Articles Posted in Legislation

The need to regulate Massachusetts’ newly legal marijuana industry is leading to possible attempts to revamp state alcohol regulations.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg said in an interview with The Republican/MassLive.com this week that she was prompted to form a new Alcohol Task Force while looking at how other states regulate marijuana.

“While looking at cannabis, we saw what a lot of other states were doing around alcohol usage and control,” Goldberg said. “One of the models happens to have taken their alcoholic beverage commission and expanded its role.”

 

Goldberg’s office is in charge of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, the commission that enforces laws and regulations relating to the sale, purchase, possession and manufacturing of alcohol in the state. That is the reason that the state’s marijuana law, which voters passed in November, placed regulation of marijuana under the treasurer’s office as well. Goldberg is now tasked with creating and overseeing a new Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the legal marijuana industry.

The task of the new alcohol commission, which Goldberg announced last week, is to review the legal and regulatory framework governing alcoholic beverages in Massachusetts and offer suggestions on what changes should be made.

Currently, Goldberg said, the state’s alcohol laws are “antiquated” and do not interrelate. “There’s no predictability, there’s no smoothness, a fix can create another problem and has,” Goldberg said. “The law hasn’t changed much since 1933, but we’re looking at a 21st century world, so much has evolved.” Federal prohibition laws ended in 1933.

Goldberg said she views the alcoholic beverage industry as an economic driver for Massachusetts. “We want to regulate it in a way that keeps it safe while at the same time ensuring that we are supporting something that creates economic growth,” Goldberg said.

One frequently talked about problem with the liquor licensing system is a law that caps the number of liquor licenses in each city or town and requires all additional liquor licenses be approved by the state legislature, rather than by local officials. Municipal officials have long opposed this law, arguing that it hinders economic development and leads to unnecessary delays in the granting of new licenses. Both Gov. Charlie Baker and former Gov. Deval Patrick have tried to roll back the law, but lawmakers have declined to go along with it. Opponents of a change voice concerns about there being too many liquor licenses and about new licenses diluting the value of older ones.

The liquor license provision was one part of a comprehensive bill released by the Baker administration on Monday, aimed at cutting back red tape and obsolete laws that make it harder for municipal governments to operate.

Another controversial issue that the task force may examine involves the beer brewers industry, which has been seeking more freedom to switch distributors, which is difficult under current law.

One problem Goldberg identified is currently, the licensing process is slowed down by the number of investigators working for the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. So for example, if numerous restaurants apply for outdoor seating in mid-May, it might take until July for an inspector to schedule an inspection.

The task force will examine laws, regulations and the structure of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission itself. “Everything’s on the table,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said she wants any legislative wish list to be “rational and reasonable” so the fixes have the potential to be passed into law. That could mean taking incremental steps toward larger changes.

The commission will hold five regional public hearings, including one in Springfield. It is expected to provide a preliminary report within six months.

The commission will be chaired by E. Macey Russell, a partner at the law firm Choate, Hall & Stewart.

Members of the commission include: attorney Kate Cook, former Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, former chief legal counsel to the Massachusetts Port Authority Rachael Rollins, adjunct professor at Quincy College Robert Cerasoli, former state Rep. John Fernandes, and Rosenberg’s press secretary Pete Wilson. None of the appointees has direct ties to the alcohol industry.

 

As reported by the Boston Herald and Fox News, two young entrepreneurs are fighting to bring back happy hour.

Former Boston-area students Sam Davidson and Brian Sachetta have launched a petition to overturn Massachusetts’ longstanding ban on happy-hour discounts — and have gathered more than 8,500 signatures so far.

The Boston Herald first reported on the effort. The petition, titled “Bring Happy Hour Back To Boston,” features 11 reasons why happy hour should be reinstated, arguing that after its prohibition in 1984, the hours after work “stopped being ‘happy’ and became just ‘meh.’”

The Republican reports that wine and alcohol sellers are pushing for a change in state law that would allow them legal protection if they accept out-of-state licenses.

“If someone’s 21, has ID from another state that’s legal, we should legally be able to take it and not have to say ‘I’m sorry I can’t take that ID’ because we are not afforded same protection as if we took Massachusetts ID and relied on that for identification,” said Ben Weiner, owner of Sav-Mor Liquors, which has four stores around greater Boston.

