In the 2021 session that ended last week, the Maryland legislature enacted and the Governor is expected to sign Senate Bill 205 / House Bill 12 authorizing local county liquor boards to adopt regulations that allow a restaurant, bar, or tavern to sell including deliver alcoholic beverages (.. something that had previously been available only to retail stores), including mixed drinks or cocktails in sealed or closed containers (.. not even available to retail stores), for off-premises consumption.
Approved in the final day of the 90 day session, after a conference committee ironed out the differences between the two houses, the heavily lobbied bill which takes effect on July 1, 2021 and terminates on June 30, 2023, seeks to legislatively extend the expansion of alcohol access temporarily allowed under Governor Hogan’s Executive Order of March 19, 2020 “Expanding Alcoholic Beverage Delivery and Carryout Services.”
Under current law, Maryland’s 23 counties, Baltimore City, and the City of Annapolis all have boards of license commissioners that issue and enforce retail alcoholic beverages licenses in their jurisdictions.
Within each jurisdiction, the most common types of retail licenses are Class A, Class B, Class C, and Class D licenses. Each license authorizes the sale of alcoholic beverages in a different manner and may authorize the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption, off-premises consumption, or both. For example, Class B licenses are generally issued to restaurants and allow the sale of alcoholic beverages with food, and Class D licenses are generally issued to bars and taverns and allow the sale of alcoholic beverages without food.
Under this bill, a county liquor board may adopt a rule or regulation (.. and many already have done so under the existing Governor’s executive order that remains in effect through the Covid-19 state of emergency) that allows a restaurant, bar, or tavern to sell certain alcoholic beverages, including mixed drinks or cocktails in sealed or closed containers, for off-premises consumption.”
Pandering to teetotaler advocates, in considering whether to do so, a county must weigh the need to promote the economic recovery of different categories of small businesses in the wake of the Ccovid-19 pandemic and the need to protect public health and welfare.
For restaurants, bars, and taverns with a license that only allows alcoholic beverages sales for on-premises consumption, any such rule or regulation may allow the off-premises sale and delivery if:
- the alcoholic beverage is purchased along with prepared food other than prepackaged snacks;
- the individual purchasing the alcoholic beverage is (1) at least 21 years old; (2) provides valid identification as proof of age; and (3) if the sale is for delivery, provides any documentation the local licensing board requires;
- the license holder has registered and received written authorization from the local liquor licensing board to sell alcoholic beverages under its license for off-premises consumption or delivery;
- each alcoholic beverage sold for off-premises consumption or delivery is (1) provided in the manufacturer’s original sealed container or in a container closed with a cap, cork, seal, or lid with no holes for straws or sipping and (2) sold or delivered before 11:00 p.m.;
- the delivery is made to the individual purchasing the alcoholic beverage from the licensed premises by the license holder or the holder’s employee who is at least 21 years old and certified in an alcohol awareness program; and
- the alcoholic beverage is not delivered to (1) another premises licensed to sell alcoholic beverages or (2) an address located outside of the licensed jurisdiction.
Additionally, individual mixed drinks may be sold by restaurants, bars, and taverns with a license that allows alcoholic beverages sales for on- and off-premises consumption, by a rule or regulation that allows the off-premises sale and delivery if the elements above are satisfied, and additionally each mixed drink sold for off-premises consumption or delivery is (1) provided in the manufacturer’s original sealed container or in a container closed with a cap, cork, seal, or lid with no holes for straws or sipping and (2) sold or delivered before 11:00 p.m.
The local rule or regulation may not impose additional restrictions or limitations on the sale; although many boards have application requirements for the ability to deliver.
Additionally, the Maryland Department of Health must conduct a study on the impact of the expansion of alcohol access and submit its findings to the General Assembly by December 31, 2022.
The legislation as enacted, after the compromise between the houses, is good in that it continues the now temporary delivery of alcoholic beverages, but it does not rise to the level of being very good in that this enactment is short lived expiring on June 30, 2023, nor excellent in that is does not address the elephant in the room of delivery not being permitted beyond county borders; although only time will tell how many businesses will take advantage of this potentially valuable two year allowance in an economy that now rewards businesses that deliver.