“DRINKS TO GO” was never intended to last longer than a few months. To the dismay of many, the emergency provisions have been extended by the Legislature for three years. Now lobbying groups are again seeking to persuade the Massachusetts Legislature to extend or make permanent the temporary emergency provisions that were hastily enacted during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, significant empirical evidence demonstrates that minors are repeatedly getting access to alcohol beverages through “Drinks to Go.” ABCC compliance checks and media reports confirm that “Drinks to Go,” is resulting in “Drinks for Kids.” That is the hard truth. Minors now have far greater access to alcohol than before the pandemic. Contrary to proponents for “Drinks to Go,” now is the time to reinstate laws that protect against underage drinking.
Extension of “Drinks to Go” when there is no public emergency has undermined regulations that historically prevented illegal alcohol sales. Numerous media reports support this conclusion. For example, ABCC investigators had found DoorDash and Uber Eats drivers delivering alcohol to underage college students in the Boston area. In another report, the ABCC confirmed that the increase in alcohol deliveries is resulting in many incidents where alcohol was improperly delivered to minors or even left on the front steps. Deliveries were even made to 15-year-old kids!
Deregulation resulting in illegal alcohol sales is not limited to Massachusetts. One-third of liquor deliveries in Oregon are reported not to comply with rules on delivering alcohol to underage or intoxicated customers. Virtually every state that deregulated alcohol retail during the pandemic is reporting problems with policing third party delivery of alcohol beverages. Massachusetts prevention and substance abuse groups are also testifying that “Drinks to Go” is having a negative health and safety impact. Underage drinking, as reported by the Center for Alcohol Policy, is on the rise.
Difficult to police third party delivery is the big problem that proponents for “Drinks to Go” want lawmakers and the public to ignore. Home deliveries are falling under the radar because an alcohol transportation permit is not a requirement within the emergency provisions. Accordingly, these sales can be undocumented. Unlike restaurants and brewers, a “Section 22 Alcohol Transportation Permit” is a requirement for delivery by liquor stores. Stores must also deliver the alcohol before 11 p.m. Restaurants, distillers, and brewers are exempted from these requirements by the emergency provisions.
This is not about one or two law breakers. The reported illegal alcohol deliveries are broad and systemic. A sunset for “Drinks to Go” is set to spring on March 31, 2023. Good conscience dictates that “Drinks for Kids” must end.
Robert Mellion is executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, and administrator of the Alcohol Beverage Training (BAT) & Certification Program that is relied upon by off premises alcohol retail licensees in Massachusetts.