March 15, 2018
California’s Prop 65 (officially the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) requires businesses in the state to inform Californians about exposure to chemicals identified by the state as causing cancer or reproductive toxicity. Inconveniently, though the obligation is on the producer of the product to ensure that the consumer is warned, it is the retailer that must display a notice sign at the point of sale to comply with the law. The Act provides for reimbursement of attorney fees to claimants who bring suit based on missing notice signs, leading to watchdog lawsuits calling out different consumer goods producers. To address the responsibilities of alcoholic beverage suppliers, whose products often include a number of chemicals from the list, three key trade bodies, the Beer Institute, the Wine Institute, and the Distilled Spirits Council, set up the Prop 65 Sign Management Company in 2014. This group distributes signs to retail licensees free of charge, on behalf of all members of the alcohol industry. These signs generally indicate that the consumption of alcoholic beverages may expose drinkers to Prop 65 chemicals, but do not name specific chemicals. This means that when new chemicals are added to the list, such as the impending August 2018 addition of a common ingredient in caramel color, the signs do not need to change.
One of the main aspects of Prop 65 is that chemicals are added to the list if the State of California identifies them as potentially harmful. This means that the California list does not always correlate with guidance from other regulators. As an example, in 2015, the state added Bisphenol A (BPA) to the Prop 65 list of chemicals, for warning to be provided where it is “intentionally added” (which can include where it is present in materials that consumer goods are exposed to – BPA is a common ingredient in linings of lids and beverage cans, and is often used in equipment such as hoses at production facilities). Although the regular Prop 65 warning doesn’t have specific language, in the case of BPA, California created emergency regulations in 2016 with a special safe harbor warning notice. That regulation ran out in January, meaning that sign is no longer mandatory until the regular regulations take effect in August, but it is recommended by trade bodies to keep distributing it in the interim. Prop 65 Sign Management Company distributes a safe harbor warning, but only on behalf of identified suppliers (who are encouraged to add their affected products directly at the site).
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) allows the use of BPA, and opposed California’s addition of BPA to the list in 2015, indicating the FDA’s research did not indicate it caused reproductive toxicity. A draft report released by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) this month also found only minimal effects on persons exposed to BPA. On the other hand, a new Regulation passed by the European Commission (EU 2018/213) in February introduces stricter measures for BPA use in food contact materials in Europe from September this year, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is re-evaluating its impact after it originally cleared its use in 2015, in the face of many health bodies calling for a complete ban on its use. Despite the differences of opinion among regulatory agencies, both in the US and abroad, BPA remains on the Prop 65 list and suppliers whose products or packaging are exposed to BPA are subject to the California signage requirements.
Any businesses selling alcoholic beverages in California should be aware of the impact of Prop 65 on their activity. If you have any questions, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
March 12, 2018
Back in December, we wrote about the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “Act”) and the 2018-2019 excise tax reform for the alcoholic beverage industry. The TTB has since issued additional guidance on the changes to federal excise taxes, including more information on the production requirements for beer and wine to be eligible for reduced excise taxes.
Wine: To be eligible for the new wine excise tax credit, the wine must have been produced by the winery claiming the tax credit. The TTB’s guidance states that in addition to fermentation, the following activities constitute “production” for purposes of claiming the new tax credit:
The TTB’s recent guidance also states that activities listed in 24 C.F.R. § 24.278(e) will constitute “production” for the purposes of claiming the new tax credit, but only fermentation and the four activities listed above are specifically listed in the TTB guidance. It is unclear whether the production of sparkling wine constitutes “production” for the purposes of claiming the new tax credit, as that activity is listed in 24 C.F.R. § 24.278(e), but is not listed in the TTB’s recent guidance on this topic.
The activities above must be undertaken “in good faith in the ordinary course of production, and not solely for the purpose of obtaining a tax credit.” The entire volume of wine that has undergone one of these production activities would be considered “produced” for purposes of applying the new tax credit. Blending that does not involve one of the operations listed above is not considered production.
