Everclear targeted by Maryland, Wisconsin legislators

College partiers, take note: The Maryland state legislature just voted to ban the most potent booze you can find at a liquor store.

Delegates voted Thursday by a 103 to 30 margin to make sales of beverages with alcohol content higher than 95 percent by volume a misdemeanor subject to a fine of up to $1,000. The bill passed the state Senate in February; if Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signs it, it would mean no more Everclear on store shelves, and, proponents hope, less binge drinking on college campuses.

The measure, backed by college and university presidents in the Free State, isn’t expected to have much of an impact on the state’s bottom line. Maryland took in about $15.8 million in tax revenue on alcoholic beverages in fiscal 2013, the state Comptroller’s Office said, but high-alcohol drinks, known as grain alcohols, made up just a tiny fraction of that.

Similar legislation is making its way through the Wisconsin state House, where supporters say it would cut down on alcohol abuse.

“When you’re talking 95 percent alcohol, it really is a poison that needs to be regulated more than anything else,” Wisconsin state Rep. Andre Jacque (R), the bill’s prime sponsor, told Wisconsin Public Radio last year. “Talking about responsible drinking behavior: Everclear doesn’t have a role to play in that.”

The punishment for selling Everclear or other high-content alcohol would be much stricter under the Wisconsin proposal: A fine of as much as $10,000 and up to nine months in jail.

Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia already ban sales of grain alcohol. Neither the Maryland nor Wisconsin measures would ban possession of high-proof spirits, but anyone looking for them would have to travel to a different state to find them on store shelves.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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