It is no secret that New Jersey has some fairly strict laws surrounding liquor. From consumption to sale, NJ has among the strictest liquor laws in the country—affecting restaurants, breweries, distilleries and more. This is mostly leftover jargon from the Prohibition era, but for whatever reason, the laws have stuck around for all of these years, with no one wanting to tackle what has become the elephant in the room. Governor Phil Murphy, however, seems determined to put a stop to New Jersey’s archaic liquor laws. Or, so we thought?
When a brewery reform bill (S-3038/A-4630) passed both houses of the state legislature late last month with bipartisan support, it was expected that NJ brewery restrictions would finally see an end and common sense reform would prevail. These restrictions included limiting events and food trucks, restricting private events and more which have hurt these small businesses—some breweries report losses of up to 40 percent since the restrictions were passed a year ago.
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However, the bill sits on Murphy’s desk, waiting to be signed. To make up for the delay, which the Governor’s office seems reluctant to provide a clear explanation for, Murphy extended a suspension of the restrictions enforcement until December 31, 2023. So, for the time being, the law has been upended.
This begs the question: Will the Governor allow these restrictions to resume when the time comes? It is impossible to say for sure, but many seem to think it is a campaign tactic of sorts, while others think that Governor Murphy is awaiting a bill that covers all of the liquor reform he would like to see, including the expansion of liquor licenses—an idea that Murphy has championed for some time now.
When asked about the bill collecting dust on his desk, Murphy stated, “The ABC gives at least temporary relief on most of the questions the brewers had on this for the next six months… I still want comprehensive, broad-based license reform and I want that to be a part of it.”
So, it seems Governor Murphy isn’t protesting the bill, but instead awaiting the legislature to bring him a more complete version of it. Rather than passing incremental reform, he wants to do it in one fell swoop. Is this a campaign tactic to boost his popularity when it finally does pass? Probably, but it is also a legislative power move. By passing a broad reform on NJ liquor laws, it becomes harder to remove these pieces of legislation in the future. If true reform is what New Jerseyans want, Governor Murphy feels a long-lasting bill that covers the entire ground is the only way forward.
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It becomes a tactical play when the full liquor reform Murphy desires is less popular than the simple fix to rules surrounding breweries. Many current liquor license holders oppose the expansion of licenses—something Murphy set as a goal in the beginning of the year—feeling it is unfair to the people who have paid inflated costs for theirs. To make this full reform a reality, Murphy needs as many people on board as possible, and tacking on breweries as a part of that seems to be one of the ways he will attempt to accomplish it. Many in the NJ Brewers Guild are not happy to be in the middle of an entirely separate fight.
With NJ brewery restrictions temporarily suspended and Murphy’s office expressing support for broader reform, the future for New Jersey liquor laws seems bright. This is a game we have played all too many times before, though, and NJ brewers have every right to remain skeptical. For the time being, we will just have to wait and see.
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.