Booze busts are becoming less productive for Maryland tax agents guarding the state's boundary against illegal imports from the District of Columbia, according to the Maryland comptroller's office.

The reason, spokesman Marvin Bond said, is that D.C. taxes have risen to the point where purchases in the city are no longer a great bargain.

"There was a time about five years ago when . . . we were faced with a reasonably significant problem of people crossing the line to buy alcohol," Bond said in Annapolis.

But no longer. Bond said only 150 people were pulled over last year and there was a minimal number of confiscations of illegally carried liquor, which agents are permitted to invoke. Criminal penalties, rarely meted out, provide for up to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

A resident may bring into Maryland only one quart of liquor at a time and no more than two quarts during any calendar month. (Since federal law now requires metric bottling, that's roughly one 750 milliliter bottle or 1.75 liters per month.)

In recent years, some of the most publicized booze busts have involved Pennsylvania drivers carrying loads of relatively low-cost liquor from Washington through Maryland to Pennsylvania, which has a state retail liquor monopoly with high prices.

Montgomery County has a county retail liquor monopoly with moderate prices, while other Maryland counties, including Prince George's, have privately owned stores, many of them offering discounts comparable to those in the District's lowest cost outlets. Virginia has a state monopoly with moderate prices.