Last year, Howard County police charged 82 people under the age of 21 with driving while intoxicated. Also, under a state law that allows police to charge underage drivers who aren't legally intoxicated but are clearly impaired, 130 were charged. The number of fatalities involving underage drinkers in the county was unavailable, but it is the rare homecoming or prom that passes without some alcohol-related tragedy.
All of these are good reasons to commend county Police Chief James N. Robey for reinstituting a crackdown on liquor stores that sell alcohol to minors.
Not only are liquor store owners subject to citation, cashiers can now be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to two years. Such citations were commonplace before Mr. Robey took the helm of the police department three years ago. He abandoned the practice after intensive lobbying from the Howard County Licensed Beverage Association. But wisdom prevailed, and Mr. Robey heeded the alarm sounded by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and parent-teacher associations, who wanted the old rules enforced again.
In the month since the crackdown was renewed, police have filed criminal citations against four county liquor store cashiers who allegedly sold alcohol to underage police cadets. Hearings that would set penalties for the four have yet to be held.
The Maryland Licensed Beverage Association has come out in opposition to Howard's crackdown, calling the penalties excessive. Association officials say the possibility that a cashier could end up with a criminal record because of an infraction will discourage many from applying for jobs as liquor store clerks. That would be a hardship for liquor store owners.
How much greater a hardship it would be if a cashier's failure to card an underage customer led to a fatality and a subsequent lawsuit against the store owner by a bereaved family. Liquor store owners should be thankful that the county is enforcing the law so strictly. Instead of griping, they should be busy warning their employees of the consequences of selling to the wrong person.
In all likelihood, a judge would stop far short of imposing the full weight of penalties available, including the creation of a criminal record for a cashier's first offense. Still, this matter is too serious to take lightly. Lives are at stake.