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Pa. liquor law quirks are eccentric

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Last year, for my (cough, cough) birthday, my sister in Oregon thought it would be a good idea to mail me a wine gift basket. That was a good idea, and a gift I would have appreciated. But my grandmother, er, Pennsylvania government, said otherwise.

Every time my sister tried to complete her online order, her purchase was blocked because she did not realize it is illegal to ship liquor to Pennsylvania. When she told me about this later, that's when I realized just how antiquated Pennsylvania's liquor laws are.

But Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to privatize liquor sales in the state would take care of some of that. It would make it possible to walk into grocery stores, pharmacies or big-box stores and buy beer or wine, bringing Pennsylvania in line with other states that have had this for years.

This plan to step into at least the 20th century, though, is meeting resistance because of some loose ends, mostly involving the future employment of the state store workers and beer distributors, who would find themselves a lot less busy.

You hate to see people lose their jobs, but that's not reason enough to allow the state to hold onto an outdated system that tends to make buyers feel as though you're buying alcohol from your grandparents, who disapprove of your drinking. Meanwhile, the state figures it should monopolize the whole industry so you at least drink responsibly while it reaps the benefits.

There are some other quirks to the state liquor codes that could use re-examination as well. For example, you can't drink until you're 21, but you can serve other people drinks if you're 18. Then there's the concept left over from Prohibition of “dry” towns, such as Bellevue, where you can't buy liquor but you can bring a bottle to a restaurant.

The state store system limits liquor sales to a few stores with shorter hours on Sundays — if they're open — while bars are allowed to remain open. This one's a particular favorite, because although the law limits someone's ability to buy a bottle of vodka on a Sunday, she might end up driving while intoxicated anyway after leaving a bar.

That's also illegal — for those keeping score — and is probably a bigger threat to public safety than petrifying your liver in the privacy of your home.

Did you know it's illegal to make or sell sweets containing alcohol in Pennsylvania? It's part of something called the Pure Foods Act, which is ironic in a country that allows the sale of animal intestines in any old supermarket. It seems as though the state's job is to keep us from enjoying the simple things.

The state Liquor Control Board spends 4 percent of its proceeds on administrative, licensing and legal costs and alcohol education, which includes treatment for addiction.

So of the nearly $2 billion in state liquor sales in the 2011-12 fiscal year, only about $84 million went to the aforementioned expenses. And only a portion of that amount went for education for a substance that's kept under lock and key — unless you get it from the state.

Talk about mixed-drink signals.

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, or nvanaski@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

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