Lawmakers Hear Competing Visions for Liquor Licensing Reform

As the latest state pressure to loosen New Jersey’s liquor laws has been launched by legislators, competing groups are pressuring lawmakers to expand the availability of liquor licenses or minimize reforms. I put on

Advocates of liquor stores, convenience stores, grocers, and distilleries have instead asked members of Congress’ Oversight and Reform Committee to maintain alcohol sales to retailers while maintaining existing values ​​and to open new locations. to expand the availability or affordability of licenses. License holder.

“New Jersey law has changed gradually over time, but there has not been a major overhaul of alcoholic beverage laws, and now is not the time to make incremental changes,” said the grocery industry. The New Jersey Food Council, an organization. “Now is the time to take a more holistic look at how our legislation is structured.”

A New Jersey law enacted after Prohibition ended limits the number of liquor licenses available to a town’s population. Municipalities can issue one license for every 3,000 residents.

These rules have been a long-time target of reformers who claim that strict licensing restrictions are slowing economic growth in the state, keeping demand for licenses high and pushing prices even higher.

“We don’t want to sell vodka. We don’t want to sell bourbon. We don’t want to sell tequila.” “We want people coming home from work to stop their cars while they buy gas so they can run inside and get six packs of beer. I would like to.”

Pennsylvania allows licensed convenience stores to sell beer and wine, as does New York, but New Jersey prohibits such sales.

Gov. Phil Murphy has listed liquor licensing reform as a legislative priority in his second term, arguing that more available licenses could revitalize the state’s post-pandemic economic recovery. But these reforms have their opponents.

In the current system, a shortage of licenses could push the cost of licenses to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and existing license holders are using the value of their licenses to increase their retirement funds, he said. says. Reforms that expand license availability are likely to push prices down, with lawmakers Monday calling for openness to reforms that would make licenses more affordable without significantly changing license availability. showed.

“These license holders are investing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in this system that already exists,” said Amanda Stone, director of government affairs for the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association. “In addition, many people use their licenses as collateral when seeking bank loans. It must be carefully considered.”

Stone took no firm stance on pushing for change, but said her group represents companies with and without liquor licenses. Those she doesn’t have, she said, welcome more licenses.

Others worried that proposals to allow alcohol delivery could trigger a surge in underage drinking.

“Some of the reforms being discussed will essentially make every doorstep and every cell phone a liquor store,” said Kevin Hagan, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance. “And that sounds convenient, but the problem is when you’re talking about alcoholic substances. There’s no one on the doorstep or on the phone to verify that the consumer is 21.”

Hagan said the Liquor Store Alliance supports alcohol delivery options, but only to licensed retailers.

Other stakeholders have called for changes to state liquor laws elsewhere.

John Granata and Mark Elia, who run the New Jersey Craft Distillers Guild, said the state alcoholic beverages administration had rejected an earlier request to allow food trucks on the distillery’s premises, saying the distillery would He urged lawmakers to allow food and mixed drinks to be served on the premises.

They also noted disparities in tax rates on hard liquor and other alcoholic products. Liquor is taxed at $5.50 per gallon. Wine costs only 88 cents. 12 cents for beer.

“We have seen distilleries win quality awards one after another. We have also lost a few distilleries along the way. We’re shrinking in scale when it comes to people doing it,” Elia says. “It’s not a great story to tell in this state.”

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Joe Danielsen (D-Somerset), said a second hearing would be held at a later date.

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