End the Montgomery County Liquor Monopoly

One of the more under reported and under appreciated intricacies of local government here in Maryland is the Montgomery County Liquor Control Board. Because Montgomery County (naturally) is the only county in the country that controls liquor distribution throughout the county. Restaurants and bars are required to purchase their beverages from the county distributorship, and all liquor stores in Montgomery County are owned and operated by Montgomery County.

NBC 4 in Washington has been doing a series called “Beer Bust” detailing all of the absolutely insane failings of the Liquor Control Board and the statist liquor regime that Montgomery County has set up.

It’s worse than incompetence really. The failings of the Liquor Control Board extend into corruption too.

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The director of the county’s alcohol delivery operation says corruption is not widespread in his department, despite two employees caught by a local news station drinking while making beer deliveries.

George Griffin, director of the Department of Liquor Control, addressed the drinking and other allegations of employee theft in the November report from NBC4.

The report also cited anonymous restaurant and alcohol store owners who claimed some DLC employees offer to sell them county alcohol inventory on the side for cheaper rates.

So we’re talking about a corrupt and incompetent, county-operated liquor racket being run in Montgomery County. And for, realistically, no reason at all. And yet there is very little, if any push to eliminate the liquor regime in Montgomery County. And this is for two reason. One is the fact that the employees for the Liquor Control Board are all union employees. Few Democrats are going to have the guts to try to eliminate union jobs and have any expectation of surviving their next Democratic Primary. But secondarily, it’s a profit making enterprise for the County, as the Bethesda Now article notes.

The DLC has 255 full-time employees and 155 part-time positions. It also generates about $30 million a year in profits for the county — a big reason why County Executive Isiah Leggett opposes deregulating it.

County taxpayers, customers, and businesses of course would be better served by private alcohol distributors selling beer to restaurants and liquor stores, who in turn sell the alcoholic products to their customers. You know, how it is in every other jurisdiction in Maryland.

(We’ll save the conversation about liquor distributorships and their lack of necessity another day).

There is a push in some corners for a repeal of this regime. The Washington Post came out for reform last year. Comptroller Peter Franchot (hardly a free-market champion) supports deregulation and has called the practice “medieval.”

Montgomery County customers should not continue to be forced to use such an antiquated an byzantine system of liquor control, especially one that makes it nearly impossible for consumers to get what they want, when they want it, and at a reasonable price point.

There may not be political will at the County Level to end the County Liquor Monopoly,there is something that Republicans and Democrats alike can do outside of Montgomery County to stop the insanity. The legal authority allowing for the establishment of county control over the liquor enterprise is contained in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Article 2B, § 2-301. That reads:

(g) Montgomery County liquor dispensaries. —

   (1) This subsection applies in Montgomery County.

   (2) The Department of Liquor Control may sell its inventory through county liquor dispensaries at wholesale and retail and through retail outlets operated by individuals with whom the Department contracts under § 15-203(d) of this article.

   (3) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, this article may not be interpreted to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages in whole cases or in individual bottles by the director of the Department of Liquor Control, through county liquor dispensaries selling at wholesale or retail, to a licensee in Montgomery County.

   (4) The Department of Liquor Control may not sell alcoholic beverages at different prices to different licensees or classes of licensees.

What this means is that it merely takes an act of the General Assembly, signed by the Governor, to end the Montgomery County liquor monopoly. A win for consumers, a win for businesses, and a win for the free market here in Maryland. Hopefully, some enterprising, common-sense oriented legislators will take up the cause and liberate the people of Montgomery County from a universally flawed and useless government program.

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