Jacob Sullum

Each kiosk holds 1,000 bottles of 53 (count 'em) different wines, which you can buy with a credit card if you swipe your driver's license to prove you are 21 or older, look into a camera monitored by a state employee in Harrisburg to prove you are the person you say you are and breathe into an alcohol sensor to prove you have not been drinking. The machines operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and are closed on Sundays and holidays. They charge shoppers a $1 "convenience fee" for the privilege of buying wine at the supermarket, a freedom that residents of most states take for granted.

The states where wine (and beer) can be purchased along with groceries, but nevertheless confine the sale of distilled spirits to government stores, include Virginia, North Carolina and Washington. This year, legislators in all three states are considering abolishing that monopoly, with support from the governor in the first two and possibly in the third, as well.

The opposition to these proposals comes from labor unions representing state liquor store workers, anti-alcohol groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and businesses that profit from the lack of competition. In Washington last year, beer and wine companies were the biggest donors to the campaigns against two unsuccessful ballot initiatives that would have privatized sales of distilled spirits.

What all these special interests have in common is a disdain for consumers -- which is fitting, because that is the inescapable rationale for state alcohol monopolies.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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