Accompanying the recent elections, there has been a growing controversy over the Montgomery County liquor system. Currently, the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) controls most of the alcohol distribution and retail alcohol sale in the county.
However, many believe that the DLC must be reformed or even removed altogether. Individuals and businesses in Montgomery County have complained about the department’s lack of product selection, customer service, and pricing. In response to these concerns, the county has already hired new management and implemented a long-term improvement plan.
In addition, a county task force has held three meetings and put forth many proposals to address these concerns. However, the decision on what to do with the DLC ultimately lies with County Executive Ike Leggett.
Leggett, along with eight of the nine members of the County Council, has defended the DLC as a crucial source of revenue. Officials agree that not only does the revenue pay off over $100 million in bonds, but it also helps to fund other local interests for the district, such as school construction.
However, council member George Leventhal said in a recent interview with Bethesda Beat that he would now support selling the rights to distribute liquor in the county. He has expressed an interest in running for County Executive in 2018, which could result in either a change or a complete overhaul of the current Board and a radical shift in Montgomery County’s liquor policy.
Likewise, Governor Larry Hogan proposes dismantling the DLC entirely and privatizing the sale and distribution of alcohol. “I think that the private sector does a pretty good job selling alcohol. It probably does a better job than the government does,” he said in a recent interview with Bethesda Magazine. “We’re not doing it anywhere else, [so] why should we be in the liquor business?”
Peter Franchot, the Maryland Comptroller (financial director) believes that government should have stepped out of the liquor business a long time ago. In an interview with Bethesda Magazine, he said, “If [the issue] ever got to the ballot, 80 percent of the public would support it.”
MCPS students have chimed in on the issue. One student of Richard Montgomery High School, who wishes to remain anonymous, defends the current liquor system: “If it is a source of revenue for other local interests, then it is worth sacrificing the desires of local consumers.”
Others have expressed clear opposition to the bill. “If [consumers] don’t like the current handling of liquor, then by all means the Board should surrender to consumer interests,” Magruder High School senior Matthew McCallum said.
Council member Marc Elrich has proposed a compromise: run the DLC as if it were a private business. “I would make it so the customer wouldn’t know whether they were in a private liquor store or a county liquor store,” Elrich told Bethesda Magazine. “I basically would make this a system that you would think is a private system and keep the revenue.” The county would hire qualified professionals to run the system, while still keeping the necessary revenue for themselves.
Ultimately, the outcome of the liquor system will have an impact on Montgomery County for years to come. If the current system prevails, then Montgomery County consumers might remain in a state of frustration that could affect Hogan’s credibility with voters in the district. However, Hogan prevailing could mean the disappearance of an important source of revenue for Montgomery County and leave the county’s financial leaders struggling to find alternatives.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Bhavesh Kemburu of Richard Montgomery High School