William Larue Weller started his distillery with a simple slogan: "Honest whiskey at an honest price." But a Maryland man who recently tried following this advice quickly ran into trouble with the law.
Paul Thompson wanted to sell a rare, 15-year-old bottle of the Weller Kentucky bourbon for a modest $750. According to the York Daily Record, He posted an ad on Craigslist, found a buyer in nearby Pennsylvania, and was subsequently intercepted by two state liquor enforcement officers charged with keeping the public safe from the scourge that is top-shelf spirit sales.
In Pennsylvania, the sale of liquor without a license, even a single bottle, is illegal. And so two agents, who apparently watched "The Untouchables" too many times, created a fake email to set up a sting and went undercover to seize the bottle.
Now Thompson faces a misdemeanor for the unlawful sale, possession, and transportation of liquor. An otherwise honest man, he's been made into a crook by a dishonest and out-of-date law. This is ridiculous.
Like any substance that has the potential to turn adults into blathering children, alcohol needs some regulation. Maybe a sober and well-ordered society shouldn't have citizens selling batches of bathtub gin and backwoods moonshine.
But that's not what got Thompson into trouble. The seller just tried making a buck off of a single bottle of bourbon. That's really not uncommon. Underground markets have popped up all over for collectors who want to find a particular bottle that their local liquor store doesn't carry. Unfortunately, laws like those in the Key Stone state make the sale illicit.
"Pennsylvania's history of restrictions on alcoholic beverages is well known," says Kevin Hoffman, a criminal law professor at nearby York College. The intent of the law is to prevent business from selling liquor without a license, not to punish a single individual making a single sale.
What really happened was that Thompson ran afoul of the local cartel. Those liquor licensing laws prop up business at the expense of competitors and consumers. His unfortunate example shows the ridiculousness of those regulations. Thompson should get his bottle back (that is, if Pennsylvania's finest haven't already drained it), the court should throw out the charges, and the state legislature should change the law to allow small alcohol sales.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.