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Carolina Journal: Virginia is a control state, but its model is friendly to that state’s distillers

John Trump writes for Carolina Journal’s Daily Journal:

For North Carolina’s distillers, getting their products into ABC stores is arduous and time-consuming.

Distillers must first check all the boxes pertinent to federal and state laws. The state must then approve their products before distillers send those products to Raleigh for distribution to ABC stores across the state.

Which stores is up to distillers, but also largely up to the ABC boards — North Carolina has 168 — and their members, whom distillers must persuade to carry their brands.

“It’s kinda up to you to convince each board administrator to put you in their store,” Donald Walton of Walton’s Distillery in Jacksonville said in an interview for my book Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.

Say, for the sake of argument, North Carolina reforms its state-run ABC system in favor of a model friendlier to the free market, to innovation, and to entrepreneurship. But let’s also take total privatization, which many North Carolina craft distillers don’t want, off the table.

The state would do well do model itself after Virginia, says Scott Maitland. proprietor of Top of the Hill Distillery in Chapel Hill and a former president of the Distillers Association of North Carolina.

Virginia is, like North Carolina, an alcohol control state, of which there are 17 in the United States. The Virginia ABC operates as an authority, though it still reports to the secretary of public safety. The governor appoints members to its board.

The big difference, when comparing Virginia’s system to North Carolina’s, is the absence of local boards.

“Virginia ABC made a decision back in the late ’90s to operate like a business, as close to a private-sector business as they could,” says Curtis Coleburn, who heads government relations for the Virginia Distillers Association. For more than 20 years, Coleburn served as chief operating officer of Virginia ABC.

The Virginia ABC system, Coleburn says, has turned record profits for the past 20 years.

Read more here. 

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