Alternative facts and Maryland liquor laws.

Credit where credit’s due is my motto, so I have to commend the editorial in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun on reform of Maryland’s liquor laws.  The silver lining in the brouhaha in the General Assembly over legislation that will allow industry giant Diageo to open a Guinness-themed taproom at an old spirits plant in Relay is that it, once again, called attention to Maryland’s archaic liquor laws.

I tweeted a number of weeks ago that the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is a first-class tourist attraction, richly deserving of its status as the most popular in Ireland.  Even my wife, not a beer drinker, enjoyed it.  If the facility planned for Baltimore for Baltimore is anything like the Dublin operation officials in Maryland and Baltimore County would have to be brain-dead not to do what is necessary to allow it to open. Fortunately, the General Assembly enacted the requisite law expanding the amount of beer Guinness and craft brewers alike can sell in their taprooms, although not without considerable wrangling.

No matter what you may believe, Kellyanne Conway did not invent the concept of “alternative facts.”  Legislators in Maryland long have embraced the concept as applied to the Alcoholic Beverages Article of the State Code, claiming that the primary goal of the byzantine set of laws is to protect the public.

The primary goal of the law is of course to protect the interests of existing business owners, particularly wholesalers and distributors, and it does so in remarkably ham-handed and anti-competitive ways.  The public is left on the outside looking in.

The alcoholic beverage industry and their lobbyists pay handsomely for this special treatment through campaign donations, and in effect have a fair number of legislators in their pocket.  The control exercised by the alcoholic beverage industry over the General Assembly is the worst-kept secret in Annapolis and the source of considerable disgust among those of us who have seen it in action.  The outright corruption of state and local of state and local officials that is detected and prosecuted is the tip of the iceberg.

I agree with the Sun editorial board that existing laws need to be scrapped, and that Maryland needs to start from scratch to craft a sensible regulatory scheme.  I also am leery of Comptroller Peter Franchot, or any other politician, leading the effort.

Maryland politicians simply are too addicted to the flow of campaign contributions from the alcoholic beverage industry to act objectively.  For example, Franchot’s campaign for re-election in 2014 received $62,000 in contributions later determined to be illegal from a company run by David Trone, the Potomac wine magnate who along with his brother owns Total Wine & More.  Some sort of independent commission, with members drawn from outside of politics and the alcoholic beverage industry, is the best hope.

April 15, 2017

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