May 28, 2024 - Food and Drink

Thanks to new laws, D.C.'s 'burbs are getting boozier

Illustration of a gavel popping out of a bottle of champagne like a cork

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cocktails to go, liquor delivery — alcohol laws are evolving around the DMV as jurisdictions expand rules on how and where booze can be purchased and consumed.

Why it matters: The pandemic changed the alcohol game, and while much has returned to normal in bars, legislation is finally catching up to cater to drinkers' new habits.

The big picture: In the DMV, D.C. has long been considered the "Wild West" for booze. Business owners can directly import alcohol, sourcing rare whiskeys from Kentucky or picking up beer from a micro-distillery in Baltimore.

  • That's unlike Maryland and Virginia, where state-controlled distributors tend to roll out the red tape and source from conglomerates.
  • And while many states including Maryland have abandoned pandemic to-go drinks, D.C. made them permanent back when Fauci Pouchies were still all the rage.

The latest: The 'burbs are loosening up. In March, Virginia became the 26th state to legalize cocktails to go and other alcoholic beverages.

Meanwhile, there's some movement in Maryland. Governor Wes Moore just signed off on a law that creates the legal framework for third-party companies like DoorDash to deliver alcohol — but only from merchants, not from bars and restaurants.

  • It's up to individual counties for approval. Currently, alcohol can only be delivered by staff from licensed shops.

Zoom in: Many of these new laws are designed to boost business. To-go drinks pad checks, and in the case of third-party deliveries, drive up tips.

  • Door "Dashers" earned, on average, nearly 20% more on deliveries with alcohol compared with deliveries without, according to company data.
  • In 2023, the number of merchants selling alcohol on DoorDash increased by 37%. Liquor stores increased by more than 60%.

The intrigue: "Sip and stroll" zones, a pre-pandemic law in Virginia that allows mixed-use developments and malls to sell alcohol to meandering patrons, are becoming more popular. Arlington's outdoor "Water Park" and Tysons Corner recently added them.

  • Good for business, bad for boozy buyer's remorse.

What we're watching: Maryland lawmakers' years-long fight to allow alcohol sales in chain supermarkets and convenience stores statewide — a common practice in the majority of states (Maryland is one of three that don't allow it).

  • Legislators working with the Maryland Retail Association introduced a bill last session that stalled after the first reading. A version is expected to be reintroduced in the fall.

What they're saying: Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, tells Axios that over 50,000 Marylanders have signed their petition to change the law.

  • "We're Maryland, we're special, but we're not that special. There are 46 states that have done this without the sky falling," Locklair says. "People want better prices, more choice, and convenience."

The other side: Package stores and small businesses argue that allowing chains in the game will kill independents. Others worry that making alcohol more widely available in groceries will negatively impact minority communities.

Fun fact: Why does a 7-11 in Ocean City sell beer? Nearly 30 stores in the state can sell alcohol, some including spirits. It's thanks to a 1978 law that prohibited alcohol sales in chain stores but grandfathered in a few licenses.

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