Alcohol Regulation Roundup: January 13, 2012

Out with the old year and out with the old alcohol laws! 2012 is off to a great start with several states reducing the regulatory burdens on the producers and consumers of alcoholic beverages. Here’s to a new year!

Colorado: The movement to get full strength beer grocery stores seems to be losing steam. After four years of concerted but failed efforts and a governor expressly against the idea, the legislature apparently has no plans to push for sales of beer with more than 3.2 alcohol by weight in outlets other than liquor stores.

Connecticut: Apparently, I was not the only person curious about where one wouldn’t be able to buy liquor on or around Christmas/New Year’s Eve. Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein was kind enough to clarify Connecticut’s law: unless you’re in a bar or restaurant, the state’s anachronistic blue laws do prohibit the sale of alcohol on Christmas and New Years, and if those happen to fall on Sundays, it prohibits off-premise sales on the following Monday as well.

Idaho: The push is on to collect enough signatures to get the question of privatizing the state-run liquor business before voters. Optimistic after the success of a similar privatization ballot initiative in Washington State, Idaho grocers need to collect 47,432 signatures by April 30. Even if the measure is successful, they will have to face-off with the current governor, a Republican who has stated his belief that it’s the government’s duty to promote “temperance.”

Indiana: Lawmakers are reportedly drafting a bill that would allow carry-out sales of alcohol on Sundays as well as cold beer sales in convenient, grocery, and drug stores. Opponents of the plan, as usual, claim it would hurt mom-and-pop liquor stores. Oddly enough, Indianapolis does have one exception to the Sunday sales ban — a recent change in the law allows retailers to sell alcohol on Super Bowl Sunday and the previous Sunday, but only in the “downtown Super Bowl zone.”

Maryland: Some officials in Bowie think easing some of the convoluted county-by-county alcohol laws in the state might draw in new businesses (go figure). In Maryland, alcohol may only be purchased at state-licensed liquor stores, with some exceptions. However, some lawmakers in Prince George’s County want to allow grocery stores to sell wine and beer in an attempt to attract a new “specialty” grocery store and hopefully increase tax revenue.

New JerseyOn Monday, lawmakers passed a bill that will open the door to direct wine shipping to residents of the Garden State. The law, which will allow wineries producing up to 250,000 gallons of wine to ship 12 cases of wine per year per customer, will go into effect in May if Governor Chris Christie signs it.

New York: While Mayor Bloomberg has tucked his tail between his legs and run away from his proposed plan to limit alcohol consumption by severely limiting the number of booze-related businesses, other New York lawmakers are coming to the defense of alcohol’s merits. Senator Schumer launched a campaigned called “I Love NY Brew,” in an effort to support the state’s most excellent craft breweries.

Ohio: Just prior to the New Year, the governor of the Buckeye State signed a bill into law that will allow production breweries to open tasting rooms without an additional permit — which would have cost almost $4,000 a year. This is great news for the start-up craft breweries as well as the state, as it will draw in beer tourists, bolster the breweries profits, and increase money flow in the state.

Along with beer, the bill also does away with a prohibition-era law on small distilleries. Prior to H.B. 243, only one micro-distiller in each county of 800,000 or more residents was allowed to sell liquor on-site. The bill allows any small distiller (producing less than 10,000 gallons of liquor a year) to apply for a licenses to  sell up to two-fifths of product per day per customer and conduct liquor tastings on site. Of course, some archaic laws remain — like the rule that forces distillers to sell their product to the state and buy it back before they can sell it on-site to their customers. I guess this is a step in the right direction.

Pennsylvania: A bill awaiting a vote in the General Assembly would allow beer distributor stores to remain open on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and allow them to sell 16-ounce six packs, 16-ounce 12 packs, and sell wine. Currently, distributors may only sell beer in cases of 24. Furthermore, the bill would allow the sale of cases of beer in any other establishment with a liquor license (i.e., supermarkets, delis, and bars).

Texas: The Lone Star State wins the prize for most exciting story: A district court judge ruled in favor of the brewery Jester King, which alleged that several laws of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) violated their constitutional rights. The judge said that the TABC would no longer be allowed to prohibit brewers from telling customers where their products are sold, may not require brewers to label products by their definition of “beer” and “ale,” and may not prohibit the advertisement of the strength of the drink by prohibiting descriptive words like “strong” as in “strong ale.” Congrats and thanks to Jester King! As we’ve seen all through 2011, it takes a few brave and driven folks to change the laws and benefit many.

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