By Nikita Biryukov | New Jersey Monitor
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Tuesday lifting food and event restrictions on breweries and allowing towns to reclaim some inactive liquor licenses, changes that won the governor’s approval even though they fall short of his initial goal of gradually wiping out liquor license limits altogether.
The law eliminates annual limits on events held by craft alcohol manufacturers and allows them to partner with restaurants and food trucks for food service. Regulations issued by the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control in 2019 capped brewers to 25 on-premises events per year, but those rules have been inactive for months as lawmakers negotiated the changes signed into law Tuesday.
“Together with our partners in the Legislature, we are laying new ground rules to help our breweries and distilleries flourish at the same time creating new opportunities for smaller and more diverse mom-and-pop establishments to set up shop or expand in New Jersey and help transform our downtowns,” Murphy said.
The new law leaves the state’s liquor license limit — one license per 3,000 residents in a given municipality — unchanged, though it will allow towns to reclaim disused liquor licenses and licenses not linked to an establishment.
Under the new law, towns can move to reclaim liquor licenses that have been inactive for up to three years.
The change will not increase the number of liquor licenses issued in New Jersey, but it could bring more than 1,300 inactive licenses back into circulation, increasing the state’s stock of active licenses by roughly 15%.
“This is a smart and responsible way of increasing the number of active liquor licenses at the same time we retain the value for existing businesses that are so important to the economies of local communities,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen).
Even if every inactive license goes back into circulation, increases in the total number of liquor licenses will fall well short of the ambitious goals Murphy announced in early 2023.
The governor’s original proposal called for liquor license limits to decrease by 10% per year — first to one license per 2,700 residents, then per 2,430 residents, and so on — before eliminating them entirely by 2029.
The changes signed into law Tuesday might have no effect at all on sparsely populated towns. Those with fewer than 3,000 residents cannot issue any liquor licenses of the type used by bars and restaurants.
Provisions of the bill signed Tuesday will allow municipalities to solicit bids for additional liquor licenses from other towns and cities, but only if they share a border.
Other provisions will create a new class of liquor license for use in shopping mall food courts, a bid to increase foot traffic at retailers that have struggled to retain shoppers amid technological advancements in the last two decades.
New Jerseyans shouldn’t expect more liquor license reforms anytime soon.
“I think this will take this off the table for a while,” Sarlo said after the Senate approved the bill last week.