Shipping alcohol to consumers is a complicated process. As such, the issue at hand is not can you ship alcohol legally, but how to do it. A shipment successfully reaching your consumers or not will depend on the applicable state laws (and how they interact) and your carrier’s policies.
And, of course, it is essential to have the proper licenses for manufacturing and distributing alcohol. We should note that business-to-consumer shipping, which this article will focus on, is not always the same as consumer-to-consumer shipping. The latter is regulated by separate carrier regulations, which is not the subject matter of this article.
The legal complexities of shipping alcohol stem from the time of the Prohibition. When the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was enacted in 1919, it proscribed “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” within the U.S., as well as the import and export of alcohol.
In 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified and it repealed the 18th. However, it also allowed each state to set its own laws, rules, and regulations regarding the manufacture and distribution of alcohol.
Thus, even though there was no longer a federal ban, the legalities of alcohol shipments became far more complex, as each shipment needs to conform to the laws of the state it originates from and where it is being delivered to.
This autonomy of each state to set its own laws regarding alcohol continues to this day and is what you need to contend with when you wish to ship alcohol.
The shipping of alcohol depends on the following factors: who is shipping (a business with the appropriate alcohol licenses or an individual consumer), the carrier’s policies, and the applicable state laws. Combining these factors will determine how you should (or even whether you can) ship alcoholic beverages, so let us go over each in more detail.
Many major carriers outright ban individual consumers from shipping alcoholic beverages. If you are thinking of shipping alcohol as a gift or for similar reasons as a non-licensed entity, do not expect private carriers to provide the services you need.
Manufacturers with alcohol licenses, on the other hand, have to follow certain rules but are mostly allowed to ship alcohol if they conform to the shipping agreements and relevant regulations. This includes both carriers' regulations and laws that apply to alcohol shipping and manufacturing.
The process of getting alcohol licenses for shipping will depend on the carrier you are using. Consequently, always check the rules and regulations of each carrier. However, there are two conditions you can expect every major carrier to enforce:
Additionally, besides having a liquor license, each carrier may have specific packaging requirements for shipping alcoholic beverages. It is advisable to contact a representative of your desired carrier so that they could provide you with a list of rules relevant to alcohol shippers.
As was previously mentioned, each U.S. state has specific laws related to shipments of alcohol, so it may be best to consult with a legal expert before you decide to ship large quantities of any cargo. However, the state laws can be divided into three broad categories.
States where the shipping of alcohol to consumers is prohibited are Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah. In Alabama specifically, alcohol shipping is possible, but residents need to apply for special permits and the shipping must be done through the Alabama ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Board.
In the states that fall into the second category, the shipping of alcohol is restricted, but possible. The consumer must purchase the product on-site at the business that sells the alcohol and only then can it be shipped. The following states are in this category: Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, and Rhode Island.
The rest of the states allow relatively unrestricted shipping of alcohol (presuming you have the necessary licenses for manufacturing and distribution).
However, local and city laws may prescribe additional prohibitions – e.g. Kentucky has dry counties where the shipping of alcohol is prohibited, even though it is not done on the state level.
Once again, we need to reiterate that you should consult the laws of each specific state and locality before you decide to ship a package there.
If you are shipping alcoholic beverages intrastate, only the relevant state laws apply to you. However, the laws of both states apply to interstate shipping – so, where you are shipping from and to. Extra caution should be taken during interstate shipping, as alcohol shipments compliant in California are not necessarily compliant in Utah.
Cross-border alcohol shipments present additional challenges. Besides being compliant with the local and state laws, you also need to take into account the laws of the country you are shipping to. For international alcohol shipments, you will need special licenses and to pay additional customs fees.
Packages of alcoholic beverages are often fragile and easily damaged. Most carriers provide insurance, but rarely for the entire value of the shipment. In case you deal in luxury goods, like shipping high-end wine, even if the limits are agreeable, the insurance rates you need to pay will be very high if you wish to insure your goods for their full value.
However, you can take out full-value private insurance for high-value packages. Private insurance has higher limits, better rates, and an easier claims process. As shipments of alcohol are often expensive, you could consider taking special steps to insure your packages.
So, can you ship alcoholic beverages? Although complicated, shipping alcohol legally is possible. However, you need to consult the relevant state laws and carrier regulations, and acquire all of the necessary permits and licenses. Additionally, taking out full-value insurance could be a wise move to safeguard yourself and your business from unnecessary losses.
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