March 27, 2015

Public Health Experts, Police Take On Liquor Privatization


Public health experts have sent a clear message to councilmembers considering privatization of Montgomery's Local Liquor Control system: the system is superior in protecting the public health, combatting underage drinking and striking the balance between the sale of a legal, controlled substance and meeting community concerns and the public interest.

Montgomery’s system, in fact, has blocked the introduction of numerous liquor industry products aimed at underage drinkers, resisting pressure from the liquor lobby.

Montgomery’s Local Liquor Control contributes $30 million annually to the County – keeping dollars spent in Montgomery County and funding education, transportation and social services while keeping taxes down.

Systems such as Montgomery’s, which cover 30 percent of the American population, have been judged by the National Institutes of Health as superior to protecting the public health, a finding supported broadly by scientific research.

“Montgomery County has among the lowest rates for alcohol treatment, alcohol-related crashes and binge drinking in the state,” said David Jernigan, director of the Baltimore-based Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. “Montgomery County is doing much better than the rest of the State.”

In a detailed presentation, Jernigan cited 17 studies examined by the National Institutes of Health that concluded that alcohol consumption increases 44 percent with privatization. With privatization comes more outlets, more days and sales and longer hours, more alcohol signage and advertising, and more need for increased enforcement.

“In Iowa, Idaho, Maine and Montana, wine consumption jumped between 42 and 150 percent following privatization,” he explained. “Increased consumption means more adverse social impacts – more underage drinking, alcohol-related crashes, vandalism and violence.”

With alcohol in the hands of the market, he said, there are so many pressures to sell. As the price goes down, the adverse effects go up. He explained that alcohol abuse costs America $4 billion annually and is the 3rd leading cause of death and the leading drug for youth.

“There are so many pressures in the other direction,” he said. “If we don’t take intelligent steps to control the liquor trade, we will pay the price.”

Dr. Ulder Tillman, Montgomery County’s health officer, echoed the message. “If Montgomery County has the lowest alcohol treatment rate in the state, among the lowest alcohol-related crashes and the best overall health, I want to keep that.

“When Washington State privatized their liquor system, the number of liquor stores and bars jumped from 328 to 1,415 – a 337 percent increase. There was an increase in consumption, in the average number of drinks consumed at a sitting, in emergency room visits related to alcohol and in nighttime single-vehicle crashes.

“Our Local Liquor Control is a good thing,” said Dr. Tillman. “We can discuss how to make the system more consumer-friendly, but let’s keep what is working to protect the public health.”

Testifying on behalf of County police, Captain Tom Didone hailed the close cooperation between Local Liquor Control and his department in combatting underage drinking and drunk driving. Didone strongly opposed privatization, telling Councilmember Hans Riemer: “Please don’t change the way we do business now. It will make our job harder.”

The Montgomery County Police Department has the only full-time alcohol initiatives section in the State of Maryland, assisted by approximately 200 other police officers who have received specialized training in alcohol enforcement.

Watch the March 27 Ad Hoc Committee session with public health experts and police.

21 comments:

  1. Who are the greedbags trying to privatize liquor sales in MoCo? There is no reason we would need such a thing. No doubt the booze pushers will come up with something that sounds persuasive enough to take in the gullible, but come on: There are county outlets everywhere with reasonable hours. If you have a sudden (urgent?) need to buy alcohol in the middle of the night, we will all be safer if you stay at home and wait for the next morning. And I happen to think that our shopping centers are just fine without winos, thank you very much.

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  2. Absolutely ridiculous how Montgomery County regulates alcohol sales, Somehow much of the rest of the country has managed to let sales occur in multiple venues -- grocery stores come to mind -- and the sky hasn't fallen in. This is just a ploy to exclude competition -- by the liquor interests and the ABC store employees are two that come to mind. End this practice NOW

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Actually beer and wine are for sale in about 200 other, small stores in Montgomery County. No sales in grocery stores (except for one per chain per County) have nothing to do with Montgomery County’s Local Liquor Control. That’s Maryland law. Also, by Maryland law, distributors (including Montgomery County) have to sell for the same wholesale price to all outlets. If there is a difference in price, that’s the markup.

      An almost completed study by CountyStat based on statewide prices will show County prices less than our Maryland neighbors and DC for most products. We’ll post that when the final version is released.

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  3. Anyone else feel like this may not be an objective article while it masquerades as one??

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    1. There may be controversy on other angles of privatization but on the public health angle it’s clear that Local Control jurisdictions are better able to protect the public health. That was detailed testimony given and it was uncontested. The story reflects that reality.

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    2. There may be controversy on other angles of privatization but on the public health angle it’s clear that Local Control jurisdictions are better able to protect the public health. That was detailed testimony given and it was uncontested. The story reflects that reality.

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  4. I don't have an opinion at this time for or against privatization, but I wonder why the County is spending taxpayer dollars to advocate on one side of an issue of public concern--instead of just reporting on what transpires before public agencies.

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    1. Montgomery County is a Local Control jurisdiction. That gives the jurisdiction lots of value, not just in public health. It is entirely appropriate – and in fact, not out of the ordinary – for the County to promote and defend longstanding local policy, as determined by the County Executive, the County Council and State law.

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  5. The liquor laws in Montgomery County are ridiculous. Prohibition is over. My husband and I each drink a glass of wine with dinner every night, a proven healthy habit. With the outrageous cost of wine in the county and limited selection, we spend hundreds of dollars every few months in VIRGINIA to stock up, and NEVER spend a dime on alcohol in Maryland. Grocery stores are the best place to sell wine, as they consider food pairings and offer better choices for more competitive prices, yet they are not allowed to in this county. Let adults make their own choices for their health.

