"We've been waiting on it for so long," Warfield says while eating lunch with his parents at Tom and Ray's on Main Street. "The big thing is, you're not going to get any chain restaurants to open in Damascus without it."

Those who favor lifting the ban speak of economic development. Randy Scritchfield, a former president of the local Chamber of Commerce and the Damascus Community Alliance, led the repeal effort in 1996.

"It would definitely bring better restaurants to Damascus, and there would be a lot of collateral positive benefits from that," says Scritchfield, a financial planner. "We have some shopping centers that could use help."

The Rev. Walt Edmonds, pastor of Damascus United Methodist Church, sees such change as unnecessary. While restaurants, stores and other businesses here are prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages, there's no law against residents drinking beer, wine or liquor in their homes.

Edmonds' church hosts two meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. He's not opposed to drinking in moderation, he says, but "we don't need to make it more available."

"Many of the people who moved here years ago moved here so that their children would not be around alcohol, would not have it so prevalent," he says. "This would change the whole atmosphere."

Those who favor lifting the ban say the impact on the community would be minimal. The legislation would require that restaurants selling alcoholic beverages have at least 30 seats and that the drinks be consumed by patrons only while seated.

"This will not bring in bars, it will not bring in pool halls," says Luedtke, the state lawmaker.

But Edmonds describes it as "an entering point." He cites the example of Kensington, a formerly dry town in Montgomery County that decided a decade ago to permit some alcohol sales in restaurants. The community has since lifted other restrictions, most recently allowing local stores to sell beer and wine.

Scritchfield says the "slippery slope" argument helped defeat the referendum in 1996.

"There was a flier put together that says that this license is the same license that a Hooters has in Rockville," he recalls. "Therefore, if we pass this law, we'll end up having a Hooters in Damascus. To which I said, 'Give me a break.' Our demographics did not quite work for a Hooters."

Scritchfield says the issue "gets demagogued."

"That's one of my big frustrations with this. If people vote against this, I want to make sure they know what they're voting against. It's just beer and wine in a sit-down restaurant. It's not liquor. It's not package stores. That still would not be allowed. ... It would take a whole new referendum and a whole new vote."

Juan Barrowes knew Damascus was a dry town when he came for lunch at Tom and Ray's. The Clarksburg man says the current law "probably affects whether I'm hanging out here at night." But he doesn't know whether changing the law would make much difference.

"There's not that many places to hang out here at night anyway," he says. "I don't know whether Damascus is a trend-setting destination regardless of whether it sells alcohol in its restaurants."

The debate has drawn the attention of the state chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the 140-year-old organization that led the charge for Prohibition in the early 20th century.

Bunny S. Galladora, the organization's state president and a retired Montgomery County deputy sheriff, calls alcohol the No. 1 drug problem in America — "often a factor," she says, in murder, suicide, birth defects, choking deaths, drownings, accidents, falls, vehicle crashes, sexual abuse, homelessness and disease.

"Damascus voters have time and time again voted to keep alcohol from being sold in their community," Galladora says. "The community should be commended for their strong stand. ... Their voting record on this issue is clear and should be respected."

State Sen. Karen S. Montgomery acknowledges the opposition, but says it's time for another vote. The Montgomery County Democrat is backing the legislation after what she calls "a very good meeting" with Traverso and others.

"A lot of people have concerns," she says. "We will put it on the ballot so they can decide."

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