It has been an eventful start to 2015 for officials at Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board. Recently the LCB was involved in a bit of a debate over the meaning of an antiquated packaging law. A Pennsylvania statute written during the post-Prohibition era placed some interesting restrictions on beer distributors. The statute permitted beer distributors to sell beer as a case or in an original container containing more than 128 fluid ounces. The LCB was asked to address this statute by a brewer in Westmoreland County and two brewers in Pittsburgh. On Friday March 6, the LCB determined that the brewers were legally allowed to sell 12-pack cases of beer, and the officials noted this law never prohibited such actions.
There can be very little debate that Pennsylvania’s alcohol regulations are some of the strictest in the country. The original purpose of the law was to restrict the flow of liquor through restricting the quantities it could be sold in. Until recently beer distributors in Pennsylvania were only permitted to sell cases or kegs to patrons. At the time the law was written it covered all alcohol sold on the market. The market changed, however, with brewers packaging beer in all different shapes and sizes. The market also shifted when Pennsylvania grocery stores were authorized to sell beer in 6-packs or 12-packs. Restaurants and bars that have been licensed by LCB have long since been permitted to sell 6-packs, 12-packs and individual bottles. Rodrigo Diaz, executive deputy chief counsel for the LCB, stated after the decision that the LCB never ruled on the issue of selling 12-packs because they were never asked to.
The brewers who were concerned that the law was a bit murky brought it to the LCB for clarification and requested an advisory opinion. On Friday the LCC announced that technically speaking, this law never really prohibited the sale of 12-packs by beer distributors and gave the go-ahead for distributors to start selling 12-packs to the public. The only caveat the LCB insisted upon is that no 24-packs of beer can be split into two 12-packs. Distributors are only permitted to sell 12-packs that are designed to be 12-packs. The issue was that the statute prohibited the sale of anything less than a single container holding 128 ounces. The legal question remained: what is a single container? For almost 80 years Pennsylvanians in the beer industry have assumed this implied that a single container was a keg. Charles Caputo, however, the beer-distributor lobbys lawyer, argued that a cardboard box (say, one that contained 12 beers in it) was also a single container. After all, this was already the reasoning used for those shrink-wrapped Magnum bottles that are sold in threes (together they equal 128 ounces). The LCB agreed.
At Brownstone Law we are amused by the clarification and congratulate Pennsylvanias beer drinkers for this milestone. As always, drink responsibly!
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