Tag Archives: alcohol reform

Is Maryland Trying to Punish Craft Breweries?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Craft breweries have been growing rapidly in Maryland and elsewhere, forever changing the beer business.  Maryland scored a huge win a couple months ago when Diageo announced their intention to open a $50 million Guinness brewery in Baltimore County, creating a tourist attraction and dozens of jobs.  Best of all, unlike many employers, Diageo is not asking for one thin dime of public subsidy to come to the state.  But instead of welcoming the new facility with open arms, the House of Delegates reacted by making it harder for Diageo to do business here, as well as many other breweries in Maryland.

The debacle began when Diageo asked for a change in state law to allow them to sell 5,000 barrels of beer at a restaurant and tap room on the brewery site.  (Maryland’s current limit of 500 barrels is by far the lowest in the nation; the second-lowest state, North Carolina, has a limit of 25,000 barrels.)  Other brewers sought a limit of 4,000 barrels in on-site sales for their own operations and five different bills followed.  HB 1283 was the one that passed the House of Delegates and did three main things.

  1. It increased the on-site sales limit to 2,000 barrels. Breweries could apply to the Comptroller for permission to sell another 1,000 barrels on-site, but they would have to go through a distributor to do so.  That means the brewery would have to brew its own beer, then turn it over to a distributor, then receive it back from that distributor and of course pay the distributor a fee for its service.  Guess who ultimately pays that fee?  That’s right, you the customer!
  1. It established closing times for tap rooms of 9 PM during the week and 10 PM on weekends, down from local closing times ranging from midnight to 2 AM.
  1. It limited tap room sales to beer brewed on-site only. This repeals a long-standing practice in which brewery tap rooms supplement their own products with contract beer brewed for them by other breweries.  Such contract beer sales are major sources of revenue for some craft brewers and make tap rooms more attractive to customers.

Brewers characterized the combination of changes as “one step forward and two steps back” and predicted layoffs and business losses.  Why would the House pass such a bill?

One of the biggest opponents of liberalizing rules on craft breweries is the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, which represents restaurants and small alcohol retailers.  The group is particularly influential in Annapolis as its PAC has contributed over $180,000 to state politicians since 2005.  The association sees craft brewers as competition for its members.  From a zero-sum perspective, every pint purchased in a brewery tap room is a pint not purchased in a restaurant or package store.  But that view doesn’t recognize the synergies between these types of establishments as well as their differences.  Diageo’s brewery has the potential to be a major tourist facility, bolstering the entire local economy.  And if a consumer purchases a new product at the Diageo site and likes it, he or she will be motivated to buy that same product at restaurants and stores.  That means more business for everyone.

Some brewers would prefer that HB 1283 simply die in the Senate because of the problems it would cause, but it’s not so simple.  If the bill dies, the state’s current on-site sales limit of 500 barrels would stay in place.  That could cause Diageo to cancel its project, costing Baltimore County a $50 million tourist attraction that other states would kill to get.  Think of the impact that would have on the industry’s perception of Maryland.  If we lose Diageo, what other major brewer would ever relocate here?

Maryland has a number of anti-competitive laws on alcohol, including the much-loathed prohibitions on sales in most grocery stores and Montgomery County’s dysfunctional liquor monopoly.  The last thing we need is even more of these laws, especially if it causes us to lose a major employer and gives us a national black eye.  HB 1283 must be fixed.  Cheers to the State Senate if they can get it done.

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County (Ab)using Liquor Stores for Political Speech

DLC liquor store flyerAdam Pagnucco sent Montgomery County Attorney Marc Hansen the following letter:

Hello, Mr. Hansen.  This is Adam Pagnucco.  I am working with a group of folks who are advocating for Delegate Bill Frick’s legislation to allow competition in the county’s alcohol industry.

I am in receipt of the attached flyer which I understand is being distributed in county liquor stores.  The flyer is unquestionably a political communication and not a commercial advertisement.

As you know, the state’s Court of Special Appeals has ruled that the county “may speak to advance its existing policies and programs, to advocate for policy changes, and to advocate against policy changes.”  http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2015/0175s14.pdf   However, during the Question B campaign of 2012, the county ran ads for its point of view on Ride On buses and denied the Fraternal Order of Police the same opportunity.  ACLU of Maryland protested that and the county decided to allow FOP ads, but it was too late in the campaign for the ads to appear.  The ACLU wrote, “When the government privileges one side of a political debate in a forum open to private speakers, as Montgomery County is doing here, it engages in viewpoint discrimination clearly prohibited by the First Amendment.”  http://www.aclu-md.org/press_room/82

As the County Attorney, here is my question to you.  If the county is using its facilities to distribute political speech, as it did with the Ride On buses, can county citizens with a different point of view use those same facilities to also distribute political speech?  In other words, can we request that our flyers be distributed along with the county’s flyers?

Adam Pagnucco

It looks bad that the County has had time to arrange to get these fliers into county owned liquor stores even as the Department of Liquor Control caused a major snafu with delivery screw-ups in the week before New Year’s Eve.

