A number of bills that would make changes to Florida’s alcohol rules are moving through the legislature. But many of them make exceptions to the state’s three tier system that separates manufactures, distributors and vendors.
When it comes to alcohol, Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) says Florida’s law need an update.
“I think that this bill today, we are updating prohibition era laws, we are opening up the free market, we are removing barriers for the little guys, the small businesses,” Raschein says
Raschein is behind a bill that would let craft distilleries ship their products out of state, offer sales at festivals and fairs and let distilleries get licensed as manufacturers as well as a distributors or exporters. Jeremy Craig runs the Copper Bottom craft distillery with his wife and parents.
“All we’re really trying to do is level the playing field. We really just want to be able to sell our products. We’re asked constantly, we’re just outside of Daytona Beach in Holly Hill Florida, we’re asked every day if we can ship our product out of state. Most of the people who come to our tasking room are tourists. Unfortunately, now with the regulations of baggage, most people can’t take a bottle back with them so we’re asked constantly if we can ship. The other thing that’s to our disadvantage is we can’t sell cocktails or any kind of mixed drinks,” Craig says.
Craig says letting craft distilleries do what other companies like craft breweries already do would help him grow his business, creating jobs and driving tourism. And Phil McDaniel with the St. Augustine distillery agrees. He says the changes in Raschein’s bill could also help to highlight Florida’s agriculture industry.
“Florida will one day be famous not only for our beautiful beaches and sunshine but also the wonderful rum that’s made from Florida sugar cane and the whiskey made from our wheat and corn,”McDaniel says.
But the measure is getting pushback from distributors and retailers who say there’s no reason to further interrupt the state’s three tier system, which separately licenses manufactures, distributors and retailers. Scott Dick represents ABC Liquor. Despite what some distillers say, he’s worried the measure won’t result in a level playing field.
“We can’t as retailers ship product out of state and we favor that restriction. However, if there is going to be lifting of restriction we ask that all retailers be treated the same and allow not only ABC but also the independent retailers to profit from that side of the business,” "Dick says.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has a similar bill in the Senate. He says the changes to the three tier system will be minimal.
“Look if it was up to me we would get rid of the three tier system because it is an archaic prohibition era issue, but this doesn’t seek to do that. This seeks to allow craft brewers and craft wineries to implement,” Brandes says.
And Brandes says the overall impact on the state will be small because only a handful of craft distilleries are in operation. Palm Coast Republican Senator Travis Hutson says for him the issue is simple.
“Too many times a lot of say we’re free market principled, we’re for small business and then all the sudden an alcohol bill gets up and some of us get really weak kneed. You have to be for your principles, you have to be for what you campaigned on and I believe this bill does that,” Hutson says.
Brandes’ bill also increases allows wine to be sold in larger containers. Another with similar bill language in the House is also moving forward.