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Liquor-Laced Candy Measure Sent to Governor

Times Staff Writer

Liquor-flavored gourmet chocolates and other candies, already widely sold illegally in California, would be legal under a bill that received final legislative passage Wednesday.

The Assembly voted 46 to 22 to approve Senate amendments to the measure, sending it to Gov. George Deukmejian for his signature.

While the debate over the high-priced confections focused on the real or imagined dangers of luring children to alcohol with liquor-laced candies, the bill’s backers said they were worried about economic interests in their own districts.

One of the bill’s principal supporters, Assemblyman Elihu M. Harris (D-Oakland), disclosed that a New Jersey-based manufacturer of liquor-filled chocolate bottles had promised to build a factory in his district if the measure is enacted. The factory could mean an additional 200 jobs for his district, he said.

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“My motivation is my district and potential jobs,” Harris said. “That’s my motivation, but I probably would support the bill anyway.”

The Western Candy Conference, representing the major candy manufacturers, joined forces with the church-supported California Council on Alcohol Problems to lobby against the bill.

The author of the measure, Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), sponsored it because state health officials ordered one of his constituents, Beth Sherman, to stop adding liqueurs to chocolate truffles she was manufacturing in her small La Mesa plant.

Stirling complained that state officials were selectively enforcing the law, singling out a small plant in his district, while ignoring bigger violators.

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To illustrate the point, hours before the vote, he led a reporter to several Sacramento-area stores, all of which were openly selling liqueur-flavored or liquor-filled confections, which appear to violate current state law.

Existing statutes permit candies to contain up to 0.5% of alcohol derived from flavor extracts such as vanilla. However, alcoholic beverages cannot be used in manufacturing candy.

Another section of law makes it unlawful to sell or give to minors candy, cake, cookies or chewing gum containing more than 2% alcohol. However, this provision does not apply to products weighing more than five ounces--the so-called “fruitcake exception.”

Stirling’s measure, amended at Harris’ request, would allow up to 5% alcohol in candy products. The confections would have to be labeled, and any sale to minors, even of fruitcakes, would be banned.

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That standard would legalize the sale of Winters Chocolate Bottles--bottle-shaped, liquor-filled chocolates that are now widely distributed in California. It is the Winters company that has promised to open a factory in Harris’ district.

The Winters products are widely sold in California, even though their label indicates that they contain 5% alcohol.


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