State Beer Laws Continue Slow Creep in Right Direction
A few new good laws go on the books, but many terrible ones remain.
Every year, typically during the summer months, many state laws that were passed during earlier state legislative sessions take effect. Some repeal bad old laws. Others add to the mix.
I've written about the impact of these state laws on beer brewers, sellers, and consumers, most recently here and here, where in the latter piece I noted that a new crop of laws demonstrated progress but showed just "how far we have to go to make sure brewers, restaurants, other sellers, and consumers alike have all the choices they want."
This summer, with many changes on the books, seems as good a time as any for an update.
Ohio recently lifted its ban on many sales of beers containing more than 12 percent alcohol.
In Colorado, a new law, which went into effect this month but won't take effect until next year, will eliminate many restrictions on grocery sales of beer (along with wine and liquor).
Currently, Colorado grocers may sell so-called "near beer," or beer that contains up to 3.2 percent alcohol, at each of their locations in the state. But they can only sell actual beer that people want to drink, along with wine and liquor, at one location each in the state.
Under the new law, grocers will be able to sell beer, wine, and liquor at each of their stores in the state. If that were the end of it, this would be a great law. But the compromise law contains significant catches. The gradual deregulation under the law won't take full effect until 2037, when many Coloradans who haven't yet been born are old enough to drink. Until then, grocers will have to be content with a law that abolishes the 3.2 percent requirement in 2019, and allows for an increase from one location selling liquor to five immediately and to twenty locations in 2032. That means many consumers who frequent grocers like Safeway will be left with fewer choices for decades.
The law, which is too much change for some and too little for others, is likely to be challenged, amended, or both in the coming years.
The push to end the 3.2 percent requirement in Colorado, and a similar effort in Oklahoma, may also resonate in Utah, one of a few "near-beer" states remaining.
With fewer and fewer states clinging to arcane near-beer rules, there's some belief brewers may choose to eliminate production of 3.2% beers altogether. Some fear that would leave Utah, which generally prohibits sales of beer greater than 3.2 oercent alcohol in groceries and convenience stores, with empty store shelves and thousands of lost jobs.
Another state with changes underway is Missouri, which recently expanded retail options for beer sold in growlers. That's a good thing for craft brewers, consumer, and stores alike. The state also passed a law that lets brewers lease coolers to grocers. The law was supported by large brewers and opposed by craft brewers, who fear they'll be squeezed out of the beer aisle by larger brewers that can afford to buy the coolers and place them (stocked with their own beers) in stores. If the law proves as bad as the state's craft beer industry fears, the upside is that it sunsets in 2020, while the growler law, which should benefit craft brewers, contains no such provision.
Two good laws also failed to pass in Missouri. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed bills that would have "allow[ed] alcohol sales on smaller boats and one permitting people attending events in stadiums to order drinks on mobile apps."
Change is also coming to some farmers markets. A new law in New Hampshire will allow beer sampling at farmers markets in the state beginning next month. But a Delaware bill that would have done largely the same in that state was defeated this month.
Innumerable bad laws remain on the books, including North Carolina's cap on craft brewers' distribution, to name just one.
This sampling of recent changes (and stagnation) in beer laws around the country shows we're left largely where we began. Some welcome deregulation has taken place. Some reform efforts failed. And countless awful laws still exist.