PRINCESS ANNE — The Somerset County Board of License Commissioners is inclined to restore an emergency measure that will allow on-sale license holders to sell alcoholic beverages to-go as part of a food order.
A public hearing that was to be held July 28 is now likely to be held in late August, and, if approved afterward by the three member board, this will be permitted through June 2023 unless the General Assembly takes further action.
During the coronavirus pandemic Gov. Larry Hogan used his emergency powers to allow restaurants and bars to sell cocktails and other alcoholic drinks for carryout and delivery. That ended July 1 when the state of emergency was lifted.
The governor, however, signed legislation passed during the last General Assembly session that allows this to continue over the next two years provided local licensing boards approve it.
While it was not immediately known if any Somerset County licensees took advantage of this service over the past year, the attorney for the licensing board called it “business friendly.”
William Hall prepared a list of rules and regulations for off-premises sale, take-out or delivery of alcoholic beverages, and personally believes it’s a good option for businesses to have.
“Wicomico County, they’re in, I think we should be in,” Mr. Hall said, adding that Worcester County — with consideration to Ocean City — opted out.
Licensees would submit a written request to the licensing board, and if approved, follow the rules which include maintaining a log book when alcohol is taken out.
As the law is written on-sale license holders such as restaurants, bars or taverns would be able to sell mixed drinks or cocktails in sealed or closed containers up to 11 p.m. for off-premises consumption or delivery so long as it accompanies a prepared food order and the buyer is of legal age.
“It can’t just be a bag of potato chips,” Mr. Hall said. “It has to be something prepared by the restaurant.”
The person making a delivery will be required to be at least 21 and have completed an alcohol awareness program. Mr. Hall said sales would be limited to two cocktails, two beers, a bottle of wine or a six pack, “nothing crazy, it’s not bottles of liquor or anything like that.”
“I don’t think we’re here to put anybody out of business,” commission member Van Muir said. “If it gives them an edge, let them have it.” And member Frank Lusk said he would like to hear from the public pro or con.
While it may have been popular in Salisbury, board Chair Robert Murphey said it seems to not have been widely utilized here. Mr. Hall said he would provide the board with Wicomico County’s plan, which he said was “very reasonable.”
“It’s something very unique that we’ve never seen before, in this state especially,” Mr. Hall said. “I’m excited about it.” He added that even though the new law has an expiration date he would not be surprised if it is extended by the legislature.
The law requires the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and Maryland Department of Health to conduct a study on the impact of expanded alcohol access during the governor’s emergency order, and report that to the General Assembly.
In March last year Gov. Hogan ordered bars and restaurants to close, then three days later allowed them to reopen for carryout only including alcoholic beverages but Peacock’s restaurant in Princess Anne was cited by the State’s Attorney for continuing to serve alcohol at its bar.
The restaurant would close permanently and the licensee was not prosecuted.