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San Mateo Congresswoman Takes on Anti-Liquor League 106 Years Later

Ancient wet-blanket law against mailing booze may have antagonized wineries and breweries for the last time.


Back in 1909 some turn-of-the-century buzzkills made it illegal to ship alcohol in the mail, and we’ve been stuck with this lame, temperance-era law ever since. But San Mateo Congresswoman Jackie Speier has introduced a bill to finally quash the funky 106-year-old prohibition, ostensibly as a way of generating revenue for the post office and regional businesses (but probably really just because who wants to be stuck playing by the Anti-Saloon League’s rules after all this time anyway?).

A federal statute governing (wait for it) “Injurious Articles as Non-Mailable” lumps in California wines and craft beers with things like explosives, poisonous animals, disease cultures, and scabs (really, it specifies scabs) as no-goes for postal couriers. Bad news if you’ve been waiting all this time to mail a six-pack and a terrarium of scorpions to somebody. “All spiritous, vinous, malted, fermented or other intoxicated liquors” remain prohibited. The law was the product of latterday antagonism toward drinking, an early shot in the war on liquor that eventually led to the 19th amendment. 

Prohibition, of course, eventually went the way of Vaudeville and the Charleston, but the Injurious Articles rule stuck around. This is a major pain for California vintners, distillers, and brewers, who would love to meet out-of-state demand in the easiest way possible by just, you know, shipping their products like every other kind of business. It’s also a pain for the post office, which is always ravenous for more income and would love to be collecting the shipping fees that FedEx and UPS now get exclusively.

The catch? Wholesalers don’t like the idea one bit, presumably because it undermines their entire business model. Industry lobbying is likely one of the reasons this ancient law written by latter-day narcs has sat around as long as it has. Speier hopes to attract co-sponsors for the bill, presumably from other districts with profitable booze industries, and there’s an opportunity for it to be folded into a larger postal service bill down the line.

It would be a handy break for local economies. Although admittedly also a final, crushing blow to the Legions of Decency trying to stand up and protect our country’s morals from the depredations of ne’er-do-wells and shiftless loafers peddling the Devil’s water. So, you know, a tradeoff.

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