Innovation has always been a hallmark of California. Our state is the birthplace of many new ideas, and we often set the trends in food, fashion, entertainment and public policy. Unfortunately, small businesses, which are the engine of much of our state’s innovation, face challenges that sometimes make it difficult to survive in a down economy.
We saw this scenario play out recently in San Francisco when restaurants and bars were suddenly informed that they could no longer sell their own flavored or infused alcoholic beverages. Infused cocktails, which are made with fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices, have become increasingly popular in establishments across the state. In the Bay Area alone, an estimated 50% of establishments create and serve infusions.
Last year, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) began issuing warnings to businesses, indicating that the sale of infused alcoholic beverages was illegal. These warnings came from ABC’s new interpretation of an antiquated state statute, written in post-Prohibition days. That law was originally designed to protect the public from dangerous, adulterated beverages in the early 20th Century, such as moonshine. It is no longer needed today, and only creates additional regulatory burdens for small businesses.
Until last year, many small business owners had no idea they were out of compliance with state law. After the ABC’s warnings, however, restaurants and bars across the state took infusions off their menus, resulting in a drop in business.
To correct this problem, I have introduced Senate Bill 32. The bill clarifies existing law that seems to ban infusions and specifically allows businesses to sell infused beverages that will be consumed in their establishments.
At a time when small businesses are struggling to survive, this bill eliminates outdated regulation and allows entrepreneurs to continue participating in this practice that is popular in San Francisco and other cities across the state. SB 32, which is supported by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and California Music and Culture Association, and drafted with technical assistance from ABC officials, was approved by the Senate Governmental Organization Committee on March 22 with a bipartisan, 12-0 vote.
I am hopeful that my fellow legislators will approve this measure, which is designed to infuse our business regulations with some much-needed common sense.
Senator Mark Leno represents the Third Senate District of California, which includes portions of San Francisco and Sonoma Counties and all of Marin County. www.sen.ca.gov/Leno