many Illinois residents holed up for the foreseeable future and unable to visit
their local bar or restaurant, it would be nice to browse some fine wines online
and enjoy them at home. It would be nice, but is not currently legal in
That anti-consumer, likely unconstitutional regulation dating from the end of
Prohibition might change.
Senate Bill 3830 was proposed Feb. 14 by state Sen. Sara Feignholtz, D-Chicago,
before the spike in coronavirus cases. The bill would allow Illinois adults to
purchase wine through out-of-state retailers and wine clubs. Currently, Illinois
shoppers can order shipments from wineries, but not from wine stores and clubs
outside the state.
The bill would give Illinois consumers greater choice and convenience. It would
also allow the state to move policies into the 21st century and generate greater
sales tax revenue.
If passed, out-of-state retailers will be required to register with the state
and file annual reports with the state about what products are being sold to
Illinois residents. Additionally, an adult will need to sign off on the delivery
of the wine.
The National Association of Wine Retailers applauded the bill’s
introduction as a move to help Illinois’ economy and give consumers choice.to
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A ban on wine imports like Illinois’ has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S.
Supreme Court twice in the past 15 years: in Granholm v. Heald in 2005 and in
Tennessee Wine v. Thomas in 2019.
Illinois is currently in a lawsuit that challenges the wine shipping law. The
state’s fight in Lebamoff v. O’Connell is costing Illinois taxpayers hundreds of
thousands of dollars to defend the law. It will likely yield an outcome similar
to the other two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the wine retailers said.
Illinois’ Liquor Control Act of 1934 established a
three-tier system of alcohol distribution in the state. Under that
act, the Illinois liquor industry was set up into three distinct
tiers: producers of alcohol – such as wineries, distilleries and
breweries – distributors and retail outlets. Licensed distributors
buy alcoholic beverages from breweries, distilleries and wineries
and then sell them to retailers such as restaurants, bars and
stores. With certain exceptions for smaller wineries, craft
distilleries and breweries, it is illegal to operate under more than
This tier system has been filled with cronyism that harms businesses
Late Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz ran beverage company Judge & Dolph
and other companies that prior to 1999 donated more than $300,000 to
state officials, including House Speaker Michael Madigan. That year
the “Wirtz law” was passed to prevent distillers and wineries from
changing distributors without a “good cause.” The policy discouraged
competition and new distributors from entering the market, and
caused liquor prices to shoot up before it was ruled
unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2002.
In 2013, a law was passed that prohibited brewers from owning any
part of the distribution process, further separating the tiers and
making it more difficult for businesses to effectively operate.
The last thing Illinois needs is to make it harder for businesses to
operate in the state. SB 3830 would be a welcome expansion of
consumer choice and increase in state revenue. Lawmakers should
allow Illinois residents to explore the tastes of Napa Valley and
Bordeaux, without leaving home.
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