Explainers Competition Policy

A Primer on Delivering and Shipping Alcohol in the COVID-19 New Normal

C. Jarrett Dieterle
Resident Senior Fellow, Competition Policy


American consumers are used to everything being delivered to their doors. Currently, products ranging from pickle-flavored lip balm to pharmaceutical drugs are shipped across the country. But since Prohibition, there remains a notable exception: Alcohol. Numerous states allow local home delivery of alcohol—often known as on-demand delivery—but a substantial number still do not. Even fewer allow longer-distance alcohol shipments that cross state lines. This means that in many states you cannot have a six-pack of beer delivered along with your groceries, nor can you order a favorite bourbon from a distillery in a neighboring state. Even though humans have sought to transport alcohol since ancient times, restrictions on alcohol delivery and shipping in America have been with us since the lead up to Prohibition. First local governments, then states, and ultimately Congress passed strict laws forbidding alcohol shipments. Even in the decades after Prohibition, many of these laws were never cleared away and an anti-delivery regulatory regime has stubbornly persisted to the current day. Until recently, few policymakers questioned why America’s regulatory regime sidelined alcohol. But COVID-19 is causing an across-the-board re-thinking of the American legal system that governs alcohol.

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