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Maryland deserves 21st century alcohol laws

Maryland deserves 21st century alcohol laws
Melinda Goodman, left, buys beer from Tonya Williams, wine consultant at The Cellars, a liquor store in McHenry Row. Maryland is one of a handful of states that restrict supermarkets from stocking beer and wine. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)

Sitting here on rain-drenched Maine this morning, I had hoped to squeeze 18 holes of golf into my quick and unplanned trip up here. It has become obvious to me that there will be no golf and I have had to make alternate plans. I have invited some relatives over for dinner tonight. I have not decided what the menu will be for an early dinner, but there is one fact that will make my chore easy: Every single item I need to entertain a dozen or so family members who either live here or who will drive up from a bit further south in Maine can be acquired in one trip to one store on the mainland. The food (no matter what I decide to prepare), gin, vermouth, bourbon, scotch, tonic, wine and port are available under the same roof.

The Maryland laws prohibiting the sale of beer and wine in supermarkets are a remnant of prohibition laws that didn't work but which led states to afterward pass laws that still place some restrictions on what could and could not be purchased on certain days and in certain places. When Mondawmin Mall opened near my childhood home in Baltimore, I had to remember that any chore I had that required tools, nails, tape or other hardware things could be purchased at the Sun Ray Drug store but not on Sunday. The Blue Laws were the reason. Today, Home Depots can sell everything in their inventory seven days a week.

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Attitudes have changed. When the Baltimore Archdiocese and some ministers of other denominations objected to the National Football League's request that all games be able to start in early afternoon to accommodate the television networks, my dad, a longtime Colts season ticket holder, told lawmakers that a lot of the busses that took people to Memorial Stadium on Sundays were sponsored by various bars and taverns where the patrons drank before boarding and that many of those folks missed mass and other services on the seven Sundays that the Colts played home games.

I live in New York which has it's own outdated version of Blue Law remnant. Under New York law, beer can be sold in markets and grocery stores but not in liquor stores. Likewise, spirits and real wine can only be sold in liquor stores. Thirty years ago, when I was a member of the staff of the New York Assembly Speaker, I worked on a bill that would have allowed liquor stores to sell beer and snacks. A competing bill sprang up from the supermarket lobby that would have allowed them to sell wine. Every year since that session, laws have been introduced to allow cross sales. Lobbyists predict a dire impact on their clients if the bills pass, and the result is that the only thing that has changed is the increase in the monthly retainers charged by the various lobbying and law firms who try to persuade legislators to bring New York into the modern world.

Whenever I drive from New York to Annapolis where I have to entertain some people, I stop at Wells on York Road in Towson and pick up whatever I need. Wine, gin, olives, vermouth, snacks, light food, cigars, everything. In New York where liquor stores cannot sell anything but wine and liquor, you can't procure the ingredients for a martini without multiple stops. In Maryland, one can. Let's open up cross sales. If the goal is to protect certain businesses from being forced to close by large businesses and to prevent price or distribution manipulation that would hurt small businesses, that can be addressed through legislation. We can help, but first let's move Maryland's alcohol laws into the 21st century ("Should Maryland grocery stores sell beer?" Sept. 6).

Roland Nicholson Jr., Mount Desert Island, Maine

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