Leaked Document: Amazon Planned to ‘Unlock’ US Alcohol Market by Changing Laws Via Secret Lobbying
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Leaked Document Reveals Amazon’s Plans to ‘Unlock’ US Alcohol Market by Changing Laws Through Secret Lobby Campaign

An Amazon Fresh grocery store is photographed on September 14, 2022 in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo: Ringo Chiu via AP)

A confidential document obtained by Vice’s Motherboard reveals how Amazon wanted to implement a secret lobbying campaign to change alcohol licensing laws and regulations in order to “unlock” the U.S. alcohol market.

The document, titled “2021 Alcohol Public Policy Strategy,” outlines Amazon’s strategy to “defend against legislative threats” concerning alcohol delivery and curbside pickup in “priority states.” Plans for acquiring alcohol licenses for formats like Amazon Fresh and physical stores were also outlined, along with a strategy to increase or eradicate license caps in “pivotal states”. If such caps were eliminated, Amazon would allegedly be able to acquire as many state alcohol licenses as desired, Vice reported.

Amazon considered California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania as states that would require a “high degree of effort,” per the document.

According to Vice, the retail giant sought to defeat “Amazon-specific legislative threats” regarding self-checkout in California, where purchasing alcohol through this method is prohibited. In order to achieve this proposed goal, Amazon planned to “rely” on the R Street Institute (RSI) as a lobby front group to “shield” it from “sensitive issues” by “providing cover when involvement by large retail brands is detrimental to progress,” according to the document.

RSI, described as a “think tank,” advocates for a generally freer alcohol policy through a revision to the three-tier system. The three-tier system, established in the U.S. after the repeal of Prohibition, essentially mandates that spirit producers can only sell products to wholesale distributors — who then sell to retailers. Then, only retailers are able to sell products to consumers. Nevertheless, exceptions to this system vary from state to state. For example, a combined brewery and a pub business can be both a producer and a retailer with no need to sell to a distributor.

However, according to an Amazon spokesperson, the company is not currently working with RSI on alcohol policy, even though Amazon provides general support because the two entities are “aligned on a variety of issues,” Vice reported.

In an email sent to Motherboard, an Amazon spokesperson said: “It’s common for people at Amazon to put ideas in documents that never make it past the draft stage and are never used to make decisions. The document referenced was drafted in 2020—more than two years ago—and not only was it never approved or implemented, the items discussed in the document are no longer relevant.”

Still, Amazon does advocate for alcohol delivery across the U.S., the spokesperson added, per Vice.

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Candie Getgen is the managing editor for Gin Raiders. Before immersing herself in the world of spirits journalism, Candie has been many things: a bartender, a literary journal editor, an English teacher — and even a poet. Now, Candie shares her passion for gin with the world and hopes to help others fall in love with it, too (if they haven't already!). When not writing, Candie enjoys sipping an extra-dry martini while painting or relaxing by the pool with a thrilling mystery novel.