The MoCo Liquor Fight Is Back

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After a nine month uneasy truce, the battle has been joined again. The County is proposing to allow private businesses to have “agency” licenses with the County liquor authority, and Delegate Charlie Barkley has a bill to do just that. Barkley’s bill is a big improvement, for starters, over Delegate Bill Frick’s proposal from last year.

Frick would have allowed for an unlimited number of licenses, with no geographical restrictions, and a paltry $1,000 annual fee. Barkley’s bill allows the new liquor authority entity to limit the number and location of new liquor stores, and the license fee is $5,000. A step in the right direction. As I wrote last year, in the early bloody days of the war:

I’ve read the bill, and it has major problems. There’s no restriction on the number of either wholesale or retail licenses to sell liquor. So any current licensee could pony up the $1,000 license fee and be eligible to sell liquor. Imagine a county full of discount liquor stores.

So the 2017 bill itself is a step in the right direction. In fact, in my narcissistic view of the world, I believe that Barkley’s bill was inspired by my comments on last year’s bill. (Yeah, right). But at least one delegate doesn’t want any restrictions at all on the number of stores or their location, according to Bethesda Magazine:

State Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Germantown) said a proposed state bill that would allow privately owned alcohol stores in Montgomery County to sell liquor should not also allow the county to limit the number of liquor licenses issued or have boundary protections for its county-owned liquor stores.

Reznik said those two limitations, which are included in the “agency store” bill being proposed by Del. Charlie Barkley (D-Germantown), would hurt businesses. Barkley said Monday at a public hearing on state bills being considered for the 2017 General Assembly session that he was proposing the bill as a way to meet the underserved demand for liquor in the county.
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Reznik said that allowing the department to set the number of stores that can be licensed could “create a rush to the courthouse,” with business owners clamoring for licenses before the number is reached. He added that setting a distance requirement could also negatively impact existing beer and wine stores that are near county liquor stores.

“In many of those cases the county store came after the [privately-owned store],” Reznik said. “We’d be telling beer and wine stores that by virtue of your location, you’re out of luck.”

I didn’t have the benefit of attending the bill hearing last night or seeing the broadcast, so I’ll reserve judgment for the time being, but Reznik’s reported comments smack of a belief that there’s some inalienable right of a private business to a liquor license. That’s of course wrong legally, but it’s also terrible policy. As I noted last year, you want a Montgomery County where there’s a liquor store on every corner? I certainly don’t, and I’m pretty sure most of you don’t either.

In researching this piece, I also found that the Post has offered up one of its patented, one size fits all “blame the unions” editorials late last month. The fact that somebody got paid for this recycled dung pile should be investigated. Yawn.

Stay tuned. This year is likely to see some movement towards a resolution. Maybe an actual bill will get passed. But not a Wild West of Liquor version.

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