A free market in alcoholic beverages has never existed in American history.

A 1970 U.S. Supreme Court decision noted that in 1660 the precursor of modern-day liquor legislation was enacted in England, which allowed commissioners to inspect the brewing house. When the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition in 1933, all states were authorized to strictly regulate the transportation, importation and use of alcohol within their borders.

In Ohio, state government holds a public monopoly and public ownership of a portion of the alcoholic beverage supply chain. All spirituous liquor sales in Ohio occur at private stores that only sell liquor. Spirit profits are the funding source for economic development in Ohio through JobsOhio, a private nonprofit corporation.

Ohio, however, does not own any aspect of the alcoholic beverage supply chain for beer and wine. The Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Liquor Control licenses private vendors to operate wholesale or retail systems of distribution of beer and wine.  

Ohio prohibits ordering spirits online. To purchase a bottle of bourbon, for example, you must physically go to an Ohio state agency store. If you are an Ohio resident and are at least 21 years old, Ohio law allows you to bring no more than one liter of spirits into this state for personal use (not for resale). As an Ohio resident, you may order beer and wine over the internet, but only from the winery or brewery that produces the product.

Celebrations

Ohio prohibits all alcohol license-holders from giving away any alcohol in connection with a licensed business. For example, when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship, no bar in Ohio could celebrate by saying, “Drinks on the house.” But if a bar patron says, “A round of drinks on me,” the bar is allowed to charge only that patron for each drink served.

Ohioans should also be careful about alcohol at public tailgating events. Ohio law prohibits alcohol consumption in “places of public accommodation.” For example, a parking lot is considered a “place of public accommodation” because it is open to any member of the public, so tailgate parties taking place in a parking lot cannot include open containers of alcohol. The same can be said for walking down a sidewalk with an open drink. But if a previously public area such as a parking lot or a city block is cordoned off and restricted to invited guests only, it becomes a private place. In that case, possession of an open container would be permissible for the private affair.

Mr. Raber is a partner of the Law Offices of Lumpe, Raber & Evans and general counsel for the Wholesale Beer & Wine Association of Ohio.

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