Correction appended

Former Gov. Susana Martinez became famous for touting that New Mexico was open for business. It may have taken a global pandemic to prove her right as state lawmakers are currently considering bipartisan legislation to update and modernize the state’s rules around alcohol delivery, while at the same time throwing a valuable economic lifeline to struggling local businesses.

The delivery of food and other products has become an increasingly important topic in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. While Americans have long enjoyed takeout from their favorite local restaurants, the pandemic supercharged food delivery both from restaurants and grocery stores, helping some of these small businesses stay open in the process. But there was one food and beverage product that faced a more difficult road to our doorsteps, and that was alcohol.

America still suffers under long-outdated rules surrounding access to alcohol, many of which trace their heritage back to Prohibition or earlier. This meant that many states had laws in the books at the start of the pandemic that forbid grocery stores to deliver alcohol to our homes or restaurants to include a to-go cocktail in a takeout order. In response, a vast majority of states passed at least some form of temporary alcohol delivery or curbside orders during the pandemic.

But these authorizations remained both temporary and inconsistent from state to state. Now that the 2021 state legislative season has kicked off around the country, states are racing to pass more durable and broad-based alcohol delivery reforms. Once consumers came to expect more convenient and accessible alcohol delivery options — just like they did with their groceries — it became clear COVID-19 would be the catalyst for a wave of state-level booze law changes.

For its part, New Mexico lawmakers have combined numerous bills in House Bill 255, which would allow alcohol delivery from grocery stores, liquor stores, breweries, wineries, distilleries and restaurants. The bill also allows these businesses to use third-party delivery services like DoorDash, InstaCart and others to assist with these deliveries.

New Mexico’s legislation also takes a notable step forward compared to a lot of other similar legislation around the country. While some states only allow delivery from certain licensees — for example, breweries can deliver but not liquor stores — or only allow on-staff employees to conduct deliveries, New Mexico’s bill provides equal access to the growing alcohol delivery marketplace. It also proposes creating a new, more affordable liquor license for state restaurants to allow them to sell and deliver distilled spirits.

The arguments in favor of expanding alcohol delivery are overwhelming. Americans are used to getting a whole bevy of products delivered to their door, even highly regulated ones like pharmaceutical drugs or ammunition. It makes little sense to exclude alcohol arbitrarily, a perfectly legal article of commerce, from the delivery sector.

Some opponents to reform have sounded the alarm about alcohol delivery making it easier for underage kids to get their hands on alcohol, and some have even suggested that alcohol delivery could increase drunken driving rates. In reality, delivery companies will still be required to check ID for any alcohol deliveries, just like employees do at brick-and-mortar stores. And if anything, allowing alcohol to be brought to our doorsteps will reduce the need to get behind the wheel while inebriated.

Allowing small businesses like restaurants, liquor stores, breweries and distilleries to deliver their alcohol products also provides a badly needed economic lifeline for these establishments. It’s no secret that COVID-19 has devastated the food and drink industry as on-premise dining — and leaving the house even to make a liquor run to the local liquor shop — have declined dramatically while Americans shelter in place. Given that alcohol provides some of the sturdiest and durable margins for food and drink businesses, permitting these businesses to expand their sales footprint via delivery is a win-win.

It’s also important not to overlook the impact on the government itself. States and local units of government across America are facing substantial revenue shortfalls as a result of the economic hit COVID-19 has brought to the broader economy. Many governments are desperate to find revenue anywhere they can, but proposals like raising taxes in the midst of an economic downturn are impractical. 

Allowing more robust delivery of legal products, like alcohol, can help expand access to sales and naturally increase state tax collections by creating more economic activity.

It’s rare in the world of public policy to be able to achieve the trifecta of helping business, consumers and the government all at the same time, but more robust alcohol delivery in the years ahead provides just such an opportunity.

The story has been amended to reflect the following correction: The legislation dealing with alcohol delivery is House Bill 255. A previous version of the story had the bill number wrong.

C. Jarrett Dieterle is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, the author of Give Me Liberty and Give Me a Drink! and host of The Right to Drink podcast.

(1) comment

Joshua Rosen

Just for clarification the bill is HB 255

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