Recent Deaths in Dominican Republic Underscore the Need to Maintain a Strong, Closed Alcohol Regulation and Distribution System

The news this month has been filled with news reports of the tragic deaths of 11 Americans while vacationing in the Dominican Republic.   Much of the media attention on these deaths have centered on the possible consumption of poisonous/tainted alcohol by the victims.  While more study is being done and the FBI is now involved, the issue of tainted alcohol unfortunately is not new globally.  Very similar situations have taken place in vacation spots in Mexico and deaths and problems from fake and poisonous alcohol spans the globe from the United Kingdom, to India, to the Czech Republic.

People dying from fake alcohol is not a headline story in the United States.  The simple reason why this is not an American crisis is because state and federal regulation of alcohol in the United States, in a closed distribution system, prevents the access to the market that illegal operators desperately need for untaxed and unregulated alcohol.  Alcohol coming into the United States is closely regulated by the federal government. Importation into a state, wholesale distribution and retail sale are regulated by state governments.  A report summarizing the global fake alcohol crisis and reason why America has been exempted from this global problem was published in 2014 by the Center for Alcohol Policy.  

This global danger should serve as a chilling reminder that efforts to deregulate alcohol in the United States should be undertaken very carefully.  There are numerous federal and state alcohol regulations including three-tier requirements, control states, permit requirements, at-rest laws, label approvals, exclusive territories, central warehouse restrictions, retail to retail prohibitions and restrictions on retail operations that all work together to limit those that would seek to introduce untaxed or unsafe alcohol into the stream of commerce.  Only entities properly vetted and licensed are allowed to make, distribute or sell alcohol. Various economic interests seek to strike or change these laws through legislation or litigation to benefit their individual business models. These changes could create a higher risk to the marketplace and consumers and lead us closer to the Dominican Republic situation by removing time-tested safeguards by limiting government’s ability to regulate alcohol effectively. The pending United States Supreme Court case involving retail residency laws in Tennessee highlights the need for government to maintain local accountability for those that sell of alcohol in a local community.

The harm to public health as well as to the economic well being of the $123 billion alcohol industry necessitate caution against drastic weakening of alcohol regulation. The Dominican Republic situation is a reminder to appreciate the American system of alcohol regulation that works to keep the production, distribution and sale of alcohol regulated and safe.

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