As an attorney who specializes in alcohol licensing fire drills, I have a standing wish list of things I desire alcohol producers knew about their compliance. Grab cup of coffee or other beverage, sit down and have a read about five things your alcohol compliance lawyer wants you to know.
Quick! Who has access to your home state license and TTB records? What about all the other states? Does this person have access to ‘all the things’ or just enough access to file reports and returns? Not sure if anyone outside your long -suffering compliance person (internal or external) knows how to answer this question?
Not all access is created equal, and it is important to understand the difference. The most common type of access is someone having a login and password to a state website. That access allows them to file alcohol related tax returns, submit brand registration, renew licenses, reset passwords (if you have the right email, more on that later), etc. What that access does not usually allow them to do is talk to the state about specific questions related to your alcohol accounts. This second type of access, usually linked to the officers, directors (the legal kind, not the job title) and owners, is like a certain movie character’s golden ticket. It allows them an all access pass to get information, request changes and more.
Knowing who has what type of access is important if you want to make a change to the information on file or sign an application or renewal. For example, if you have a winery in California and you want to get an additional license for your new tasting room, the person signing the forms must already be on file with the California ABC in connection with the winery license. If the one person associated with your winery license happens to be on an extended vacation, you will need to track them down to sign the forms (sometimes sending a mobile notary to their location) or wait until they return to move forward.
If trying to come up with the answers to my first set of questions made you break out into a cold sweat, it is probably time to audit your home state license and TTB Permits Online access.
Do you have a copy of your home state license and TTB Basic Permit on site at your winery, distillery or brewery? For example, if you are a California winery, the home state license is a pink piece of paper that should be on display at the winery and renewed every year.
Was that question easier that the first set? Here is a harder one. Do you have all the records of forms and applications filed in connection with those licenses? While many of the TTB records can be located online (with the proper access), not all home state regulators are as easy. Sticking with the California winery example, if you want to see a copy of your ABC 257 (the premises diagram that shows where your operating boundaries are), you will need to take that up with the Custodian of Records in the ABC’s Sacramento office.
Remember my comment about emails above? Who receives email notices from state regulators about your licenses, brand registrations and tax filings? Please create a ‘compliance@’ email or something similar right now. Really. I mean it. Grab a post it, make a note and stick it on your computer screen. Right. Now. Once you have created it, make it a priority to update all your online accounts with this new email address.
Why is this important? Because if the person connected to the email on file with the alcohol regulators wins the lottery and leaves the same day, all the notices, renewals and even the ever popular two factor authentication process is trapped in that old email. While your IT rock stars may be able to grant you access to the old email for a period of time, that is only if someone thinks about it during the off-boarding process. And no, turning on an ‘out of office’ from the old email directing the sender to the new ‘compliance@’ email address won’t work. Many of these notices are sent from an automated/no-reply email address that simply doesn’t care that you never got around to taking this advice.
PASSWORDS AND LOGINS
Keep a record of the current usernames and passwords to state alcohol regulator websites and the TTB Permits Online system. Keep it current. Ideally, use a password program like LastPass, 1Password, MyGlue or something similar so that your IT team can add or share access to this information in a hurry if needed. Remember that employee who won the lottery and left the same day? What about the employee who has a family emergency and needs to be gone for an extended period of time? Filing deadlines will not wait for them to come back to the office and regulators are not usually inclined to accept these excuses as part of a request to waive late filing penalties.
MAKE ALCOHOL COMPLIANCE LIVE IN MORE THAN ONE PLACE
While I would love to think that every single winery, brewery and distillery owner loves compliance like my team does, I suspect that is not the case. Alcohol compliance is a confusing and complex requirement in the United States – 50 states, 51 sets of rules.
Try this- get to know the employee who handles alcohol compliance for your organization or who manages the relationship with your outside compliance resource. Understand enough about their day job to not be intimidated or terrified if they decide to go on vacation during a busy part of the year. Cross train some of their key job responsibilities so you have backup if needed. Respect that they can be viewed as the hall monitor of your company– just enough authority to stop you in the hallway and ask for your hall pass, but not enough authority to make you remember to bring your hall pass with you the next time you step out of the classroom.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for the alcohol compliance at your company. Telling a regulator ‘but my compliance person quit or is out of the office’ is akin to saying ‘the dog ate my homework’ and will go over about as well you as think it might.
Need More Information?
Cronbach Law Group PC is a law firm located in Napa, California. Our focus is helping our clients understand the complex world of alcoholic beverage regulation – 50 states, 51 sets of rules. Let us be your guide and keep your business priorities top of mind on along the way. www.winedeal.law
If you have any questions about compliance for your vineyard or winery, please reach out to us here at Protea Financial! We can recommend an alcohol compliance lawyer to help!