Liquor license doesn't come with protection against competition [Editorial]

February 25, 2014|Editorial from The Aegis

Based on some of the back and forth at a liquor license hearing for a proposed wine bar in Bel Air, it seems there is some confusion about the role of the liquor board when it comes to regulation.

Lawyer Jay Young correctly pointed out that the buying and selling of alcoholic beverages is strictly regulated. In Young's words: "It's not like opening up a candy store."

In representing owners of other liquor stores, who have objections to a potential competitor being licensed, Young went on to draw an erroneous conclusion in saying the liquor board has a responsibility to help liquor licensees protect their substantial investments.

The liquor board has no such responsibility.

The board is beholden to the community to ensure that liquor license holders are socially responsible in the sale of the only legal recreational intoxicant in our society and to ensure that the number of liquor outlets is in keeping with the wishes of the community.

And yes, there are limits on the number of establishments that can sell alcohol in Harford County, both retail and by the drink, and there are philosophical and practical reasons for them, not economic.

Alcohol is a regulated substance, and limits on the number of places from which it can be dispensed are designed to ensure those doing the regulating are not overwhelmed in that responsibility.

Moreover, in Harford County, as in many communities, public mores have historically favored a finite number of liquor establishments, and the county's liquor laws have long reflected that communal view.

Ensuring that each liquor license holder is able to secure a large enough piece of the economic pie so as to help them protect their investments is one concern that should not be the liquor board's responsibility.

Plenty of other businesses require substantial financial investments, but are afforded no guarantee of success by virtue of government intervention. Pharmacies are heavily regulated, but there's clearly no limit on how many of them can operate in the same block. Same with places that sell gasoline that have morphed into the contemporary convenience store.

Contrary to Young's advice in his dutiful advocating for his clients, the liquor board's responsibility to the community should be to protect it from the undesired effects of alcoholic beverage distribution, not from competition among those the board has concluded are responsible enough to sell it.

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