On Apr. 24, Governor Janet Mills signed into law a bill that would make it permanently legal for Maine restaurants to sell beer, wine, and cocktails for takeout. This comes from a pandemic-era policy that had previously allowed restaurants to operate at a level of normalcy during an unprecedented time. Despite objections from health advocates, many restaurant owners are excited about the announcement of the new law, as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the fundamentals of takeout dining for everyone.
Maine will be joining the 19 other states who have made to-go cocktails permanently legal. In 2020, Mills issued an executive order that allowed restaurants to sell and deliver alcohol if a meal was ordered at the same time. Last year, a law extended this by allowing the delivery and takeout of drinks in any circumstance. These changes, however, would have expired in 2025 without intervention from the government.
“We are glad to see Maine join nearly 20 other states that have made cocktails to-go permanent in support of local restaurants and consumers,” said Andy Deloney, head of state public policy at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, in an interview with WMTW.
The efforts to make takeout and delivery cocktails permanent began earlier this year. In Jan. 2023, State Senator Louis Luchini introduced a proposal to make the Covid era rules permanent for Maine. Luchini said that it “allows businesses to plan ahead and lets customers who may not feel comfortable dining out to enjoy a restaurant at home.”
In Feb. 2023, there were objections from Maine health advocacy groups. They asked the legislator to hold off on a decision until more data could be collected on the adverse impacts of to-go drinks, including threats to public health and enforcement. Jamie Cotnoir, director of disease prevention at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed out to committee members that misuse and underage use increase when it is easier to purchase alcoholic beverages.
Maine currently has some of the highest binge drinking rates in the country, with pandemic-era isolation only worsening the crisis. In 2021, over 6,500 people in Maine died from alcohol-related causes, a 47 percent increase from 2019. Furthermore, in Apr. 2020, driving under the influence-related crashes peaked in the state. Throughout 2021, the number of drunk driving crashes consistently stayed about 25 percent above pre-pandemic numbers.
Cotnoir hoped that there would be more time to see if to-go cocktails had any role to play in these spiked numbers and to ensure that the identification-checking infrastructure was strong enough.
In response, State Representative Marc Malon said, “I am sympathetic to the concerns raised by the CDC and the public health community. I think they are legitimate. However, they do not rise to the level of causing me to oppose something I think has been a valuable lifeline to businesses.”
Businesses have benefited a great deal from relaxed alcohol laws. Per the Portland Press Herald, Pepino’s Mexican Restaurant in Bangor was able to generate $75,000 dollars over the pandemic, which meant it could stay in business. To-go cocktails have become a large generator of revenue for Maine restaurants, and after Monday, they are here to stay.
~ Adrian Visscher `24