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MCGEO’s Ridiculous Claim that the Department of Liquor Control Saves Consumers Money

Yesterday, I published a reply by MCGEO’s Gino Renne to Adam Pagnucco’s guest blog on Montgomery’s Liquor Control Regime. In his reply, Renne attacks Pagnucco’s claim that the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) raises prices:

In his first false claim, Mr. Pagnucco claims that DLC’s operations increase costs for the consumer. Across all categories except special order beer, costs are 2-10 percent cheaper than neighboring jurisdictions.

This claim struck me as incredible, so I decided to do a sampling of wine prices at a Montgomery County Liquor Store and Total Wine in McLean, Virginia. I focused on comparatively affordable wines and picked out some first at the DLC store and others from Total Wine, and did not know the price of the wine at the other store when I selected it (i.e. no cherry picking).

The results are presented in the following table:

wine

Among the 26 wines, DLC doesn’t carry seven–I checked with the cashier who searched the computer. Only one wine was cheaper at the DLC store and another at the same price, and these two bottles were on sale.

Looking only at the 12 wines currently offered at a discount at Montgomery DLC stores revealed that even their sales tend to be lousy deals. The discounted prices on these wines were an average of 21.9% higher than at Total Wine. When this same set of wines is not on sale, the difference rises to 44.0%.

Examining the larger basket of 19 wines available at both stores shows that regular prices in DLC stores average 36.4% higher that at Total Wine across the river. Put another way, it would cost you an extra $89.04 (plus tax) to buy them in Maryland.

If Gino Renne begins his argument for maintaining the status quo with an obvious, easily disproved falsehood, why should anyone believe anything else he or MCGEO has to say on the subject?

Here is the real capper: Total Wine has its headquarters in Montgomery County but it cannot open one of its (nicer than DLC) stores and offer the same prices here. If you want to know why, look no further than MCGEO and the County Council.

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MCGEO Paves the Way for Alcohol Reform

[UPDATE at the end of this post.]

During his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Montgomery County District 5, Evan Glass pushed hard for liberalization of Montgomery’s antiquated monopoly on the sale of alcohol in the County. Despite his narrow defeat, the next four years presents the best opportunity for reform in ages.

MCGEO, the union that represents the employees at County owned liquor stores, bet disastrously on the wrong candidates in the recent Democratic primary. The attempt by MCGEO under the leadership of Gino Renne to flex its muscle and become the leading force among unions and possibly in County politics backfired and earned the union far more enemies than friends.

Montgomery County Council
Let’s look first at County Council races. In District 1, MCGEO endorsed Duchy Trachtenberg’s bid to return to the Council in a challenge to incumbent Roger Berliner. Duchy even hired MCGEO’s former executive director as her campaign manager. Trachtenberg lost with 21% of the vote. MCGEO didn’t just lose; it looked puny and ineffectual.

The big race in District 3 went no better for MCGEO, Gaithersburg Mayor Sid Katz defeated their choice of Ryan Spiegel, who won less than one-quarter of the vote. In Districts 2 and 4, MCGEO did not endorse either incumbent in the primary even though they were unopposed. No relationships built there.

Tom Hucker, who was expected to win by more, limped home to the District 5 nomination in his battle against newcomer Evan Glass. While MCGEO should have a friend in Hucker, his narrow victory hardly impresses and its not clear yet how much weight this new member of the Council will carry with his colleagues.

In the at-large races, MCGEO supported incumbent Marc Elrich so a bright spot for them there. However, they also supported Beth Daly, the most serious challenger to the other incumbents, who all won reelection. No real reason for Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, or Hans Riemer to prioritize MCGEO’s interests. And Hans has already expressed public interest in alcohol reform.

General Assembly
MCGEO played it safer in the General Assembly but surely has teed off the three incumbents whose opponents it supported in District 18. It gave $1000 to Sen. Rich Madaleno’s opponent. Madaleno won despite being heavily outspent by his self-funding opponent who dumped over $300K in the attempt. Unfortunately for MCGEO, he is already one of the more influential insiders on the Budget and Taxation Committee.

While MCGEO supported Jeff Waldstreicher, it also gave $1000 to Natali Fani-Gonzalez, which certainly cannot especially please incumbents Al Carr and Ana Sol Gutierrez. The two incumbents romped home easily with Fani-Gonzalez placing sixth out of seven candidates.

The Results
MCGEO spent a lot of money and political capital in an effort to look strong but made its weakness apparent. Its ill-conceived campaign to plant friends on the Council and instill respect of its power has left it vulnerable. Montgomery officials can move ahead with alcohol reform. They know they have nothing to fear.

UPDATE: MCGEO made another terrible investment in the District 17 Senate race. They donated $6000 to Del. Lou Simmons, another heavy self-funder. Despite having a clear financial advantage, Lou lost the nomination to former Del. Cheryl Kagan by 9 points.

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