June 24, 2021

As liquor law changes go into effect on July 1, delivery will have to wait on rulemaking

On July 1, a number of bills signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will go into effect. Among those bills is one that makes significant changes to New Mexico’s liquor laws. But some of those significant changes, like delivery of alcohol, are also dependent on administrative rules and regulations. 

After much of the state was shut down last year, states around the country approved alcohol delivery and the notion that alcohol could be delivered to homes moved up on New Mexico’s legislative priority list. By the time it was approved by the New Mexico Senate, HB 255 not only included alcohol deliveries, but also an attempt at equity among liquor license holders and those who sought one of a finite number of licenses. 

Arguably one of the more notable changes to the state’s liquor laws, alcohol deliveries, still needs more rules and regulations before local businesses can take advantage of them. So, New Mexicans should not expect beer and wine additions to their favorite takeout menus anytime soon. 

New Mexico’s Regulation and Licensing Department is slated to hold a public rulemaking hearing on July 26, where the public can voice their concerns about the proposed rules. And if needed, the department has carved out the next day to get through everything.  

State Alcohol Beverage Control Director Andrew Vallejos told NM Political Report that oftentimes during legislative sessions, public comments are limited to a minute or two, making it difficult to hear every concern or words of support in their entirety. Vallejos said the possible extra day will hopefully give everyone, who wants one, a chance to be heard. 

“We’re just trying to give people a sense that you’ll have plenty of time to make your comments,” Vallejos said. “We’re not in the same hurry as the Legislature was.”

Vallejos said working out the specifics of deliveries is just one of three deadlines ABC is working towards. The most straightforward and easiest benchmark to hit, Vallejos said, is a change in Sunday hours. For generations, alcohol sales were banned on Sundays. Over time, the laws were loosened and sales were allowed after noon on Sundays. Then, several years ago, the Legislature passed a bill allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays. Now, after July 1, there will be no Sunday restrictions for either bars or liquor stores. 

“Sunday, traditionally, had always been treated differently in New Mexico, because we had sort of blue laws,” Vallejos said. “So, Sunday morning, you couldn’t buy any liquor, because it was thought that it would interfere with church or something. And so, one of the amendments [to HB 255] was to treat Sunday in the same way as any other day.”

The change in hours, Vallejos said, will not require any extra rules. So on the first Sunday of July, which is coincidentally Independence Day, alcohol sales will automatically be allowed to start well before noon. 

A third benchmark for ABC is approving license changes for restaurants who currently have a license to sell beer and wine, but not one to sell liquor. One of the most controversial changes in HB 255, especially among current liquor license holders, was the addition of a new class of license for restaurants. For decades, there have been a finite number of liquor dispensing licenses available. Over the years, that system created a value on the existing licenses. New businesses spent upwards of half a million dollars to obtain a license from the previous license holder. After widespread concern among current license holders, lawmakers compromised and created a new dispensing license that looked very much like current beer and wine licenses. After July 1, restaurants with a beer and wine that serve a certain amount of food can apply for a license to also serve cocktails and mixed drinks. 

Vallejos said the license change will be more immediate than alcohol deliveries, but less immediate than the change in Sunday sales.  

“If you already have a restaurant beer and wine license, and everything is still the same, same owner, same location, same everything, then we can convert those pretty quickly without having to go through the rulemaking process,” Vallejos said. 

He said ABC will want to see an updated zoning statement from restaurants looking to update beer and wine licenses, just to make sure there are no local restrictions. And while Vallejos said there may be a waiting period while ABC processes license updates, he also said it is the division’s intention to update licenses as soon as possible. 

“We’re trying to move as fast as possible on all this stuff, because, especially with the restaurant licenses, it’s about economic development,” Vallejos said. “So let’s not be overly bureaucratic about this, let’s just try to find ways to get people licensed-up.

Another immediate change to the state’s liquor laws is the banning of miniature liquor bottles, often referred to as “minis.”

Vallejos offered some clarification on that ban: the state will not extend the effective date and they will still be allowed to be sold where they are intended to be consumed on-premises, like hotel rooms, planes, trains and golf courses.  

“There’s been a lot of talk, we’re not extending the deadline,” Vallejos said. 

So, New Mexican residents and liquor store owners have about two weeks to stock-up and sell off the rest of the minis, respectively.