Franchot announces task force to study Maryland liquor laws

Frustrated by the state's "outdated" regulation of alcohol, Comptroller Peter Franchot plans to create a task force to review Maryland liquor laws.

Franchot, a Democrat who collects alcohol taxes and enforces the liquor laws, is dubbing his effort "Reform on Tap."

Franchot did not announce who would be on the task force, but said the group would hold public meetings this spring and summer with the goal of making recommendations in the fall. Any changes to state liquor law would require approval from the General Assembly.

The comptroller's action comes after state lawmakers struggled to make accommodations in the law to allow a proposed Guinness brewery to open in Relay in Baltimore County.

Diageo, the international liquor company that owns the Guinness brand, successfully perusaded lawmakers to allow Maryland production breweries to serve more beer in their in-house taprooms and sell some beer that's brewed off-site. New production breweries will be required to close their taprooms at 10 p.m.

The legislation, which won final approval over the weekend, applies to production breweries such as Flying Dog, Heavy Seas and DuClaw, which make up about half of the state's licensed breweries. Microbreweries and farm breweries are not affected.

The debate over the legislation highlighted rifts among the segments of the alcohol industry — brewers, distributors and retailers — and differing opinions of lawmakers, with some seeking to preserve the current system of regulation and others seeking more freedom for entrepreneurial brewers. Five different brewery bills were considered during the General Assembly session that ended Monday.

"The events of the 2017 legislative session are further confirmation that Maryland's beer laws are antiquated, dysfunctional, anti-small business and anti-consumer," Franchot said in a statement.

pwood@baltsun.com

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