The Real Reason You Can't Ship Alcohol At The Post Office

Ever gone to the post office to send your favorite grandma a bottle of wine only to realize that you've got to do it à la Little Red Riding Hood because USPS won't ship it? It's happened to us, too. If the regulations make you a bit frosted or if it seems phonus balonus that the only alcoholic products USPS will ship are things like cold remedies cooking wines and mouth wash ... well that's because the regulations that prevent USPS from shipping alcohol are about as old as the slang we just used.

At the time of this writing, some within the U.S. Congress are trying to change these antiquated regulations (via Forbes). There are a lot of reasons to support such a change. National Postal Mail Handlers Union President Paul Hogrogian recently explained it this way: "The shipping of alcohol would not only be a source of $50 million a year in revenue for the Postal Service, but would also help grow local breweries, distilleries, and wineries" (via Food & Wine). What would $50 million a year mean to the USPS? It's true that President Biden has nominated three candidates to the U.S. Postal Service's governing board (via The Washington Post) in an effort to save an institution that, per an August 2020 The New York Times report is struggling with billion-dollar losses. But $50 million a year is a lifeline that seems impossible to pass up. Alas, lawmakers made similar arguments in  2015 and 2019 with limited success. Here's what held them back.

USPS won't send your alcohol because of a Prohibition-era law

Democratic Representative Jackie Speier co-sponsored the bill currently attempting to let us do the logical: ship beer and wine and tequila sunrise ingredients through the mail. She explained the proposal to Twitter, this way: "Congress has a duty to save the @USPS & bring it into the 21st Century." The congresswoman from California wasn't talking about giving postal workers iPhones. Speier was referring to the fact that regulations that ban the USPS from shipping booze date back almost 100 years — to Prohibition. As Forbes notes, the COVID-19 pandemic has been friendly to the online alcohol sales industry. And while most states have now eased alcohol shipping regulations, state-level regulation relaxations have benefited private companies, like UPS and FedEx. Like during Prohibition, when drinking alcohol was for the rich and well-connected, so too, today, is shipping alcohol accessible only to those who can afford a private delivery company. 

As the Cato Institute documents, Prohibition was a failure of herculean proportions: depriving the U.S. government of important tax revenue, driving many alcohol consumers to use stronger illicit substances, among them opium, patent medicines, and cocaine, and strengthening organized crime syndicates. And yet, one of the era's offshoots stubbornly persists today. People have successfully shipped (per Mental Floss) chameleons, dead fish, and their own children through the U.S. Postal Service. But since the 1930s, no one has been able to send even one bottle of Coors Light.