VABC Announces 7 New Laws

This July, seven laws impacting the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC), its licensees and applicants for ABC licenses went into effect.

The Virginia General Assembly passed the following Virginia ABC-related legislative proposals during the 2021 session, and Governor Ralph Northam signed them into law.

Cocktails To Go Extension (HB1879 and SB1299) – Both bills allow the continuation of a practice first conceived and initiated by ABC to allow restaurants to sell cocktails to go. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many restaurants were shuttered, ABC created a safe and secure way for restaurants to offer cocktails to go with a meal. The General Assembly has now continued this practice in statute for one year. ABC is currently conducting a study, as requested by the General Assembly, of cocktails to go as this relates to public safety concerns. More than 40 stakeholders are participating in the study.

ABC License Reform and Off-Premises Beer/Wine (HB1845) – This bill extends the effective date of Virginia ABC’s major license reform legislation to Jan. 1, 2022. Additionally, the bill allows on-premise wine and beer licensees to sell wine or beer for off-premise consumption and to allow those licensees to deliver wine and beer that the licensee is authorized to sell without a delivery permit.

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Virtual Fundraising Events (HB1973) – This bill allows a nonprofit corporation or association conducting virtual fundraising events to exercise the privilege of the license during the virtual fundraising event, including the sale and shipment of wine in closed containers.

Locality Notification for Pending ABC Licenses (HB2131) – This bill requires ABC to notify the local chief administrative officer of a pending ABC license in their locality. The bill also amends certain provisions as to what constitutes “blight” for purposes of local action relative to activities at ABC-licensed establishments.

Special Event Licenses (HB2266 and SB1471) – Both bills authorize ABC, after the adoption of a local ordinance, to increase the frequency and duration of what are currently known as special event licenses. The new legislation renames this license a “designated outdoor refreshment area” license. The legislation will allow localities to work with ABC to create consumption areas in portions of the jurisdiction that are likely to be entertainment or walking districts. ABC licensees in the designated districts will be able to sell alcohol to patrons who can consume the beverages outside the licensed establishment so long as they remain in the designated outdoor area, which could consist of several blocks.

Low Alcohol Beverages in ABC Retail Stores (SB1428) – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, ABC will cease to sell low alcohol beverages in its retail stores unless they were manufactured by a Virginia distiller. Low alcohol beverages are spirits-based drinks consisting of 7.5% or less alcohol by volume. ABC retail stores will market Virginia-based low alcohol beverages and those products over 7.5% alcohol by volume. Low alcohol beverages are statutorily treated as wine for all purposes and this change is consistent with the treatment of Virginia wines in ABC’s retail stores.

Enforcing Unlawful Games of Skill (HB2168 and SB1465) – This bill makes it clear that a local county or city attorney, a commonwealth’s attorney and the attorney general can enforce against unlawful games of skill. Beginning July 1, 2021, games of skill will be unlawful in Virginia.

On June 30, 2021, Virginia’s state of emergency (Executive Order 51) brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic came to an end. This resulted in changes to many of the 16 ABC regulatory actions taken in 2020 to provide relief to licensees impacted by the pandemic. Virginia ABC’s Bureau of Law Enforcement provided updated guidance regarding procedural and regulatory matters to assist businesses with these transitions effective July 1.

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