Hawaii Penalizes the Helpers
Liquor regulators target a brewery that made hand sanitizer.
by The Editorial Board Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2020
Mr. Rogers famously advised children to “look for the helpers” during scary times. Amid the pandemic, they include entrepreneurs who have applied creativity and expertise to get essential goods to health workers and consumers. The bad news is that no good deed goes unscrutinized by regulators.
In Hawaii and elsewhere, the pandemic has led to shortages of hand sanitizer. Alcohol producers are “in a unique position to help the community, and we did that,” says Garrett Marrero, co-founder of Maui Brewing Company. As soon as federal regulators gave the go-ahead in March, the licensed brewery, distillery and winery began churning out hand sanitizer in bulk.
Mr. Marrero says he gave around 1,200 gallons, worth as much as $35,000, to police, first responders, health workers and local nonprofits. The brewery’s donations helped “ensure the safety of our officers when responding to calls for service and to our Kupuna,” or elderly, wrote Maui’s chief of police, Tivoli Faaumu, in a thank-you letter.
The hand sanitizer also “helped us to continue to provide vital services for children with autism,” says Kristen Koba-Burdt, the director of clinical operations for the behavioral health practice at BAYADA Home Health Care.
What Mr. Marrero didn’t give away, he sold to local businesses or offered to his customers for free with any purchase. He says that caught the attention of the Department of Liquor Control for Maui County, which suggested his promotional offer amounted to an illegal inducement to purchase alcohol.
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” says Mr. Marrero. Purchases like coffee or merchandise were also eligible, so there was no inducement to buy booze. “We wanted to get it out to the community, but we knew if we said ‘free sanitizer,’ we would have madness,” he says. He never turned away people in need, even if they couldn’t afford to buy something, he says.
Maui County says the matter is under investigation and no enforcement action has been taken. But “the last thing anybody needs is a fine right now,” Mr. Marrero says. Before the pandemic, Maui Brewing Company employed some 700 workers, but with alcohol sales down 40% and food sales down 100%, Mr. Marrero has had to furlough most of the staff.
Wiser regulators than those in Maui would avoid bloody-minded enforcement that deters voluntary civic action to help the public in a crisis. Entrepreneurs have been willing and able to help, but they’ll be forced to stop if they fear it will invite punishment.
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Reason: Hawaiian Brewery Under Investigation for Hand Sanitizer Giveaway