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Annapolis mulls liquor-law changes

Photo: Tom Chalkley, License: N/A

Tom Chalkley

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A

Every year, the Maryland General Assembly considers ways to tweak the state’s hooch rules, and some become law. Last year many proposals failed—such as the one seeking to set a 10 p.m. closing time for many of the city’s liquor stores, and the one that wanted to prohibit liquor stores from selling anything to anyone under 18 years old—while the ones that became law liberalized the market for locally made sauce by expanding brewing and beer-selling opportunities for craft brewers and giving Maryland wineries more ways to move their products. So far, with most of this year’s session still left to go, a host of statewide measures have been proposed, some looking to ban things and others looking to loosen up the rules.

House Bill 4: “Vaportini” Ban

Huffing liquor with an Alcohol Without Liquid (AWOL) machine that allows users to inhale alcohol mist became something of a fad in the 2000s, and Maryland banned the devices in 2007 by making it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to $1,000 fine, to use or sell them. Last year, a Chicago restaurateur brought a new product to market, the Vaportini, which allows users to heat up spirits, turning them to inhalable vapors. Del. Charles Barkley (D-Montgomery County) sponsored this bill, which would classify Vaportinis—and anything like them—as an already-banned AWOL device.

“It’s not a good product, not a good idea,” says Barkley, because the alcohol “goes right into your bloodstream,” so “we decided to do a catch-all” that would criminalize all alcohol-huffing devices. The Man’s reach goes only so far, though: Presumably, no one’s going to fine booze-huffers who pour vodka on their saunas’ hot rocks.

House Bill 208: Free-Roaming Growlers

The 2012 law allowing bars to buy permits to issue refillable, sealed beer containers—better known as growlers—has meant beeroisseurs can carry out fresh draft beer and avoid having to recycle empty cans and bottles. One drawback, though: Having purchased a growler, buyers can only get it refilled at the same place that issued it. But if this bill passes, “you’ll be able to fill a growler no matter where it was purchased,” says Barkley, its lead sponsor, as long as the growler meets size and labeling requirements.

The idea originated from “the brewery guys,” Barkley explained, who noticed customers “wanted to be able to fill their growlers at the brewery” but couldn’t, “so they were losing business.” Barkley has a long list of co-sponsors on this bill—with all but three members of the House Economic Matter committee, where it is to be heard, signed on as sponsors—and says “it’s got a good chance of getting through.” If it becomes law, Maryland’s growing growler culture will be further liberated.

Senate Bill 75: “Everclear” Ban

The sale of any booze that’s 190-proof or higher—a class of super-strong hooch commonly called “grain alcohol,” a popular brand of which is Everclear—would be banned if this bill becomes law, and sellers would face a misdemeanor conviction carrying a $1,000 fine. Prior attempts at this were made in 2009 and 2010, and both times it was nixed in a House committee after passing the Senate. Should this become law, though, grain distillers could simply and slightly ratchet down the proof of their products to keep them legal—and remain highly intoxicating.

Senate Bill 161: Pear Cider

The popularity of hard cider made from pears, rather than apples, has been on the rise, and this bill would expand the state’s definition of hard cider to include the pear variety. Hard cider in Maryland is taxed the same as beer—9 cents per gallon—but the alcohol content is limited to less then 7 percent.

Senate Bill 209: Seller Beware of Drunk Drivers

Let’s says someone gets drunk at a bar or restaurant, gets behind the wheel, and proceeds to get in a damaging car accident. If this law passes, the damaged party—someone who suffered bodily injury, say, or whose property was harmed in the crash—can sue the place or person who purveyed the booze to the drunk driver. The plaintiff will have the burden of proving with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant—a liquor-licensee or its employee—knew or should have known the patron was already under the influence.

In the City Council: Bad Bars

Not yet introduced in Annapolis is a bill that the Baltimore City Council may soon urge the General Assembly to consider. A council resolution, scheduled for a Jan. 21 hearing before the Judicial and Legislative Investigations Committee, would ask the city’s legislators in Annapolis to introduce a bill giving Baltimore’s liquor board more latitude in cracking down on poorly run liquor establishments when they apply to transfer their licenses.

“State law allows Baltimore City’s liquor board to only consider the character of the applicant when considering the transfer of a license,” explains Maggie Porter, legislative assistant to City Councilmember Bill Henry (D-4th District), one of the resolution’s sponsors. “Other jurisdictions,” Porter continues, “may consider the character of the existing establishment and of the people who congregate there, as well,” and Baltimore should be able to too.

The resolution calls for the law to be amended so that, at liquor board hearings about license transfers, the “general reputation” of “the place of business and of the people who congregate therein or thereat shall be admissible in evidence.” Given the drunken good times had at many of the city’s watering holes, such evidence could be plentiful.

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