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The carry-out cocktails will continue to flow – at least for the next two years in Maryland. The state legislature adopted a bill on Monday that allows restaurants, bars, breweries, and other companies with a liquor license to sell alcoholic beverages for take-out and delivery. On the last day of the General Assembly’s 2021 session, the bill extends rights established by Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The order of Hogan was intended at assisting restaurants and pubs in surviving amid pandemic-era shutdowns and capacity constraints. Supporters of the General Assembly bill argue that allowing alcohol to be taken out and delivered will assist the dining industry weather
On Tuesday, Del. Courtney Watson, the bill’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, said that “our restaurants that have incurred losses in the pandemic would need three to four years to make up for those losses,” and that “this bill is another avenue toward profitability for them.”
Takeout and delivery privileges will endure until mid-2023 if Hogan signs the bill into law. The privileges will expire unless the General Assembly acts to renew them beyond June 30, 2023, according to the statute. The window was a concession to alcohol distributors and retailers, who argued that permitting bars and restaurants to sell alcohol to-go permanently would harm the state’s three-pronged alcohol industry.
Several extra constraints to the original law were added as a consequence of negotiations between the House and Senate, including a requirement that local liquor boards authorize alcohol to-go rights within their jurisdictions. Liquor boards will now be able to establish limits on the amount of alcohol that can be sold for takeaway and delivery. The law also calls for a study of the impact of enhanced alcohol access enabled by Hogan’s executive order and the new legislation, especially on public health. The General Assembly must receive a report on the findings by December 31, 2022.
Watson believes the investigation will reveal no major issues with allowing alcohol to be taken to go. “We’ve been operating under this executive order for a year and haven’t had any issues,” she said, adding that the bills add extra safeguards.
The bill, which has the support of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, allows for alcohol sales to be carried out or delivered only when an order also includes prepared food. Alcoholic beverages must be delivered in a sealed container with no openings for straws or sipping, and alcohol deliveries are only permitted within the same jurisdiction as the restaurant or bar selling them. Under the bill, apps like Grubhub and UberEats are prohibited from delivering alcohol.
Watson stated that she is open to pursuing a bill extension after the law’s expiry date. “I think we’ll wait and see how the next two years go,” she added, “and give everyone in both industries a chance to evaluate if this is something that can be accommodated in the future.” According to the Restaurant Association, the pandemic is hastening an already-existing trend toward greater food and beverage delivery.
In January, Melvin R. Thompson, the trade group’s senior vice president for government affairs and public policy, said, “Customers overwhelmingly approve and find convenience in being able to order alcoholic beverages to-go with their carryout and delivery food orders.” “When the state of emergency is abolished, this increased demand from customers will not go away, thus it makes sense to make this permanent.”
If Hogan signs the bill into law, the additional measures will take effect on July 1st. Meanwhile, the governor’s executive order allows for the take-out and delivery of six-packs, cocktails, and other alcoholic beverages. This year, state legislators also approved a separate proposal to continue direct-to-consumer shipping and delivery sales of craft beer, wine, and liquor. The bill, which was passed on April 1, has a sunset date of December 31, 2022.