Bill to Revise Off-Premise License Requirements Passes House

HB 524 easily passed the Montana House of Representatives Friday on a 95-2 final vote and should be transmitted to the Senate for it’s consideration soon.  HB 524 would remove the grocery store/pharmacy requirement for off-premise retail licenses for beer and wine.

Sort of.

As originally proposed, HB 524 merely eliminated the grocery store/pharmacy requirement.  Under current law, only grocery stores and pharmacies are eligible to hold a license for off-premise sales.  However, during discussions at the House Business and Labor Committee, members expressed concern that the bill would open up such licenses to too many unrelated businesses – like a fertilizer store or auto parts stores.

To fix the issue and reflect the sponsor’s original intent with the bill, the committee amended the bill to read:

(1)  A retail license to sell beer or table wine, or both, in the original packages for off-premises consumption may be issued only to a person, firm, or corporation that is approved by the department as a person, firm, or corporation qualified to sell beer or table wine, or both, and whose premises proposed for licensing are operated as a bona fide grocery store or a drugstore licensed as a pharmacy have received approval from local building, health, or fire officials AND IF OPERATED IN CONJUNCTION WITH ANOTHER BUSINESS, THAT BUSINESS MUST BE A GROCERY STORE OR DRUGSTORE LICENSED AS A PHARMACY.

The portion in ALL CAPS is the language added by the amendment.  Thus, if passed, three categories of businesses could hold off-premise licenses:  grocery stores, pharmacies, and bottle shops (i.e. those stores which ONLY sell beer and/or wine).

The bill will certainly help a shop like Topper’s Cellar in Helena which will no longer need to go through the charade of keeping $3,000 worth of grocery items on-site to be a bona fide grocery store. However, the bill will do nothing to help a store like Summer Sun Brew Supply in Missoula, which is gearing up to begin off-premise sales, because it also sells homebrewing and garden supplies.  Thus, Summer Sun will still need to maintain the $3,000 worth of grocery items.

Hopefully, the bill will be interpreted to allow bottle shops to also sell glassware and other items directly related to the alcohol sales. You can certainly take a conservative reading of the bill to mean a bottle shop could sell only alcohol and nothing else.  Thus, if the store wanted to have a some cheese or a few snacks on the side, it would need to comply with the full grocery store requirements.

In any event, the bill is a positive step toward authorizing true bottle shops.

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