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Maryland's unwieldy liquor laws weigh in at 3,180 pages

The largest bill in Maryland history weighs in at nearly 11 pounds.

It stands 14 inches tall. It was conceived of 45 years ago, and took eight years to draft.

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It doesn't change a single public policy.

Rather, the first full rewrite of the state's liquor laws since Prohibition is the final step in a project started under Gov. Marvin Mandel to condense and organize the state's laws. Before Mandel launched the project, the last reorganization of Maryland laws happened in 1798, and the state's code was a hodgepodge.

Starting in the late 1960s, piece by piece, drafters slowly organized and rewrote the entire thing with little fanfare.

The state's booze laws were among the messiest. They had evolved in parochial fashion, with each jurisdiction seeking its own set of special exemptions and local rules by amending existing laws here and there.

Even today, tweaks to liquor laws — when, where and how alcoholic beverages will be served — perennially consume at least a day of hearings in Annapolis. There were 138 liquor bills filed this year.

The result of decades of small shifts and granting of local requests was an unwieldy and disorganized jumble of laws dispersed through Maryland's code books.

But to make the new, streamlined alcohol laws official, the Maryland General Assembly must pass a bill that is a whopping 3,180 pages long. To put that in context, here's how many pages it took to enact some of Maryland's most complex and controversial policies:

•The 2013 sweeping gun-control law: 62 pages

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•Repealing the death penalty: 27 pages

•Legalizing gay marriage: 6 pages

•Approving slot machine gambling: 4 pages

•Legalizing table games: 70 pages

•Deregulating utilities: 73 pages

Any changes or amendments to the bill would require drafters at the Department of Legislative Services to reprint the entire thing.

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It sailed through a Senate committee Wednesday and received initial approval from the full Senate without changes on Friday.

"And a good thing it did," said Warren Deschenaux, the executive director of the Department of Legislative Services.

—Erin Cox

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