Mixed drinks to-go legislation in peril in Pennsylvania

The Associated Press
Gin and tonic is a refreshing spring drink.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday suggested that he will veto a bill that would allow thousands of retailers with licenses to sell beer and wine to begin selling cans of mixed hard alcohol drinks to go, including convenience stores and grocery stores.

Wolf's office said he supports the original intent of the bill: to allow hotels, restaurants and bars to continue making mixed hard alcohol drinks and selling them in to-go containers.

Legislation signed by Wolf last year legalized those drinks as a way for establishments hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions to make extra money. The authority to sell the drinks ended Tuesday, when Wolf's pandemic disaster emergency declaration formally ended.

But on Tuesday, Republicans in a Senate committee inserted provisions that Wolf opposes and that Democrats characterized as an attempt to further privatize alcohol sales in Pennsylvania. 

Bars and restaurants are now "collateral damage in a bigger debate," said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.

The new provisions would dramatically expand the availability of hard-alcohol products, allowing beer-and-wine licensees like grocery stores, bars, restaurants, convenience stores and beer distributors to sell mixed drinks in cans.

Private wholesale distributors would sell the products to retailers, not the state-controlled liquor store system.

Currently, only state-owned liquor stores are allowed to sell the cans of mixed drinks at retail in Pennsylvania.