Md. lawmakers consider bill adding beer and wine to grocery stores

There’s a push in the Maryland General Assembly to change the state’s alcohol sales law to allow beer and wine on grocery and convenience stores’ shelves.

The Maryland Retailers Association is pushing for the change, telling lawmakers in Annapolis that the state’s consumers don’t have the convenience that 85% of Americans have — the ability to buy beer and wine in grocery stores.

“Maryland is one of four states left where you cannot buy beer in a grocery store,” said Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.

Maryland alcohol sales are governed by a 1978 law that prohibits chain stores from selling alcohol and denies alcohol licenses to nonstate residents. Those pushing for the change argue that consumers want more choices.

“They want to be able to buy beer and wine in their local grocery store, or at their wholesale club, or their pharmacy like you can in so many states around the country,” Locklair said.

Supporters of the current law contend that expanding sales to big chain stores in the state could harm the independent mom-and-pop shops that rely on the sales of alcoholic drinks.

The association said that states, including Colorado and Oklahoma, which made similar changes in 2016 did not suffer losses of small businesses with monopolies on beer sales.

“The doom-and-gloom arguments — that these guys are going to go under and we’re going to put them out of business — no state has data that supports that,” Locklair said.

Under the terms of the bill in the General Assembly, local licensing boards would issue beer and wine sales licenses to chains that meet certain criteria, the first of which is that they must be located in one of the states “priority funding areas” — existing communities where local governments want state investment to support future growth.

To receive a beer and wine license, the store must sell foods from the following categories: fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh and uncooked meats, poultry and seafood, dairy products, canned food items, frozen foods, dry groceries and baked goods and nonalcoholic beverages.

The store would also be required to reserve a state-mandated percentage of shelf or floor space devoted to the food items.

The Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Friday. At the same time, it will go before the House Alcoholic Beverages subcommittee.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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