Liquor sellers have been advocating for the change for years. Under current law, if a store accidentally sells alcohol to a minor, the owner has a defense if the store relied on a Massachusetts license as proof of age. But the store can be penalized if employees relied on an out-of-state license that is fake.

The Boston Globe reports that two Boston city councilors have filed paperwork to begin a process that could result in a substantial new citywide tax on the sale of alcohol, and to use the millions of dollars in expected revenue exclusively on substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

The proposal, if passed by both the City Council and the state Legislature, would impose a tax of 1 percent to 2 percent on all alcohol sales, including beer and wine, in city restaurants, taverns, bars, supermarkets, and package stores.

City Council President Bill Linehan, who offered the proposal along with City Councilor Frank Baker, said that thousands of people are afflicted by alcohol and drug addiction, many of them unemployed and a burden on the public. Helping them sober up and become productive citizens represents a huge opportunity to save public money, he said.

Bring your own booze could become a reality in Boston in the near future.

At-large City Councilors Michelle Wu and Stephen Murphy have submitted a proposal to allow smaller restaurants the option of offering BYOB service to diners, reports Universal Hub.

Both Wu and Murphy want to end Boston’s ban on “BYOB” options, as a way to boost restaurants that cannot afford expensive liquor license fees.

The Northampton City Council agreed to adopt a resolution to create 5 new liquor licenses for 5 existing businesses. Mayor David Narkewicz hopes this is the first step in getting rid of the quota system, and giving local city and towns (like Northampton) the power to issue as many licenses as they see fit.

“There’s many customers that come in and once they find out we don’t have a full liquor license, they walk out,” Juan Suarez, Owner of Ibiza Tapas told ABC40. Ibiza Tapas was among the five restaurants who did not win the all-liquor license awarded to Bistro Les Gras back in September 2014. Mayor Narkewicz says filing this resolution is his way of addressing the “outdated, one size fits” all quota system for liquor licenses. Former Gov. Patrick supported ending the cap on the number of licenses last year but was it was rejected by the House.

Suarez also adds that if there were more licenses available, it would make for better and more restaurant competition.

New Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, exercising new authority granted by the state Legislature, expelled all three members of Boston’s Licensing Board, replacing them with his own appointees.

Walsh announced the move Wednesday. For more than a century, the board that controls liquor licenses had been appointed by the governor, but a state law passed earlier this year returned the authority to the Boston mayor.

The Licensing Board’s newly appointed chairwoman is Christine A. Pulgini. Licensing Board and our approach to licensing across the city presents a fresh opportunity to support economic development across our neighborhoods.”

After sidelining Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to make alcohol licensing a purely local responsibility, the House and Senate have approved a few local licensing requests.

The House passed a pair of bills based on legislation proposed by Acton Sen. James Eldridge and Holliston Rep. Carolyn Dykema. One bill (H 4311) specifies a license for Panzano Market in Southborough and the other (H 4312) authorizes a license for Sperry’s Country Market Beer and Wine. Both businesses are located on Turnpike Road.

The Senate gave the green light to a bill allowing the town of Easton to grant one more license, which is limited to North Easton Village under a proposal based on legislation filed by Rep. Claire Cronin. The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee is still weighing a Rep. Kate Hogan bill to grant five alcohol licenses to people operating businesses at Highland Commons in Hudson (H 4313) and a Rep. Jay Barrows bill (H 4361) specifying licenses for the Mansfield Crossing Pouring License Area and the Mansfield Marketplace/The Pavilion Pouring License Area.

Massachusetts liquor stores would be able to open their doors two hours earlier on Sundays under a bill approved by state lawmakers.

The Senate on Tuesday passed on a voice vote a bill to allow the retail sale of alcoholic beverages at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

Currently retain liquor sales are banned until noon.

The Boston Globe reported today that Massachusetts consumers are one step closer to getting wine delivered straight to their doorsteps.

The state Legislature has created a new permit system that will allow out-of-state wineries to sell and ship their bottlings directly to Massachusetts consumers beginning next year. If approved by Governor Patrick, the legislation would resolve a longstanding frustration of wine enthusiasts who found it nearly impossible to sample new vintages that were not available at their local store.

“This is good news for Massachusetts wine enthusiasts, who will now be able to purchase wines they currently don’t have access to,” said Robert Dwyer of Wellesley, who blogs about wine, as reported by the Globe.