HARRISBURG – The Senate Law and Justice Committee advanced two significant pieces of legislation to statutorily implement allowances provided to the restaurant and medical marijuana industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to expanding consumer access to spirit-based Ready-to-Drink cocktails, according to Committee Chairman Senator Mike Regan.
“The one good thing to come from the COVID-19 shutdown was the recognition that Pennsylvania’s businesses do not need to be constrained by overregulation from state government,” said Regan. “The measures the Committee advanced today recognize this and will allow two major industries in Pennsylvania to continue rebuilding and growing in the wake of the pandemic.”
House Bill 1154 makes permanent the sale of mixed drinks to-go by restaurant or hotel licensees for off-premise consumption. Originally, mixed drinks to-go was a temporary measure allowed during the COVID-19 disaster declaration. A licensee that chooses to sell mixed drinks to-go must display a sign that the product is to be transported in an area of the vehicle that is not readily accessible to the driver, and each drink must be affixed with a label designating that it contains alcohol.
The Committee amended HB 1154 to provide additional COVID provisions on a temporary basis to allow for extended licensed premises for outdoor dining, off-premise catering permits without restrictions, the waiving of fees, and an additional year of safekeeping of liquor licenses by licensees that are not able to operate. The amendment to HB 1154 also allows a holder of a liquor license to sell their stock of liquor and wine to another license holder when they close their business.
Additionally, HB 1154 was amended to allow for a different type of product called Ready-to-Drink cocktails, or RTDs, to be sold by liquor licensees, including restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, and beer distributors, for off-premise consumption.
“These cocktails are not to be confused with mixed drinks to-go, which are made by bartenders in a restaurant and put in a to-go cup for consumers,” said Regan. “RTDs are manufactured and sold in sealed containers with a known ingredient list and alcohol content.”
The total maximum alcohol by volume content, or ABV, allowed for sale under the legislation is 12.5%, comparable to many beer products available for sale to consumers. Container size would also be limited to 16 ounces with a maximum total sale for off-premise consumption of 192 fluid ounces, with the exception of sales by beer distributors.
“The way in which liquor is sold in Pennsylvania is evolving, and consumers want both better selection and more convenience when purchasing products,” said Regan. “This is a common-sense measure that will significantly increase state revenue while helping businesses across the Commonwealth.”
The committee also adopted House Bill 1024, which amends the Medical Marijuana Act to update provisions regarding caregivers, COVID-19 waivers, and background checks.
Most notably, the bill allows for the dispensing of a 90-day supply of medical marijuana, up from the current 30-day supply, and permanently allows for curbside dispensing, which was a COVID-19 provision. The bill was amended to allow a dispensary to have a physician or pharmacist available either in person or remotely.
“Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry has proven itself responsible throughout the few years of its existence, and especially through COVID,” stated Regan. “Dispensaries are dealing with patients who deserve the same conveniences as anyone else in communicating via telemedicine with a physician or pharmacist or picking up their prescription without having to get out of their car.”
House Bill 1024 was also amended to provide those who have been convicted of a non-violent felony offense to be affiliated with a medical marijuana organization if 10 years have passed since their most recent felony sentence.
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