Shifting drinks law landscape in Pennsylvania is a maze for businesses

Lew Bryson writes over at the R Street blog:

The alcohol-policy landscape in Pennsylvania was static—almost glacial—for most of the past 40 years. However, these days, the glaciers are melting and the landscape is changing rapidly. New laws and interpretations are coming every few months.

The evolution in our drinks law is welcome and overdue. But in the short term, it has meant chaos for small businesses struggling to keep up and left some consumers confused about what the changes actually mean.

For decades, Pennsylvania’s unique mess of odd options embodied in its archaic post-Repeal liquor code was tweaked only incrementally. Gradually, we got shelves in our state monopoly wine and liquor stores (before, we had to order at a counter, by catalog number); we were allowed to pay for beer with a credit card; and a fraction of the state stores opened for a few hours on Sundays. These were all tiny changes.

The beverage alcohol retailer/wholesaler situation had been pretty quiet, as well. The state maintained its monopoly on wine and liquor wholesale operations and off-premise retail sales. Beer was supplied by privately owned wholesalers and sold by the case and keg only at retail stores (“beer distributors”) and in 12-bottle maximum purchases at bars and restaurants. Producers were allowed to sell directly. It was confusing, but we were used to it, and family businesses planned major investments based on this system.

Much has changed in the past year, as we’ve entered an activist phase in liquor law...

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