California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
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California Steps Up Liquor License Enforcement

We always recommend you regularly review your state liquor licenses to ensure you hold the correct licenses for your business needs. However, given recent feedback from California regulators, you may want to expedite such a review. We have learned that California is scrutinizing liquor licenses and enforcing regulations that prohibit licensees from obtaining licenses that could create tier violations.

California recently provided guidance on which industry members can hold a Type 13 Distilled Spirits Importer’s General license. As a reminder, a Type 13 license authorizes licensees to import and sell distilled spirits to other distilled spirits manufacturers, wholesalers, rectifiers and importers within the state. Historically, California issued a Type 13 license to out-of-state supplier-tier companies importing distilled spirits in their name. These companies would use licensed public warehouses for storage before distributing their products to authorized California licensees, such as licensed California wholesalers.

However, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (CA ABC) asserts that CA BPC § 23771 prohibits distilled spirits suppliers from holding a Type 13 license if they have any interest in manufacturing within or outside of the state. This prohibition applies to suppliers who manufacture distilled spirits outside of California or have a parent company that manufactures distilled spirits overseas. The state has said that these suppliers should hold a manufacturer-type license, such as a Type 5 license.

A Type 5 Distilled Spirits Manufacturer’s Agent license is frequently held by an agent of out-of-state distilleries or manufacturers who promotes the products and does missionary work for the out-of-state distillers or manufacturers. They can also solicit sales from licensed distilled spirits manufacturers, rectifiers or distilled spirits wholesalers and hold possession of distilled spirits in public or private warehouses. Although Type 5 licensees cannot import distilled spirits into California, they can sell distilled spirits to other Type 13 license holders who may import into the state.

While we have not seen proactive enforcement from CA ABC on this matter, the issue may arise when or if Type 13 license-holding companies renew a license or file a person-to-person transfer or premises transfer for a current license. CA ABC has indicated that Type 13 license-holding suppliers will not be penalized for holding an improper license; the agency will expect these suppliers to work with it to determine if they should hold a different set of licenses to meet their business needs.

If you have any questions about California ABC liquor licenses, please contact Alva Mather, Nichole Shustack, Alice Chung or McDermott’s alcohol team.




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Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Announces Joint Operation Targeting Alleged “Pay-to-Play” Activities in Florida

On July 20, 2017, the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced a joint operation it conducted with the Florida Department of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (DABT) to investigate potential trade practice violations in the Miami, Florida area. According to a very brief press release issued by TTB, the investigation focused on alleged “pay-to-play” schemes. “Pay-to-play” is an industry term generally used to mean the provision of payments or other “things of value” by an upper-tier industry member (i.e., supplier or wholesaler) to a retailer to secure placement for the industry member’s products in the retailer’s premises.

Although neither TTB nor the DABT has released any specific details of the investigation or the parties involved, the investigation suggests that TTB is acting on prior announcements that it would seek to aggressively enforce its trade practice regulations. TTB’s 2017 budget included a $5 million earmark to enhance trade practice enforcement. As part of this effort, TTB transitioned 11 of its existing investigators to new roles focusing exclusively on trade practice enforcement.

The joint investigation also comes on the heels of other recent enforcement of trade practice laws and regulations—specifically involving allegations of pay-to-play activities—by state alcohol regulators. In just the last few months, the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission initiated an enforcement action against an Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI)-owned distributor in connection with an alleged pay-to-play scheme. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control also recently settled an enforcement action against ABI wholesalers for alleged trade practice violations. Also, in June, a New Jersey beer wholesaler agreed to pay a nearly $2 million fine to settle trade practice allegations brought by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.




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