It is common practice for wineries to store untaxpaid wine under bond at a bonded wine cellar (“BWC”). Under the “small producer tax credit” in effect prior to 2018, a winery was able to “transfer” its tax credit with the wine to a BWC, and the tax credit could be claimed when the wine was removed from bond at the BWC. Under the excise tax changes in effect for 2018 and 2019, because a BWC has not “produced” the wines by one of the methods above, the BWC may not claim the excise tax credit on wines removed from its bond. The TTB recognizes that wineries may need time to change operations in order to take advantage of the 2018-2019 wine tax credits. Accordingly, Industry Circular 2018-1 sets out an alternate procedure for wineries to claim the excise tax credit on wines stored at a BWC through June 30, 2018. This alternate procedure enables a winery to “receive” its untaxpaid wine back in bond from the BWC, and then “remove” it taxpaid by invoicing it back to the BWC. The process is completed entirely on paper, and does not require a winery to physically receive the wine and re-transport it back to the BWC. This alternate procedure is only available for a limited time, and thus wine producers should review their off-site untaxpaid wine storage and plan to coordinate the documentation to take advantage of the new tax credits while they can.
Beer: There is also a production requirement for beer in order to be eligible for the new reduced tax rates. The recent TTB guidance provides that, in addition to fermentation, the act of “addi[ng] water or other liquids during any stage of production” constitutes “production” for purposes of claiming the reduced tax rates, if the activity is “undertaken in good faith in the ordinary course of production, and not solely for the purpose of obtaining a tax credit.” The TTB confirmed that simply bottling or blending beer does not constitute “production.” Further, the TTB confirmed that, like wine, the reduced excise tax for beer cannot be “transferred” with beer transferred in bond. However, unlike wine, there is no alternate procedure for obtaining the reduced tax credit via documentation on beer that has already been transferred to another brewery under bond.
There are still some outstanding questions regarding the excise tax changes on which the TTB has not yet issued guidance, including how the excise tax reform applies to imported products, as well as when two or more producers will be considered to be a controlled group or a single taxpayer. If you have any questions about how the recent excise tax changes may affect your business, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
January 29, 2018
In 2016, we blogged about a new Illinois law that created a requirement for licensed winery shippers to disclose to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (“ILCC”) all third party providers (“TPPs”) authorized to ship the licensee’s wine into Illinois, excluding common carriers. That law also imposes a new annual reporting requirement for all TPPs appointed to ship wine into Illinois on behalf of winery shipper licensees. The first report for TPPs shipping wine into Illinois is due on February 1, 2018. The report must provide details regarding each shipment made in 2017 to an Illinois resident on behalf of a winery shipper licensee. The ILCC has not drafted a form for this report, but the Wine Institute explains that the following specifics must be included in the TPP report to the ILCC:
If you have any questions about direct winery shipping or third party providers, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel for guidance.
January 18, 2018
On January 1, 2018, adult use cannabis became legal in California, raising questions for many alcoholic beverage licensees about their ability to hold cannabis licenses and to sell or serve cannabis products on their alcohol licensed premises. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) responded to several of these questions on January 18, 2018, by way of an Industry Advisory. First, the ABC confirmed that there is nothing in the ABC Act or the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”) that prohibits ownership in both alcohol and cannabis related licenses. However, licenses cannot be held at the same location and the premises need to be sufficiently separated so that a person going to a licensed cannabis establishment will not be required to pass through a licensed alcohol establishment and vice versa. The ABC also clarified that cannabis cannot be sold or consumed on ABC licensed premises and that infusing alcohol with cannabis products is strictly prohibited.
Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about cannabis under MAUCRSA or the ABC Act.
