Denying Downtown Drunks Drink

March 22, 1994

The problem of drunks pestering people along Westminster's Main Street has persisted too long without resolution. Businesses and pedestrians have tried to avoid the problem created by a handful of public inebriates. So far, police detention for misdemeanors has proven inadequate to remedy this public nuisance.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown has come up with an idea that might go a step toward alleviating the problem: impose fines on retailers who sell alcohol to known "habitual drunkards." He's not proposing a new law, actually, but asking for enforcement by authorities of an existing law that dates back to the 1940s.

At the same time, Mayor Brown points out the need for treatment of these unfortunates and their addiction, and the obligation of society to use its considerable resources to meet these human needs. This approach makes much more sense than Mr. Brown's earlier suggestion to restrict the sale of fortified wine and miniature bottles of liquor by downtown retailers.

The Carroll County state's attorney says the 1947 law is valid, provided that requirements to justify that an individual is a "habitual drunkard" are met. That includes a letter from a family member attesting to the alcohol addiction, or a certified record of repeated public inebriation.

Simply cutting off the downtown supplies of alcohol for these few vagrants will not stop them from drinking altogether. But it will be a step toward restoring a greater degree of security to downtown Westminster's sidewalks.

If these vagrants choose to abuse alcohol elsewhere, we share Mayor Brown's hope that law enforcement and health authorities can direct them to appropriate treatment. Therapy may have already failed in some cases, but the effort should not be abandoned. The homeless condition of these individuals is a further complication.

Liquor retailers have a public stake in this, as well. They may fear the legal consequences of serving someone designated as a "habitual drunkard," (or of a civil lawsuit for not serving him), but that is not likely to happen if the town enforces its law consistently and equitably. Mayor Brown's concern is proper and deserves community support if Westminster is to rehabilitate the spirit of Main Street to match the newly renovated surface of its roadway.

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