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    1. This has nothing to do with Prohibition. That was repealed. This is about balancing the sale of a controlled legal substance with the demonstrated adverse effects of alcohol abuse and underage drinking, not to mention the desire that the County not have a liquor store on every corner. Montgomery County Liquor Control has access to every wine legal for sale in the State of Maryland and, in fact, carries a larger stock than individual private distributors. Plus, you can
      walk into a store and special order anything that is not there and is legal for sale in Maryland.

      Grocery stores in ALL of Maryland are not allowed to sell liquor (with the grandfathered exception of one store per chain per County.) That’s STATE law, not County.

      A nearly completed CountyStat analysis is showing that County prices for most best-selling items, including wine, are LESS in the County than in DC and our Maryland neighbors. And, please note that prices went UP when Washington State privatized in 2012, and the number of outlets grew by more than 300 percent, with attendant public health consequences.

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  6. Well, too much for the "Free State"... We are free to do what the politicians in turn believe is good for us, treating the whole population as ignorant. As if the vast majority of us don't know that underage drinking or excessive drinking is too bad.
    I just want to leave in a County where the business are not conducted by the government. I don't want the County deciding what I can drink or not. Let the free market take care of that. Educate people, don't be dictators. You are not our parents, we don't belong to you!
    Regulations are OK, but the County in the business of selling products, that's not its function...
    I'm sorry but the article is completely biased. Not objectivity whatsoever.
    Make people responsible for their actions, don't "overprotect"us is such a way you end up curtailing the rest of the population of their rights.
    I hope some day will have politicians that defend our rights without treating us as a non-thinking population they need to save with their smart thinking.

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    1. If Prohibition didn’t work, then neither does simply leaving it to “the market.” That’s why every single level of government in this country (and every other) – down to local jurisdictions -- craft laws to balance the availability of a legal substance with its known adverse effects of public health and safety. The market will sell liquor like shoes, tires and sandwiches – that’s their job, but it is not necessarily in the public's interest. Thanks to our Local Liquor Control we have been able to keep many liquor products out of the County that were pushed by the industry to encourage underage consumption at cheap prices. Many of these products were later removed from the shelves everywhere.

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  7. How is it going to harm anyone if I can buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer at the grocery store instead of walking a few blocks to the publicly-operated liquor store to do that? And please explain why Rodman's is allowed to sell wine and beer, but Giant and Safeway cannot? The law is nonsensical and an inconvenience. Every state I've traveled to, including Texas, California, Florida, New Jersey and, I daresay, most others, permit wine and beer sales in grocery stores and I don't see any difference in the degree of horrors you are trying to describe here. This is nonsense.

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    1. Sorry, but the ban on sales in grocery stores (excepting one store per chain per County that was grandfathered in) is STATE law, not County. If that was changed, the County would wholesale to the grocery stores the same way it does to the many small beer and wine-selling stores around the County where you can now shop.

      About 30 percent of Americans live in Local Liquor Control jurisdictions of one variation or another. Recently privatization efforts failed in Virginia and Pennsylvania and, where they succeeded in Washington State, many are having buyers’ remorse. Prices are up, there has been an increase of liquor stores, and big distributors have pretty much a monopoly.

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  8. The MoCo system is great! To improve it they should close all the liquor, beer and wine stores and there will be no more problems and all MoCo residents will be healthier. To make up for lost taxes, just raise income and property taxes. We need elected reps with the courage to do this!

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  9. The people want alcohol prices to go back down. They think that this is the answer....it is not! The solution is for the government to appeal the liquor tax hike and find another way to fund things.

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  10. I disagree with all of the different levels of Government control "For the publics safety," or "Its best for the environment.""
    We are losing every one of our freedoms one by one in this manner.
    Wake up fellow Americans, look at the total picture of everything going on from the Federal level all the way down to the county level.
    You are a fool if you believe you are still living in the land of the free.

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  11. On balance, I believe the current system works well. I would like to see some of the negatives, such as restaurant orders, addressed. I would not like to see police resources taken from their primary focus.

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  12. This is where we need to heed the adage... "if it ain't broke...don't fix it". The system is working, leave it alone.

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  13. This is nothing but propaganda on the part of Montgomery County in an attempt to hold onto antiquated and draconian liquor sale laws. I haven't been in a Montgomery County liquor store in YEARS. Why should I? It's easier to go into DC or neighboring counties and give my business to stores that are cheaper, friendlier to shop in, have a much larger selection, and have a knowledgeable staff rather than a few apathetic county employees standing behind a cash register waiting for their break. These laws limit local restaurants in the variety of wine and mixed cocktails they can serve, which gives similar establishments in DC and in neighboring counties an advantage over Montgomery County restaurants (and discourages new restaurants from being established in this county). You can't bring your own wine into Montgomery County restaurants and pay a corkage fee, as you can in DC restaurants and in other counties in Maryland. Additionally, the tiny county stores do NOT have friendly hours, decent parking, a helpful staff, good prices, or a good selection. I go to Total Wine in Laurel every time I'm in that area, or I drive into DC to do my shopping. I live 1/2 mile over the DC line so it's just as easy for me to give my business to DC than it is to fight for parking in Silver Spring or Takoma Park. I think it would be interesting to see a study on how much business revenue is LOST to neighboring municipalities because of Montgomery County's refusal to wake up and smell the 21st century. You'd think we were Utah rather than a county in Maryland.

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    1. 25 County stores (not to mention other private stores that sell beer and wine), 4,000 wines stocked with special orders available, prices on most popular items LOWER than neighboring jurisdictions according to CountyStat study, and a THRIVING restaurant sector.

      And the money stays in Montgomery County to fund transportation, public safety, schools and helps keep taxes down.

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