Hans Riemer Responds on Opposition to the County Alcohol Monopoly

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large), author of the proposed changes to the County liquor laws. (You can read a counterpoint in a previous post by Adam Pagnucco.)

I was very interested to see the results from the survey question commissioned by Comptroller Franchot. I expected to see that residents of Montgomery County are deeply dissatisfied with the alcohol regulations they endure under the county and state. That is why I led the effort to raise these issues and end the DLC’s wholesale monopoly as chair of the Council Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control.

I strongly believe our county alcohol regime holds back the vibrancy of our restaurant and nightlife economy and negatively impacts the choices residents get in stores. Our state regime, which denies the convenience of shopping for beer and wine at grocery stores or other large chain retailers, is also badly out of touch with our residents.

While the poll does show the general dissatisfaction with the alcohol regime our residents endure, it unfortunately does not specify which parts of the regime are the culprit, state or local. In my many conversations with residents, I find that the primary complaint relates to the state of Maryland’s unfortunate ban on the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

This is important because of the council’s plan is enacted, the county liquor stores survive and actually increase in number in order to increase consumer options and pay for reform. We need them. Considering that, I would ask how important is it to residents to replace county liquor stores with private ones? While I am sure that there is some support for that, it is not clear to me that it is a very high priority for the community. I don’t hear a lot of complaints that we have county stores. Mostly just that there aren’t enough of them. What about you?

Most importantly we don’t know from this poll how much support would exist for getting rid of county stores if it means having less funds available for schools, police, parks, and the like. Because the warehouse would have to move to the capital budget if the DLC were eliminated, the plan would also affect school construction and other capital needs.

After six months of council work sessions with stakeholders, and detailed survey work with stores and restaurants, the Council proposal focuses on something we know factually to be true.  We can come up with an efficient and effective distribution regime by allowing the private sector to deliver craft beer and fine wine. This ends the monopoly by giving the private sector 25,000 boutique brands to distribute, while the county retains only the 4,500 big brands.

The statewide policies of course can only be addressed at that level.

In conclusion, this one poll question does not tell us all very much about the complicated decisions that together our county and state must make. So we will need to use our best judgment.

My belief is that if the county can accomplish what it has proposed and if the state can reform the statewide policies that need to be addressed, the combination — a huge change from the status quo — will bring our residents what they want and deserve.

You can read more about our proposal here, which was unanimously supported by my Council colleagues, and the County Executive, as well as restaurants, stores and the county employee union. It will be before our county delegation for their consideration this coming session.