The General Assembly is Maryland’s legislative body. The legislature meets in regular session for 90 days each year beginning the second Wednesday in January to act on more than 2,500 pieces of legislation.
On sine die, when the legislature adjourned its 439th session at midnight on the 90th day, on April 8, 2019, a total of 864 bills and 2 resolutions passed both chambers. Most of the legislation enacted in that 2019 General Assembly session, including those bills involving matters of alcoholic beverages, were effective on October 1, 2019.
This is a compilation of the more than 60 new laws involving alcoholic beverages. You can read each of the bills highlighted below at General Assembly.
Savvy players in the alcoholic beverage industrial complex will find business opportunities to lead and profit in matters of beer, wine and spirits, including opportunities advantaged by these newly enacted laws.
Statewide Alcoholic Beverages Regulation
In Maryland, alcoholic beverages manufacturers and wholesalers are regulated by the State Comptroller’s Office, while alcoholic beverages retailers are regulated by local boards of license commissioners. House Bill 1052 (passed) establishes the new Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and transferring most of the staff, powers, and duties related to alcoholic beverages and tobacco from the Comptroller’s Office to ATC. The Governor vetoed the legislation, but the General Assembly overrode the veto during the 2019 session. The new ATC consists of five members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.
In January 2017, the alcoholic beverage distributor Diageo announced plans to open a Guinness brewery in Baltimore County. At that time, the law regulating on-premises sales and sampling for Class 5 breweries limited the sale and sampling to 500 barrels of beer each year. In 2017 the legislature made significant changes the manner in which Class 5 breweries were regulated to accommodate Diageo. This year, Senate Bill 801/House Bill 1010 (both passed) further enhance the privileges associated with a Class 5 brewery license, a Class 7 micro-brewery license, and a Class 8 farm brewery license. Among other things, the bills increase to 5,000 barrels the amount of beer that Class 5 and Class 7 breweries may sell each year for on-premises consumption, allow Class 5 breweries to brew and bottle malt beverages at the locations described on their individual storage permits, authorize Class 7 breweries to brew up to 45,000 barrels of malt beverages each calendar year, and authorize certain Class 5, Class 7, and Class 8 breweries to self-distribute up to 5,000 barrels of their own beer through the use of a Class 7 limited beer wholesaler’s license. The bills also set the hours of sale for Class 8 farm breweries at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Established in 1974, the Beer Franchise Fair Dealing Act regulates the agreements, franchises, and relationships between beer manufacturers and their distributors (wholesalers). Among other things, the Act prohibits a brewery from terminating a contract with a distributor without good cause. Senate Bill 704/House Bill 1080 (both passed) shorten the franchise agreement termination process for a brewery that produces 20,000 or fewer barrels of beer per year. Such a brewery must wait 45 days, rather than 180 days, after notifying a distributor of its intent to terminate or refuse to renew a beer franchise agreement before terminating the agreement. Additionally, such a brewery is authorized to terminate or refuse to continue or renew a franchise agreement without good cause and is no longer required to give its distributor an opportunity to correct a deficiency if that is the reason the agreement is being terminated. However, the bills require the brewery to compensate the distributor for the fair market value of the terminated franchise and establish an arbitration process if the brewery and the distributor cannot otherwise reach a compensation agreement.
Mead is a fermented alcoholic beverage made primarily of honey and water. Production of mead dates to 9,000 years ago. Mead is categorized as a honey wine for federal excise tax purposes. As a result, mead has historically been considered a wine in Maryland for regulatory purposes, even though State law is silent on the issue, and has been taxed accordingly. Senate Bill 596 (passed) reclassifies mead by expanding the definition of “beer” to include mead and applies the same alcoholic beverages tax rate to mead that is imposed on beer.
A Class 1 distillery license authorizes the establishment and operation of a plant for distilling any amount of brandy, rum, whiskey, alcohol, and neutral spirits at the location described in the license. A Class 1 distillery license also authorizes the license holder to conduct guided tours; serve samples; and sell up to 2.25 liters of products manufactured on the licensed premises, for consumption off the licensed premises, and related merchandise, to persons of legal drinking age who participate in a guided tour of the licensed premises.
House Bill 549 (passed) authorizes a local alcoholic beverages licensing board to issue an on-site consumption permit to the holder of a Class 1 distillery license. The permit authorizes the sale of mixed drinks made from liquor produced by the distillery and other non-alcoholic ingredients for on-premises consumption. A distillery may only use up to 7,750 gallons of its own liquor for this purpose each year.
In 2016 the legislature authorized the Comptroller to grant a distillery off-site permit to a Class 1 distillery licensee or a Class 9 limited distillery licensee. House Bill 551 (passed) increases the number of farmers’ markets and other events that a distillery or limited distillery may participate in using a distillery off-site permit. Specifically, the bill repeals the 5-event limit on the number of farmers’ markets for which the permit may be used, and authorizes the permit to be used to participate in up to 32, rather than 6, other events each year.
House Bill 666 (passed) generally combines the nonprofit beer festival permit, nonprofit wine festival permit, and nonprofit liquor festival permit into a single nonprofit beer, wine, and liquor festival permit.
In general, an individual may not consume an alcoholic beverage in public nor possess an alcoholic beverage in an open container in public. House Bill 88 (passed) establishes that consuming or possessing an alcoholic beverage in this manner is a code violation and a civil offense rather than a criminal misdemeanor. Under the bill, a violator receives a civil citation rather than being subject to arrest.
Local Alcoholic Beverages Legislation
Allegany County. Senate Bill 667/House Bill 866 (both passed) authorize the Board of License Commissioners to issue a Class D (on-sale) beer and wine arts and entertainment district license to a for-profit festival promoter for use at an entertainment event held in an arts and entertainment district in the county. In addition, the bills authorize the board to issue a Class L beer, wine, and liquor license to the holder of a manufacturer’s license. The Class L license authorizes the holder to sell or provide samples of beer, wine, and liquor produced by the holder or by another manufacturer’s licensee for on-premises consumption during the hours of sale applicable to the underlying manufacturer’s license.
Anne Arundel County. House Bill 770 (passed) authorizes the Board of License Commissioners to issue more than one Class B, Class H, or Class BLX license to an individual already holding an interest in a license of a similar class. The interest may be held, controlled by direct or indirect ownership, stock ownership, interlocking directors or interlocking stock ownership, or any other direct or indirect manner. However, the other license type and interest must not be for a franchise operation or chain store operation.