In the debate over the Diageo bill over the past several months, there has been a lot of favorable coverage in the local and national media for the supporters of the barrel limit increase. It is critical for the general public and our elected officials to hear from the other side of this debate to understand why this bill was so controversial. Of the 15,000 Marylanders who have jobs in the beer industry, just under 5 percent work for breweries, the other 95 percent work for distributors or retailers. The opposition, the majority of people who work in the beer business in this state, have not been given a voice.
This month, The Sun editorialized on the issue ("Toward a brewer-friendly Maryland," April 13) portraying beer retailers and beer distributors as the enemies of progress and economic growth. Our involvement in the political process was called "messy." The hit piece against the 95 percent went further, calling on Comptroller Peter Franchot to completely dismantle the three-tier system as we know it to replace the 80-year old legal framework of alcohol regulation in Maryland with new laws that are more "brewer friendly."
A reality check for everyone: Pushing for radical change in a regulated industry like beer will cause radical economic upheaval and people will lose their businesses and livelihoods. Just because a change in the law is good for the breweries of this state doesn't mean all the effects are positive to our state's economy. Keep in mind, distributors and retailers are the backbone of the beer business in Maryland and generate many times more revenue for the state than breweries do. Our economic impact is massive and cannot be ignored.
One can argue for or against the merits of the three-tier system all they want, but it doesn't change the fact that it creates thousands of jobs in this state that wouldn't otherwise exist. As a practical matter, local breweries often owe their success to getting their brands picked up by local distributors.
In the interest of full disclosure, I work as a sales representative for Bond Distributing of Baltimore. My company has been doing business in Maryland since 1950, and over three generations of family ownership, Bond has become a local institution. Before that, I worked as a liquor store manager in Carroll County. I'm very much a part of the 95 percent. Opposing the Diageo bill wasn't just about one brewery, it was about fighting for our futures and livelihoods. On Feb. 24, I had the privilege of testifying to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in Annapolis, not as a lobbyist, but as a regular "beer guy." I'm very passionate about protecting my industry because my future depends on it.
During a spirited friendly debate I recently had with someone who represents a local brewery, he made the claim that "a rising tide raises all boats," that what is good for breweries is good for everyone in the beer business.
"You're only half correct," I told him. "A rising tide raises all the boats on one side of the ocean, while it lowers boats on the other side. There is only so much water in the ocean. A high tide exists in one place because of a low tide somewhere else."
Change is inevitable and I know that the beer business is no exception. But that doesn't mean it has to create upheaval. Our elected officials, and Comptroller Franchot in particular, must consider all Marylanders and the economic impacts that new laws governing the sale of beer may have. Consider what a low tide will do to the 95 percent before giving a high tide to the 5 percent.
Christopher M. Hoos, Taneytown