Copyright Â© 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The most substantial rewrite of New Mexico’s liquor law in decades comes into effect today (July 1) – changes that could result in fewer minis but more margaritas.
The legislation bans the sale of miniature liquor bottles in liquor stores, removes restrictions on alcohol sales on Sundays, and establishes a cheaper license intended to allow more restaurants to serve spirits and cocktails, not just beer and wine.
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The bipartisan bill – approved by lawmakers in March – also paves the way for home delivery of alcoholic beverages, but only after new rules are established.
Candice Armstrong, deputy manager of Slate Street Cafe, said the downtown Albuquerque restaurant could apply for the new license that would allow patrons to order, for example, a Bloody Mary at brunch.
âWe have requests for this – for cocktails,â she said on Wednesday. âI think it will definitely attract more people. “
The new legislation, House Bill 255, is one of some 40 new laws that come into effect today at the start of the fiscal year. Some bills passed this year entered into force in June or have other effective dates.
House Bill 255 emerged as one of the most intensely debated proposals of the 60-day session earlier this year. It has been amended several times and has triggered critical testimony from liquor licensees who fear it will erode the value of their investment in scarce licenses, providing cheaper options for restaurateurs.
But a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushed the measure through 41-27 in the House and 29-11 in the Senate.
âIt was several decades to come,â House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said of the liquor law changes. “We were crippled by the fact that New Mexico had set up a very exclusive club that was expensive to buy.”
A key part of the measure is the new alcohol licensing options for restaurants. They are generally limited to the sale of beer and wine, unless they purchase a more expensive license – at a cost of $ 350,000 or more – to allow the sale of alcohol.
But the state’s liquor control division will now accept applications for a $ 10,000 license designed for restaurants, allowing the sale of alcohol and cocktails. An even cheaper license is available if they want to sell locally distilled alcohol, like gin and vodka, rather than national brands.
Representative Antonio âMoeâ Maestas, D-Albuquerque, described the changes as an âunprecedentedâ breakthrough at the Roundhouse.
“The liquor lobby,” he said, “has fought any expansion in alcohol sales by drink for decades.”
Republican Rep. Joshua Hernandez of Rio Rancho said he expects the bill to help start new businesses by lowering the cost of starting a restaurant that serves more than beer and wine.
Some counties in New Mexico, he said, don’t have a single establishment with the largest liquor license.
âIt will give these small communities a chance to fight for tourism,â Hernandez said.
An unusual mix of lawmakers sponsored the bill – Republicans Hernandez and Montoya and Democrats Maestas, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto from Albuquerque and Representative Dayan Hochman-Vigil from Albuquerque. Other members also made key amendments to the bill.
Andrew Vallejos, state director of alcoholic beverage control, said his division will process new restaurant license applications as quickly as possible.
It’s too early to say how many will apply, he said, but the price of the new license should spark interest.
âRestaurants operate on notoriously narrow margins,â said Vallejos.
The immediate changes will begin this week.
Convenience stores and liquor stores can no longer sell individual 3-ounce miniatures for off-site consumption. They can still be sold on golf courses, in hotel minibars, or other places where guests can legally drink them.
The proposed rules include an exception for the sale of a “party package” of minis bundled by the manufacturer and intended to be sold as a single unit.
July 4 will also mark the first Sunday of the new law, which ends restrictions on alcohol sales on Sundays.
New Mexico has previously banned on-site liquor sales before 11 a.m. and parcel sales by a store before noon on Sunday. But now service can usually start at 7 a.m. just like any other day of the week.
There are also new reciprocity rules for local breweries and wineries. In addition to selling local beer, for example, they can also serve locally distilled spirits, if they wish.
In addition, the act includes specific changes to the Liquor Act that apply to McKinley County.
One of the most important changes in the law will take time.
The state’s alcoholic beverage control division is now accepting written public comments on proposed regulations to govern the delivery of beverages to people’s homes.
A public hearing is scheduled for July 26 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The law would allow liquor stores, grocery stores and restaurants to offer home delivery of alcoholic beverages.
But they would face an authorization process and some restrictions.
Restaurants, for example, would be limited to delivering alcohol with $ 10 worth of food, and department stores in some communities could only deliver beer and wine, not spirits.
Delivery to certain locations – university dormitories and businesses – will be prohibited.
âThe risk of abuse is too high,â Vallejos said.
There will also be requirements to verify identification – perhaps by the delivery man at the door – to prevent drinks from going to underage buyers.
âIt’s a new model, and we want it to work,â said Vallejos.
Delivery permits, he said, could be issued in August or September.