Too many liquor license holders tolerate sales to people not of legal age [Editorial]

It just isn't that hard for a clerk at a liquor store to ask for proof of age. If there's a line, and it's clear to everyone in line that proof of age is being required, most folks with a scrap of sense will have their drivers licenses at the ready when it's their turn at the cash register.

Importantly, in Maryland – and a lot of other states as well – the drivers licenses issued to people younger than 21 are vertical. It's become something of a rite of passage to visit the Motor Vehicle Administration upon turning 21 to get a horizontal driver's license.

On top of that, while having a liquor license isn't necessarily a guarantee that a business will be successful, a manager would have to be pretty inept to drive a store that sells beer, wine and liquor out of business. Licensed establishments should, therefore, be expected to pay enough to attract clerks who have the mental adroitness to A.) ask for proof of age, and B.) know the difference between a drivers license printed on a horizontal card and one printed on a vertical card.

At least it would be reasonable to expect such sensible management would be in place at most, if not all, businesses that are licensed to sell the only recreational drug available legally in this state.

Disturbingly, it's not the case. Harford County Liquor Inspector Charles Robbins recently presided over a sting operation that involved sending an underage police cadet into businesses licensed to sell alcohol. At 13 of the businesses – 40 percent of those checked – the cadet was served alcohol. At 10 of them, the person doing the selling didn't even bother to ask for proof of age. At the other three, the cadet's drivers license was checked and the alcohol was sold, even though the license said the cadet was not of legal drinking age.

When presented with the findings of the undercover operation, Harford County Liquor Board member Thomas Fidler said: "It just boggles the mind."

In Harford County, undercover liquor sting operations are conducted fairly frequently. It should come as no surprise to license holders – and by extension their staffs – that checks will be conducted so they should be vigilant.

More importantly, however, there's a high level of public trust associated with being entrusted with a license to sell an intoxicant for recreational purposes. If 40 percent of licensed pharmacists were found to be in violation of a random check of prescription drug protocols, it would be scandalous.

While comparing a liquor license holder with a licensed pharmacist isn't entirely linear, it would seem those entrusted with liquor licenses would, in aggregate, be a good deal more responsible than appears to be the case.

It's worth pointing out that some liquor license holders go years, or even decades, without skirting the law. It is possible to run a tight operation.

In presenting the results of his sting operation to the liquor board, an apparently astonished Robbins said he believes stronger enforcement efforts are in order, and he anticipates more sting operations in the near future: "I am not going to make a secret of it, but I think compliance tests are going to happen a lot more frequently." He went on to say: "I want people to know that the board takes this seriously."

It's a start, and it's a good thing someone is taking the issue seriously. Unfortunately, it seems not enough of the holders of liquor licenses are among that crowd.

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