Minnesota Govt. Shutdown May Force Coors, Miller Off Shelves

A regulatory snafu can't be fixed while there's no government, but the regulations still remain in force

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In a single act, a regulatory agency in Minnesota has made national headlines, shown the absurdity of the state's alcohol regulations, and helped demonstrate why many citizens harbor antagonism toward bureaucrats. It all began when the MillerCoors company, purveyor of mass market beers aplenty, overpaid the state when registering its products. Apparently, brewers owe a $30 fee per brand sold in the state every three years, and MillerCoors miscalculated in the state's favor. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem. But these aren't normal times:

By the time the state notified MillerCoors of the error, and the company had resubmitted the registration and signed a new check with the proper amount, Minnesota's government had been shut. The state employees who could have approved the registrations were at home, possibly drinking beer, as they had been laid off since the state could not legally pay them.

Minnesota, however, did not lay off alcohol enforcement officials who have instructed MillerCoors to devise a plan to get their cases of Coors, Blue Moon and other brands off the shelves in supermarkets and liquor stores. "I would suspect within days to see that product leave the shelves," Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, told the Minnesota Star-Tribune.

There's more:

Restaurant and bars are allowed to serve up their remaining inventories but those types of retailers need a "buyer's card" in order to purloin spirits from wholesalers. Unfortunately, buyer's cards for 424 buyers are set to expire Aug. 1. The result could lead to a booze shortage.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton today offered a deal to end the government shutdown. If taken up, all this may be avoided.

Three brief thoughts:

1) What sort of idiotic protocol results in cancelling an application when the brewery seeking it accidentally pays too much? Just refund the balance! Shouldn't the onerousness of regulations be minimized?

2) The single good thing about this situation: it highlights the absurdity of Minnesota alcohol laws. There is no compelling reason to force a brewery to pay a registration fee every three years so that every brand it offers can be re-approved for sale. Nor is there a need to require a special card to buy booze from wholesalers. The state is asserting itself in this market in ways that offer no public benefit.

3) Given the unusual circumstances -- whole swaths of the state government shutting down for who knows how long -- a bureaucracy with any common sense would grant registration extensions good until two weeks after the state re-opened for business. Or if that proved impossible, they'd just look the other way. Whereas a senseless bureaucracy would aggressively force a business to waste money, man hours, and fuel, adding traffic to roads and carbon to the atmosphere, so that it can go around temporarily removing a product from the shelves that will be back as soon as the government reopens. As a commenter at The Atlantic Wire noted, "I struggle to think of a less essential person in state government than the person who makes sure that each beer brand is properly licensed."

Here are the affected beers:

Blue Moon Pale Moon Belgian Style Pale Ale, Coors Banquet, Coors Light, Coors Light 3.2, Foster's Lager Beer, Foster's Premium Ale, Grolsch Amber Ale, Grolsch Blonde Lager, Grolsch Light Lager, Grolsch Premium Lager, Hamm's, Hamm's Genuine Draft Style, Hamm's Special Light, Henry Weinhard's Dark, Henry Weinhard's Hefeweizen, Henry Weinhard's Pale Ale, Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve, Icehouse Beer, Keystone Light Beer 3.2, Killians Irish Red 3.2, MGD Light 64, Mickey's Ice Ale, Mickey's Malt Liquor, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life 12/16 oz can, Miller High Life Ice, Miller High Life Light 12 oz can, Miller Lite 3.2%, Miller Lite Beer, Milwaukee's Best #1 , Milwaukee's Best Ice, Milwaukee's Best Light #1 3.2, Molson Canadian, Molson Canadian Light, Molson Golden, Molson Ice, Molson XXX, Olde English 800 Malt Liquor, Sparks Light

In fairness to state regulators, Milwaukee's Best Ice is arguably a public menace, or so it seemed where I went to college. And Miller High Life Lite is a beer only a confused person would buy.

Image credit: Reuters