It is illegal to bring alcohol into the state of Pennsylvania without a license or special permit. The penalty is $25 per bottle or 90 days in prison. Repeat offenders may have their vehicles seized and receive stiffer fines.
With Labor Day weekend approaching, authorities and liquor-store owners expect the illegal transportation of liquor into Pennsylvania to increase.
Sgt. John T. Lyle, of the Pennsylvania State Police liquor-control enforcement unit, said some residents may be unaware that it is illegal to transport alcohol across state lines into Pennsylvania.
Others buy liquor elsewhere and bring it into the state because they are confused about an exception in the law, Lyle said. The exception applies to ''miniatures" transported into the state. He cited section 491.2 of the Pennsylvania liquor code, which defines "miniatures" as "small collectors bottles totaling less than one gallon purchased in another state or foreign country in accordance with the board regulations."
In other words, little bottles like the ones you can buy on an airplane.
"In actuality you can't bring any alcoholic beverage into the commonwealth without a license or a permit to do so," Lyle said.
Lyle said state police decided to increase enforcement after receiving complaints from Delaware County officeholders who said their constituents were mad about out-of-state liquor being brought in.
Those politicians "requested beefing up the patrols," he said, "and we complied."
He said Pennsylvania State Police normally patrolled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to enforce the law. But some regular liquor traffickers have gotten smart.
"The people who do this habitually have a tendency to bounce from state to state," he said. "They've gotten to the point where they recognize our vehicles."
Lyle said that when enforcement is heavy in one area, illegal liquor trafficking usually moves to another section of the state.
At Canal's Discount Liquor Mart on Route 38 in Cherry Hill, business was brisk late yesterday afternoon. Some people complained about the Pennsylvania law.
A store manager, who requested anonymity, said that targeting and fining people who cross state lines with alcohol could hurt the liquor industry.
"That would be bad for business," he said, "because people would be scared to buy."
The manager estimated that depending on the Labor Day weekend weather, Canal's would likely sell 8,000 cases of beer alone.
A customer, Mac McCloskey of Pennsauken, scoffed at the idea of law enforcement cracking down.
"I think it's ridiculous," said McCloskey, 75. A semiretired ballroom owner, he questioned why authorities were targeting liquor instead of more expensive out-of-state purchases.
"Why not big-ticket items like automobiles?" he asked.
"People who live in Salem County can go to Delaware and buy televisions, refrigerators - whatever they want, with no sales tax," McCloskey said. "So what are they going to do next? Arrest them?"
He said that when he and his wife visit his sister in Florida, they take plenty of scotch for the family.
"And for anybody to stop us," McCloskey said, "I would really be upset."
Don't tell it to Sgt. Lyle.