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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Massachusetts Finally Begins to Address Its Unconstitutional Blue Laws

Massachusetts Finally Begins to Address Its Unconstitutional Blue Laws
Massachusetts Finally Begins to Address Its Unconstitutional Blue Laws

On March 2nd, an emergency bill was passed by the state legislature allowing consumers to take open bottles of wine with them from restaurants or bars where they consumed a meal. The law is extremely detailed about the procedure for taking wine off the premises, but it marks a significant change to the puritan alcohol regulations that have thrived for years in this supposedly liberal state where it is legal to bear arms, but illegal to ship a bottle of wine.

Whether you’re an advocate of the food and wine industry or a member of MADD, the social and cultural ramifications of this change to the law will be felt for years to come. Most significantly, this bill will cut down on incidents of drunk driving throughout the state, but especially in the metro-Boston area. Rather than force themselves to finish their bottles, restaurant goers may now take home what remains of their wine, making roads safer, and promoting healthy drinking habits. Although this law will by no means eliminate the problem of drunk driving, it will potentially save lives. Furthermore, patrons who might have only ordered a glass or two of wine before may now order a bottle, unafraid that they will forfeit what wine they fail to drink. That makes restaurateurs happy, since wine sales will surely increase as a result of the bill; no pun intended.

Still, it is relatively easy to find fault in the law. The regulations regarding wine to-go “require that the restaurant…employees…securely reseal the bottle of wine, place the resealed bottle in a one-time-use tamper-proof transparent bag…securely seal the bag, issue to the patron a receipt that prominently displays the date of the purchase, as well as both the purchase of the meal and the purchase of the bottle of wine, affix the receipt to the sealed bag, and allow only one bottle of wine per patron to be carried out” (M.G.L. c. 138, § 12). That’s a lot of hoops to jump through on a busy night for your neighborhood restaurant or bar. By following these instructions, restaurants limit their liability should someone be pulled over with an open container in their vehicle. Of course, there is nothing to stop guests from ripping open and discarding their bags, claiming that the restaurant handed them their wine as such. At that point, it becomes a case of he said/she said. Furthermore, according to the state’s Liquor Control Board, a meal is defined as “the purchase by 1 person of a diversified selection of food which ordinarily is classified as an “entree” or “main course” which ordinarily cannot be consumed without the use of tableware and which cannot be conveniently consumed while standing or walking.” For a purchase by “2 or more persons” a meal means “a diversified selection of food which is priced at more than $20.00 and ordinarily cannot be consumed without the use of tableware and which cannot be conveniently consumed while standing or walking” (M.G.L. c. 138, § 12). According to that definition, you can legally order an entree sized salad, consume three glasses of wine, and take the rest of your bottle with you, but you may not, under any circumstances order a sandwich or a burger and drink one glass of a bottle of wine, before taking the remainder of your bottle with you. A sandwich can be consumed without tableware and while walking or standing; a salad cannot. Burger joints that sell wine beware!

Obviously, this bill is a step in the right direction for a state that considers itself to be progressive-minded, but until the state changes its direct shipping law, wine lovers on both sides of the aisle will remain unsatisfied. That law, which was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last year in Granholm v. Heald, prohibits the direct shipment of wine, from out of state, to your home. While wineries in Massachusetts are permitted to ship wine to other states, out-of-state wineries are prohibited from shipping their products here. Although a bill is in the works to change the state’s direct shipping law, the antiquarian and unconstitutional regulation banning the practice is currently still in place. You’ll have to wait a little longer if you hope to order wine online. In the mean time, go out and buy a bottle of wine in a restaurant, order a fork and knife entree, ask for a wine doggy bag to transport your wine in, and safely enjoy the rest of your bottle at home while you write your state senator to complain about the impinging of our right to ship wine.