January 08, 2018
Previously, we blogged about the 2017 changes to the landscape of interstate retailer direct to consumer (“DTC”) wine shipments. This past year did not see any changes with respect to the permissibility of interstate winery DTC shipments, but there is one change on the horizon in 2018. Currently, winery DTC shipments are permissible and available in 43 states (including Washington, DC). The following eight states have laws prohibiting interstate winery DTC shipments, or have laws or other circumstances that effectively prevent interstate winery DTC shipments in most situations (such as laws limiting winery DTC shipments to on-site sales, or common carriers not servicing the state, etc.):
In 2018, the list above will be narrowed to seven states and winery DTC shipments will be permissible and available in 44 states, as Oklahoma opens up to direct winery shipments. As part of Oklahoma’s sweeping alcohol reform that was passed in 2016, a Direct Wine Shipper’s Permit was created (effective October 1, 2018), which will allow shipments by out-of-state wineries to Oklahoma consumers.
Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have questions about your winery’s operations or direct to consumer wine shipments.
December 29, 2017
Last week, the President signed into law sweeping alcoholic beverage excise tax reform as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “Act”). These alcohol excise tax changes originated in the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, and were incorporated into the larger $1.5 trillion tax overhaul. The new law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2018. The law sunsets at the end of 2019, but with the possibility that the changes might be extended if successful. The TTB is working on guidance and the form revisions necessitated by these fast-approaching excise tax changes, and expects to issue more information in the coming weeks.
The Act will drastically lower the tax rate payable on alcoholic beverages through the course of 2018 and 2019. Already-existing excise tax reductions for small brewers and small winemakers are expanded and extended to all producers of beer and wine, distilled spirits producers will get significantly lowered excise tax rates, and importers will gain the opportunity to stand in the shoes of their foreign producers to access similar reductions. Specific reductions include:
As well as reducing excise taxes, the new law also removes the requirement to capitalize interest costs incurred and allocable to stock during the ageing period for alcoholic beverages in income tax assessments. Bond transfers also change, with transfer of beer to be allowed between bonded facilities held by different licensees, including by pipeline, and transfer of packaged distilled spirits in bond between bonded facilities will be allowed, which is currently limited to bulk distilled spirits. The Act also has provisions limiting reduced tax rates among controlled groups, including foreign producers, and has extensive provisions regarding the assignment by a foreign producer of the right to reduced tax to importers. Both of these items, and likely others, will require implementing regulations, which should follow soon in the new year.
With passage of the Act last week, industry members should assess operations and the current payment of excise taxes—especially if not all excise taxes are paid directly—to be able to maximize the benefits available over the two year span of these excise tax changes. If you have any questions about how the Act might affect your business, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
December 18, 2017
This year brought changes to the landscape of interstate retailer direct to consumer (“DTC”) wine shipments. In August 2017, Missouri repealed Mo. Rev. Stat. § 311.462, which allowed out-of-state retailers to ship wine to Missouri consumers, provided the retailer was located in a state that allowed Missouri retailers to ship into the state (“reciprocal states”). Thus, the list of states that allow out-of-state retailer DTC shipping is now as follows:
Bear in mind that California, Idaho, and New Mexico are reciprocal states, and only allow shipments from out-of-state retailers located in one of states listed above. Furthermore, in order for a retailer to ship wine to consumers in the following states, the retailer must obtain a license: Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Many of the states with a DTC license requirement for retailers also require retailers to report shipments into the state and pay taxes.
If you have any questions about direct to consumer shipments of alcohol, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
December 13, 2017
In January 2017, the federal laws on alcoholic cider were revised to expand the definition of what constitutes “hard cider” and to revise its federal tax rate. We posted about those and other developments in the “hard cider” arena here and here.
Included in those changes to the law was a requirement, to be effective starting January 1, 2018, that the statement “Tax class 5041(b)(6)” appear on any hard cider removed from wine premises or Customs custody for which the “hard cider” tax rate is claimed. However, on December 5, 2017, the TTB published a temporary rule, delaying the new labeling requirement until January 1, 2019. Until the new effective date, the tax class statement continues to be optional.
Along with the labeling delay, the TTB has also decided to reopen the public comment period, providing an opportunity for the public to make additional comments over the next two months regarding both the delayed labeling requirement and other “hard cider” regulatory amendments.
For more information regarding hard cider licensing and regulatory requirements, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
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