As the Carroll County Liquor Board works to finalize rules regarding the sale of carryout and delivery alcoholic beverages from restaurants and bars, some have expressed opposition to the move for public health reasons.
Last year, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an emergency order to help struggling restaurants and bars by allowing them to carry out and deliver drinks. Although it was intended to be temporary during the COVID-19 pandemic, in May the governor signed a bill allowing the sales for at least two more years.
The legislation limits hours to no later than 11 p.m. and requires establishments to get approval from local liquor boards, whose regulations vary from county to county.
Such sales paused in Carroll County on July 1 when Hogan’s COVID-19 emergency order lapsed. Then in mid-July, the county board voted to allow establishments to operate as they had under the original order while rules are being finalized.
The board met last week to share its proposed regulations and receive feedback.
“Many of the things we are proposing here are required” by the state, David Brauning, chair of the board, said. “There’s nothing we can do about that, however we have several local rules and regulations that we are suggesting.”
Those suggestions included prohibiting the licensee from selling takeout alcohol to a customer who is leaving the premises following the consumption of two or more drinks and limiting manufacturer sealed six-packs and bottles of wine to one per transaction.
Other state mandates include the requirement that alcohol be purchased in conjunction with an entree and restricting containers of mixed drinks, cocktails and beer to 16 ounces and containers of wine to nine ounces.
Eric Cellitto, owner of Main Street Liquors in Hampstead and member of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, said that he is “completely against delivery” of the drinks, fearing “unintended consequences.”
Board member George Harmening pointed out Cellitto holds a Class A Liquor License rather than a Class B like most of the other business owners in attendance, permitting him to sell alcohol for consumption off his premises rather than solely for consumption on his premises.
“You were lucky enough to have your business open all through the pandemic,” he said. “This is meant to supplement income” for restaurants and bars that were not able to operate at full capacity during that time.
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Cellitto argued “someone who has an addiction will find a way to get alcohol” and he’d rather people have to walk through his store so he can assess whether or not they are already intoxicated.
Debbie Finch, speaking on behalf of the Carroll County Health Department, discussed the law from a public health perspective.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that alcohol is a problem in the county here,” she said. “We had 1,469 people who were admitted to Carroll Hospital for nonfatal alcohol overdoses in 2020, and seven people died from alcohol overdoses.”
She mentioned those numbers don’t reflect a lot of other potential overdoses, such as those who go elsewhere for medical care and those injured or killed in automobile accidents caused by drunk drivers.
A new study found regulating alcohol outlets in a geographic area is an effective strategy for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and associated harms, Finch said.
“We want to make alcohol less attractive, less affordable and less available,” she added. “We at the health department are concerned as well.”
After hearing a few more comments, Brauning said the board would vote to finalize the document at their Sept. 8 meeting.