Charles County kills unlimited liquor license proposal

December 6, 2012

A proposal to lift limits on the maximum number of liquor store licenses issued in Charles County was killed Tuesday by county commissioners, who voted unanimously not to ask state legislators to consider it.

The change, proposed by former state delegate William Daniel Mayer, would have allowed the county Board of License Commissioners to issue additional licenses, at its own discretion, in election districts that already have the legal maximum.

Currently, off-site sale licenses are limited to one per 1,350 residents in each district, preventing entrepreneurs outside areas roughly corresponding with Waldorf and Hughesville from applying for new licenses.

But the Charles County Licensed Beverage Association, which represents liquor license holders, opposed the idea, submitting a letter warning that too many liquor stores could be bad for the community.

Store owners also turned out for the meeting, breaking into applause when the commissioners voted down the idea.

“They tried to repeal the existing law [so] that the liquor board, to their own favor, could give licenses,” said Licensed Beverage Association member Kishor Kaswala, who owns a store in Port Tobacco. “There would be a liquor store on every corner.”

Mayer said he made the proposal to foment competition and encourage businesses such as gas stations and grocery stores to open in remote areas by allowing them to sell alcohol.

“It’s a shame. My only purpose in doing it was to give some tools . . . to someone who might want to open convenience stores in outlying areas where services are needed. There are some areas that are truly underserved,” he said.

Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles), who attended the meeting, said that Mayer’s proposal could give the liquor board too much power.

“The liquor board . . . would have a tremendous amount of opportunity for selecting the establishments to receive this type of license. While I think it’s worth discussion on how that would be handled — I’m sure they’d set up rules and objectives,” Jameson said, but there also would be room “to allow a great deal of subjectivity.”

Mayer said this had been the case for most of the county’s history.

“For 250 years, the liquor board had that power. That’s why they appoint good people,” he said.

The commissioners did opt to advance an amendment to county liquor laws that would allow stores with liquor licenses to open at 5 a.m., provided they did not sell alcohol until 6 a.m.

Currently, licensed establishments cannot do business of any sort until alcohol sales are legal. The measure, intended to help convenience stores participate in early-morning trade, mirrors those in effect in other counties, Jameson said, and she saw no reason it would not be well received by delegates.

In other business, at Jameson’s urging, the board also unanimously quashed a proposal by the Charles Sheriff’s Office to prohibit doctors from prescribing controlled substances without a “legitimate medical purpose.”

“In my opinion, it would be nice to have the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program up and going for perhaps a year to see what the outcomes were. After a year, you could have a little data behind you,” she said.

The program, created by a 2011 law, monitors the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs.

Maj. Buddy Gibson, assistant sheriff of administration, expressed disappointment and said officials didn’t understand the scope of the threat.

“Obviously, it’s our sole intent to try to make our community as safe as possible, and obviously we did not feel that the monitoring program went to the level that we felt that we needed for us to be able to do our job,” he said. “This prescription drug stuff is off the charts, and I just don’t think that a lot of politicians understand what exactly is happening with prescription drug abuse.”

But he hailed the board’s decision to recommend to state legislators a sheriff’s office proposal to allow officers to issue civil citations of between $1,000 and $2,000 to the owners of vehicles involved in police chases.

The recommendation was conditional on review by the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association because the bill would apply throughout the state. Gibson said the sheriff’s office would seek MSA input.

The county commissioners also asked the legislative delegation to consider bills allowing golf carts on public roads in Cobb Island and permitting county government to place liens on properties whose owners failed to address building code violations, to allow county government to recoup the costs of fixing the problems itself.

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