From Prohibition to Gas Station Sales: How Pennsylvania Liquor Laws Have Changed

Pennsylvania has always made it challenging to buy alcohol. When Prohibition was reversed, Governor Gifford Pinchot created the Liquor Control Board with the intention of making it as expensive and inconvenient as possible to buy alcohol. In recent years, this approach has drastically changed.

In August of 2016, Pennsylvania passed their first liquor reform bill titled Act 39. Effectively, Act 39 allows over 11,000 bars, hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets to obtain an R license. This license allows said places to sell bottles of wine and do so at more reasonable prices. As well, gas stations and convenience stores may sell beer, if you haven’t already noticed in your local Rutter’s or Sheetz. With alcohol becoming more easily accessible, beer distributors are feeling competed against.

In November of 2016, Act 166 was passed, allowing distributors to sell quantities other than 24 or 30 packs. Included in the Act, bars can now start selling alcohol at 9 a.m. on Sundays, the community may participate in beer-of-the-month-clubs, and it permits sports venues to sell mixed drinks.

In 2017, the Liquor Control Committee added two more sale reforms. The first reform, House Bill 438, allows any business that holds a restaurant or hotel license, that sells up to four bottles of wine, to do the same with hard liquor. The license to do so would cost each qualifying business $2,000. Up until that point, liquor had been exclusive to state-owned stores. The second reform, House Bill 991, creates a new state-given retail license to permit other retailers to sell wine or liquor. The point of this bill is to increase the number of places that sell alcohol throughout the state. One license will be given for every 6,000 residents, averaging around 2,400 new liquor stores in Pennsylvania.

These bills slid by with a 14-12 vote. Every Democrat voted “no”, along with two Republicans, arguing that the license fees are too low and that the bills are giving away a valuable state asset. According to Representative Scott Petri’s (R) calculations, the license should cost nearly $80,000 to ensure that taxpayers get a proper return.

Democrats are worried that it may be too soon to pass more laws liberalizing alcohol since they have yet to see the effects of the 2016 reforms. On the other hand, most Republicans believe that all alcohol should have equal treatment on the market as Pennsylvania has fewer stores selling alcohol than other states.

This post was co-written by Christian Harris, senior policy analyst, and Miranda Reisinger, a Policy Council’s intern. This piece may be freely re-printed with proper attribution to its authors and their affiliation to the York County Policy Council.