Wine enthusiasts just want access to legal products...


March 25, 2001

Wine enthusiasts just want access to legal products

Twice. That's how many times I read Jay Schwartz's breathtakingly smug comment before I believed he had the temerity to say it.

Reacting to efforts by wine enthusiasts to reform state laws limiting consumers' access to good wines, Mr. Schwartz said: "Sometimes they can't get everything they want, and that's just the way it is." ("Md. import curbs cause wine lovers' ferment," March 6). That's an astounding statement in a free-market society.

Let's examine the way it really is. Mr. Schwartz, backed by the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, favors preserving his meal ticket and those of his clients by retaining the "three-tier" system, which mandates that wine must pass through middlemen (wholesalers and distributors) on the way to retail shelves.

Supporters of this racket speciously argue that it ensures an orderly distribution of alcohol and prevents sales to minors.

Baloney. This fight is about preserving a status quo that chiefly benefits Mr. Schwartz and others who have grown fat obstructing trade in a legal product.

The argument that the system protects minors is idiocy. The average 17-year-old gearing up for a Friday night binge is unlikely to seek out a Dehlinger Pinot Noir.

Wine enthusiasts are law-abiding, willing to pay a tax on a legitimate product we want to enjoy.

All we are seeking is the freedom to choose from the full spectrum of that product, not just the limited selection to which Maryland's wholesalers (most of whom probably couldn't distinguish a merlot from a muscat) have decreed we can have access.

Susan A. Winchurch


Don't change laws for an oil company

Investing in oil and gas can be very exciting and profitable. It can also be uncertain, with the possibility of losing one's investment, especially if the drilling program concentrates on wildcat drilling.

Experts have estimated that a wildcat well drilled on land in the United States has about one chance in nine of being a producer, one in 20 of finding petroleum resources in paying quantities and one in 50 of finding one million barrels of oil or its equivalent in natural gas.

In 1993, Fox Oil and Gas made a decision to explore for natural gas in Western Maryland. They were informed, before their costly exploration, that Maryland did not have regulations to permit gas or oil drilling on publicly owned lands. Yet Fox decided to proceed with expensive geological and seismic studies for natural gas products under publicly owned lands.

Fox then drilled for natural gas on private lands in the vicinity of the supposed natural gas pocket; the well came up dry.

Now Fox complains it was not warned adequately of a problem with a permit on public lands and its investors may lose money.

The company wants Maryland's General Assembly to increase Fox's investors' chances of success at the expense of Maryland's publicly owned lands ("Lease for drilling of natural gas in Allegany County hits snag," March 8).

This could bring disaster to the state's lands. Any changes to Maryland's oil and gas law pertaining to public lands should occur only after deliberate and comprehensive study and as an act of last resort.

And, before legislation is entertained, the Board of Public Works needs to adopt regulations that prohibit drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.

Mary P. Marsh


Treating sex offenders is part of deterrence

Alexander E. Hooke's assertion that post-prison institutionalization of sexual predators "creates the impression that punishment is no longer guided by a sense of deterrence" is problematic ("An endless punishment," Opinion * Commentary, March 15). Isn't psychological or medical treatment intended to prevent further criminal activity and therefore to serve as a deterrent?

Perhaps Mr. Hooke has a narrow definition of deterrence, but history has demonstrated, for example, that simply relying on military force to deter war is less effective than combining a strong defense with a determination to eliminate the conditions that make war attractive.

Similarly, intensive treatment of sexual offenders reduces their danger to society through positive intervention.

Mr. Hooke also might change his opinion if he were in my position.

I am preparing to move my family back to a house we have rented out for two years, and have learned that a repeat pedophile is moving in next door.

Even if long-term treatment ultimately failed to cure the individual, the children in my neighborhood (and my family) would at least be safe a while longer.

Scott Granger


Vice president's health can't be helped by stress

Here's what we know about Vice President Dick Cheney's general condition.

His heart has been scarred and is pumping at about two-thirds its normal level.

He is on beta-blockers -- medicine which can cause depression and sleeplessness. He is taking blood-thinning medicine.

He knows there's a 40 percent chance of restenosis of his stent, which can cause either anginal pain, a new heart attack or sudden death.

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