Most Marylanders are now aware of Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order in response to the global coronavirus outbreak closing non-essential businesses, however, the Interpretive Guidance issued by the Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel makes clear the order does NOT require “alcoholic beverage stores and distributors, distilleries, and wineries” to close.
Additionally, in response to the earlier March 16, 2020 Order “restaurants and bars are subject to specific provisions of the Order, and are required to close (EXCEPT FOR CARRY-OUT, DELIVERY, AND DRIVE-THROUGH SALES).” [Emphasis added.]
That March 16 Order provides in relevant part,
All Restaurants and Bars are hereby closed to the general public, effective as of 5:00 p.m. on March 16, 2020, except that, to the extent permitted by applicable law, and in accordance with any social-distancing recommendations of the Maryland Department of Health food and beverages may be:
i. Sold if such food and beverages are promptly taken from the premises, i.e., on a carry-out or drive-through basis; and
ii. delivered to customers off the premises.
Other states, including Pennsylvania have closed liquor stores as nonessential businesses, so many may not have been aware of the economic opportunity in the two enumerated sections, permitting the sale of beer, wine and spirits for carry out and delivery across Maryland. And this is potentially huge while these businesses are otherwise indefinitely shut down by the government when in most instances these businesses were not previously delivering alcoholic beverages.
While state law has provided for delivery, nearly every Board of Alcoholic Beverage Commissioners in Maryland established a procedure to approve deliveries in their respective county. As a threshold matter, of course deliveries of beer, wine and spirits may only be made by a licensee in the county where they are licensed. But few bars and restaurants or even package good stores have taken advantage of the ability to deliver alcohol.
Now, some local jurisdictions are providing for expedited approvals to deliveries (especially in light of the fact that most Boards are not holding hearing during the emergency), including, in Baltimore County,
Temporary License Allowance for Delivery
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board is temporarily allowing Class A, B and D license holders to deliver alcoholic beverages to citizens in Baltimore County only. Be advised you must adhere to Rule 9—Delivery Outside of the Licensed Premises of the Board’s Rules and Regulations. To take advantage of this delivery privilege, you must send your request in writing to the Board for approval. You may send a formal request by email to email@example.com. Any establishment that has been penalized for service to minors in the past three years will not be considered.
The Anne Arundel County liquor board is also asking license holders that want to deliver or sell off premises to seek approval by emailing LQHAGN00@aacounty.org. The Montgomery County board of license commissioners approved a resolution to allow restaurants to sell beer and wine to go with a meal during this period. Businesses must apply for approval. Garrett County also requires application and approval and requires a signed for by the receiver of each delivery (described by some as burdensome).
Other jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, are interpreting that the Executive Order trumps their local rules and now authorizes delivery without any special application of approval, at least through the end of the emergency. The Howard County liquor board has passed a resolution authorizing restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and liquor stores to deliver and carry out, but a “Class B licensee may only deliver alcoholic beverages as part of an order that includes food,” all subject to other modest requirements within the resolution. Frederick County is temporarily allowing carry out and delivery by restaurants, clubs, breweries and distilleries, including expressly mixed drinks in a sealed and wrapped container.
While facing major disruptions and unprecedented volatility in their businesses, some entrepreneurial restaurants have even lowered wine prices to compete with the usually lower priced packaged goods stores (.. at least one restaurant has “half price bottle of wine Wednesday” today).
And lest you question how large an opportunity this can be in Maryland, the Denver Mayor ordered liquor stores closed, only to reverse the order later the very same day after customers swarmed to stock up on beverages.
With no end date in sight, that bars, restaurants and alcoholic beverage stores may now offer alcoholic beverages for carry out and delivery may be a economic lifesaver! The rules vary between local jurisdictions in Maryland. Law firms are also deemed an essential business, so we remain open and if we can access key information to help you understand, prepare and respond quickly to the significant legal and business challenges of delivery of alcoholic beverages related to COVID-19, we are ready to help you.
This post was updated on March 23, 2020.