General Assembly Approves Bill To Allow Privately-Owned Stores To Sell Liquor in Montgomery County

General Assembly Approves Bill To Allow Privately-Owned Stores To Sell Liquor in Montgomery County

The move could end the Department of Liquor Control's monopoly over the retail sale of spirits

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The interior of a county-run liquor store in Rockville

File photo by Doug Tallman

Later this year the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) may not be the exclusive retailer of liquor in the county.

The General Assembly unanimously approved a bill during the 2017 session that ended Monday that will allow the DLC to contract with privately-owned beer and wine stores to sell liquor. Currently, the DLC is the only retailer of liquor, which it sells at its 26 county-run liquor stores. Private stores can only sell beer and wine.

But the newly-passed agency bill allows the DLC to license an alcohol store owner to sell spirits such as vodka, whiskey or rum. The department will be responsible for determining which beer and wine stores will be approved to sell liquor.

Del. Charles Barkley (D-Germantown), the chair of the House of Delegates’ alcohol subcommittee, said said there are about 150 stores in the county that will be eligible.

“Having only 26 stores for a county of 1 million people is not many,” Barkley said. “It’s a matter of access.”

The bill goes into effect July 1. The agency store model was first pitched last year during a DLC task force meeting when representatives of the Distilled Spirits Council pointed out that the county has just 0.34 retail liquor stores per 10,000 adults compared to the Maryland average of 3.02 stores per 10,000 adults. The spirits council representatives said the discrepancy could be fixed with the agency store model in a way that could also bring additional revenue for the county by increasing the DLC’s wholesale spirits sales. The DLC controls the wholesale distribution of alcohol in the county.

Another bill pursued by the Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis that would have allowed existing alcohol store owners to obtain a second license to open a second store in the county failed this year.

The bill would have only affected the county and was supported by the county’s house delegation, but failed to receive a vote in the House Economic Matters Committee.

Barkley said Tuesday he assumed the General Assembly’s leadership was against the measure because it may have set a statewide precedent. Existing state law allows an individual to hold only one Class A alcohol license.

The bill was colloquially referred to as the “Total Wine bill” because it would have enabled Bethesda-based Total Wine & More to open stores in Montgomery County. The owners of the company—brothers David and Robert Trone—each have a license for their stores in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, but are prevented under current law from obtaining new licenses to open other stores in the state.

Barkley said it’s rare for a local bill that receives support from a local delegation to not move through the General Assembly. He said he couldn’t remember a similar situation and that he may reintroduce the bill in the 2017 session.

Correction – This story previously noted the agency stores would not be permitted to sell snacks or soft drinks. That's incorrect – in fact only the county run stores, as is the policy now, will not be able to sell snacks or soft drinks. The story has been corrected.

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