During a hearing today before the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) submitted testimony in support of HB 0012, which would extend cocktails to-go from restaurants and bars with a food purchase, and in opposition to HB 0996, a bill that would allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

HB 0012 – Cocktails To-Go

The testimony on HB 0012, submitted by DISCUS Senior Vice President of State Government Relations Jay Hibbard, highlighted the important revenue cocktails to-go creates for hospitality businesses suffering under the harsh economic impacts of COVID-19.

“The hospitality industry, which represents thousands of jobs in all twenty-three of Maryland’s counties, has been one of the most impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hibbard said about HB 0012. “Job losses have been in the thousands, and many long-established restaurants have closed their doors permanently. The temporary approval of cocktails-to-go issued as part of Governor Hogan’s Emergency Executive Orders has provided a meaningful source of revenue to the many struggling hospitality businesses across the state. Extending those privileges will help these businesses recover while providing increased consumer convenience.”

In response to the pandemic, more than 30 states plus the District of Columbia are currently allowing restaurants and/or bars to sell cocktails to-go, bottled spirits to-go or both.

Iowa and Ohio have now made cocktails to-go permanent, and more than 25 states have recently filed legislation to allow, expand or make permanent this consumer- and business-friendly measure.

HB 0996 – Beer and Wine in Grocery Stores

In his testimony opposing HB 0996, Hibbard noted that allowing beer and wine in grocery stores would greatly harm Maryland’s package stores, putting many of them out of business and threatening local jobs.

“Allowing grocery stores to sell beer and wine would have a negative impact on package stores, driving many of them out of business,” Hibbard said. “As foot traffic in Maryland package stores is reduced, fewer people will purchase spirits when they can easily buy beer and wine in grocery stores. When sales go down, that lost revenue must be made up, and spending reductions would come in the form of fewer employees.”

Hibbard also noted the reduction in spirits sales would negatively impact state revenues.

“In Tennessee, which made a similar change in 2016, package stores sales went down more than 9 percent, and the state lost $3.6 million in tax revenue,” Hibbard said of HB 0996. “We project Maryland would realize similar negative effects because the spirits excise tax rate is so much higher than the wine tax rate. Thus, any policy that favors beer and wine over spirits is simply not a good business proposition for the state treasury.”