Monday, December 4, 2017

Buyer Beware



There is, on the internet, a very active secondary market in rare bourbons and other alcoholic beverages. People offer bottles for sale or indicate bottles they would like to buy. Transactions are arranged by email or other private messaging. This happens on Facebook and Craigslist, and probably many other places. I�m not going to point you to any of them. They aren�t hard to find.

Unfortunately, in the United States the secondary market in alcoholic beverages is illegal.

I�ve written about this before, as recently as October.

It is illegal to sell alcohol if you don�t have a license to sell alcohol. It is against Federal law and it is against state law in every state.

There has been some question, at least in my mind, as to whether, in a given transaction, both buyer and seller are in legal jeopardy. Clearly the seller is in violation, but is the buyer? I couldn�t point to a law that said the buyer was in trouble too.

Now I can.

At the Federal level, laws regulating alcoholic beverages can be found in Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations. I�ve spent a lot of time in the early parts of Title 27, Chapter I, Subchapter A, especially Part 5, which gets into the labeling and advertising of distilled spirits, but I never made it down to Part 31, which regulates alcohol beverage dealers. There we find a section (27 CFR 31.141) titled �Unlawful purchases of distilled spirits.� It says that it is �unlawful for any dealer to purchase distilled spirits for resale from any person other than� a licensed dealer.

You may be thinking, �what does that have to do with me? I�m not a dealer.� Well, the statute defines a �dealer� as �any person who sells, or offers for sale, any distilled spirits, wines, or beer.� For virtually all secondary market participants, both parties to a transaction are 'dealers' under the law.

The maximum penalty for violations is a $1,000 fine and one year in prison.

It should be noted that shipping alcohol is also and separately illegal if you are unlicensed.

If you are a typical online player, you probably don�t think of yourself as a �dealer,� but you are. I suppose that if you only buy to consume and never trade or resell, you could argue you�re not a dealer. There are lots of ways to parse these things. No doubt the comments section will shortly be filled with all kinds of pushback. The mental gymnastics secondary market participants use to rationalize their illegal behavior can be stunning. The only sound argument is that prosecutions are rare, so you probably won't get caught. But don�t kid yourself. You are breaking the law and the risk of life-changing consequences will always be there.

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