A Lewiston beer and wine distributor that employs 150 people is among the critics of a bill before the Legislature that would allow more out-of-state sellers to ship wine to Maine consumers.

The bill expands the types of entities eligible to ship wine directly to Maine customers to include retailers and wholesalers licensed in any state.

Mike Barriault, president of the family-operated Central Distributors in Lewiston, told lawmakers recently that “every bottle of wine that is sold into Maine that circumvents Maine distributors and our Maine retail partners must be considered a direct threat to Maine jobs and the Maine economy.”

He said the measure would put businesses like the one his great-grandfather started after Prohibition ended “at a distinct disadvantage to out-of-state interests” by eroding “our otherwise robust liquor laws that are meant to protect our communities.”

State Sen. Dave Miramant, D-Camden, told colleagues on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that his bill to allow more direct-to-consumer sales “attempts to help folks in Maine who want to expand the options for obtaining the types of wine they choose while helping Maine businesses to open their markets.”

The proposal would allow businesses to ship more wine, including retailers “who can expand their markets” by selling Maine wine “through the power of the internet.”

Miramant said other states that have expanded shipping laws did not see a change in purchasing patterns at local stores. “Some used the new opportunities to expand and others saw no change,” he said.

The Maine Beer and Wine Distributors Association said the bill would significantly expand “the wine direct to consumer shipping law by allowing any out-of-state retailers and wholesalers to apply for a direct shipper permit and ship wine direct to Maine consumers, bypassing the local licensees.”

Gregg Mineo, director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, told the panel that “current law provides almost unlimited access to Maine consumers for wine sourced directly from in and out-of-state suppliers.”

Change isn’t needed, he said, because “the Maine wine-buying consumer is well-served.”

Mineo said the direct shipment of wine to consumers by wholesalers both in and out of Maine would create “many regulatory and logistical issues,” confuse consumers and prove “disadvantageous to the Maine retailer and wholesaler.”

David Allenson, owner of the Umbrella Factory Supermarket & U.F.O Discount Beverage Store in Naples, told legislators the bill would hurt his business.

“I am in a tourist area and depend on my summer business to carry me through the slow winter months,” he said. “My wine, beer and spirits business is a big piece of my business and if this passes, I feel my business will definitely hurt and I’ll have to let employees go.”

Barriault said it poses a risk to the 150 Mainers his company employs as well, including 20 in Presque Isle.

“It is inconsistent for Maine to be a control state, and at the same time cleave to the notion that we should be guided by the principles of free enterprise, namely that the consumer can get what they want when they want it,” said attorney Newell Augur, representing RSVP Discount Beverages in Portland in opposition to Miramant’s measure.

The committee has not yet scheduled a work session on the bill.


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