Sadly, over the last month the political discourse in Annapolis from those opposed to changing Maryland’s antiquated and anti-competitive laws (laws that prevent the growth of Maryland breweries) have hidden behind the veil of public safety. In essence, they have turned to binary rhetoric in order to protect the status quo: They say advocating for a stronger brewery industry in Maryland means advocating against public safety. This rhetoric is a distraction.
It goes without question that safe, responsible, of-age alcohol consumption is something I and my fellow Maryland brewers care deeply about. We are local manufacturing businesses that employ state residents. We are members of communities and depend on our community roots to thrive. We therefore maintain a different level of accountability to these communities, compared to those who produce beer outside the state. In essence, if we do not promote public safety where we do business, we do not succeed.
On Dec. 5th, the Economic Matters Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates held a briefing on the Maryland alcoholic beverage industry. During that hearing, certain members of the committee noted on the record that any statutory reform for Maryland beer manufacturers must be met with public safety in mind. I, and my fellow Maryland brewers strongly agree with that principle. However, as the hearing went on, soap-box insinuations and innuendoes were made. These included questioning our commitment to public safety and whether we might negatively contribute to DUIs in the state compared to other establishments where alcohol is sold. I, and my fellow Maryland brewers, strongly disagree with that line of thinking.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drunk driving fatalities have fallen by a third in the last three decades. The evolution of the beer industry over the same general time frame shows the number of breweries has grown from just 100 in 1980 to over 5,000 today. In other words, the number of breweries has gone up, and the number of DUI’s has gone down. To argue that there is somehow a discernible connection between the increasing number of local independent breweries and any increase in DUI-related fatalities lacks logic. Maryland breweries and our industry colleagues alike are committed to upholding of-age drinking laws and promoting responsible consumption. We are in this together and prefer not to cast blame on our industry colleagues every time someone makes the selfish choice to drive under the influence after leaving their establishments.
The suggestion that Maryland breweries are somehow negative factors in the alcohol industry when compared to neighborhood bars, restaurants, taverns or package stores is meant to distract from the substantive debate on the antiquated and anti-competitive laws in the state. While it is easy to focus on the laws that limit how much beer local Maryland breweries can manufacture and how much we can sell or even how we can sell it, we must not forget that there are also arbitrary restrictions on our hours of operation, restrictions on food service (think about that one), restrictions on self-distribution and mandated requirements that make it essentially cost-prohibitive to move from one wholesaler to another even if it is in our best interest to do so. Does asking to reform these laws mean we are sacrificing our commitment to the public, our customers, neighbors and friends? Is it really a binary choice whether we can grow our business (and attract more manufacturing jobs) or protect public safety? The status quo has little to do with public safety and everything to do with limiting opportunity.
My fellow brewers and I are small businesses in local communities looking to grow into second, third and fourth generation businesses — much like our in-state wholesale and retail partners.
At a time when other states are opening their doors to the local brewing industry, we have been surprised and disappointed by how quickly our industry colleagues and some elected officials have been to raise public safety as the quintessential objection to statutory reform for the industry. Using public safety as a shield to pick and choose winners and losers in an industry, rather than addressing the actual issues in the face of consumer demand, is, simply put, insincere.
Cindy Mullikin (mullysbrewery.com/contact-us-2) is president and co-owner of Mully’s Brewery in Prince Frederick, Southern Maryland’s oldest production brewery. She serves on the board of the Brewers Association of Maryland.