handed over to the government — simply to drink a beer. In the wake of data breach incidents that have affected even the biggest retailers, many will choose to buy beer outside of craft breweries instead of risking exposure of their personal information. Thus, the proposed rule gives a competitive edge to big producers and the establishments who sell their products — which have no similar rule imposed on them.
But any public benefits are doubtful. While ABC has not stated its rationale for the proposed rule, some have surmised that the rule will be used to enforce the volume limits on sales. Collecting private information is a particularly invasive way to go about that goal, especially when compared to other industries that have limitations on purchases, but lack an analogous requirement. For example, states do not require tobacco vendors to obtain the names and addresses of anyone who buys cigarettes, even though vendors cannot sell to children. Sellers of products that contain ivory — which have strict limitations on transfer — are not required to relinquish the names of purchasers so that the government can monitor future sales. States that ban ticket scalping do not require venues to record the information of the primary buyers.
Perhaps most relevant here, Alabama does not require non-craft restaurants or bars to collect and maintain the personal information of their customers, even though those establishments can only sell to someone who is over 21, and to someone who is not already intoxicated. While many products have limits on who may buy them, and on how much one can buy, requiring consumers to disclose personal information in order to enforce those limits is unusual. Instead, states typically rely on sellers to obey the law, and use normal enforcement mechanisms, like investigations, to find violations. The proposed rule treats beer like pseudoephedrinean — an over-the-counter drug that has purchase limits. The government requires pharmacies to collect personal information from purchasers of pseudoephedrinean because of the drug’s relationship to methamphetamine production. Not since Prohibition has buying beer been considered so vile.