Hat tip to Capitol Ideas for pointing out a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling today that is a window into our state’s ridiculous liquor control laws. Beer in Pennsylvania is restricted to retail sale only by distributors, which means if you want something less than a case, which is usually the case for me, you need to find an establishment with take out, were you can buy up to two six packs. The type of licensee that’s allowed to sell beer for take out are typically licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on-premises.
It’s not uncommon in the Keystone State for stores to be set up, which technically serve some food. The local one near me makes rather lousy cheesesteaks, for instance, which you can, if you want, eat in the two or three booths they have (state law says you have to be able to seat up to 30). But the store is basically a take out beer store. The food is just a way to comply with the licensing requirements.
Apparently Sheetz, which is the “rest of Pennsylvania” version of Wawa, applied for what is essentially a restaurant liquor license, to sell beer in one of its stores for take out. But in the Sheetz scheme, you couldn’t consume it there, you had to take it out of the store. The evil villains in this whole sorry story, the The Malt Beverages Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, who jealously guard their state sanctioned monopoly, intervened in the case after the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board agreed to allow the transfer of the license.
Note I said transfer. You see, Pennsylvania fixes the number of licenses available, so if you want one, you have to “transfer” a liquor license from an establishment that’s going under, or has lost or surrendered it’s license to sell alcohol. They won’t issue you a new one.
But moving back to the original topic, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed, if you’re seeking a license to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption, then you better allow the beer to be consumed on-premises. As Capitol Ideas said:
We have said it before, and we will say it again, this ruling strikes us as massively counterintuitive. Because, instead of allowing people to buy take-away beer, the high court is effectively requiring people to buy their suds at the gas station, guzzle it there, and then get back behind the wheel and (in some cases) drive on interstate highways. But we’re not legal scholars or anything.
I think as a matter of law, the court made the right decision. The problem is that the law is wrong. You can’t blame the courts because the legislature passes things that are counterintuitive and stupid. As a Pennsylvanian, I’m tired of being forced to buy beer by the case, or have to find a bar or restaurant with take out, and more often than not very poor selection.
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