Over 30 states now allow alcohol to-go, but many of these new rules are set to expire.

By Mike Pomranz
June 26, 2020
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COVID-19 restrictions may have caused a massive upheaval of our daily routines, but we have seen some silver linings emerge around these necessary precautions: Cities including New York have turned miles of city streets into additional pedestrian walkways. Video conferencing has been normalized as a way for people to stay in touch and work flexibly. And for those who appreciate the occasional tipple, the loosening of alcohol laws could lead to some permanent changes across the country.

Looking at how the pandemic is affecting alcohol laws throughout the United States, Nation’s Restaurant News’ Ron Ruggless went so far as to call these rapidly rewritten rules as “the most widespread changes in state alcohol beverage laws since Prohibition was repealed in 1933.” The most visible change has been to “to-go” laws, allowing bars and restaurants to generate more income by selling alcohol for carryout while dining-in has been restricted.

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As ABC News reported last month, 34 states (along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) have changed their “on-demand” alcohol laws since the beginning of the pandemic—allowing for the sale of beer, wine, and sometimes other boozy beverages—according to the National Restaurant Association. In the “other” department, plenty of states have shown their support for takeout cocktails, too. According to Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association—a state that’s recently approved its own cocktail law—over 30 states now have cocktail to-go measures, four times more than before the pandemic.

Many groups are already lobbying to make these changes permanent, as well. With cocktails-to-go specifically, the Distilled Spirits Council states that Texas, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, and the District of Columbia are considering making takeout mixed drinks permanent. (Michigan’s new law is reportedly in effect until the end of 2025.) And in the case of Texas, the Texas Restaurant Association submitted their proposal to Governor Greg Abbott’s office on June 18, with Abbott later tweeting his support for the idea. So some change does appear to be in the air.

But just like with the pandemic itself, at this point, it’s probably too early to tell exactly what the future may hold as some states reopen and other re-close as coronavirus cases surge. In fact, just today both Texas and Florida went back to banning on-premise alcohol sales. Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation declared the restriction after a spike in reported COVID-19 cases set a new daily record of nearly 9,000:

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At the very least, however, these emergency to-go sales measures are serving as a trial run for updates to America’s alcohol laws that plenty of people have suggested could use tweaking for a long time.