Maryland lawmakers are making last-ditch efforts to lift
the state's ban on wine shipments before the 2010 General Assembly
session ends next month.
Bills that would end the ban remain tied up in committee, but Sen.
Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, has managed to induce floor debate
on the issue with an amendment to an unrelated bill that would permit
wine shipments. The Senate plans to take up the issue Tuesday.
Changing the law would increase state revenue by $90,000 from
licensing fees in fiscal 2011, according to a fiscal analysis. More than
100 lawmakers from both houses support ending the ban, but the state's
powerful liquor lobbyists are suspected to be puppeteering the vote with
campaign donations to keep consumers buying locally.
"Our leaders fear angering what is arguably the most generous
political patron in the state at a time that every incumbent delegate
and senator desperately needs campaign funds," Adam Borden, former
executive director of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, wrote
in a March 5 resignation letter to his supporters. Borden said he
resigned because his "aggressive" lobbying tactics were turning away
In Montgomery County, lawmakers say they are concerned that lifting
the ban would crush the county's Department of Liquor Control, which has
sole control over the local liquor market.
But Zirkin said Montgomery residents are already dodging the ban by
shipping wine to D.C.
"The arguments against this are ludicrous," he said.
Opponents also argue that lifting the ban would make it easier for
underage youths to obtain alcohol.
Zirkin called that a hollow argument. "I don't see a lot of teenagers
running around trying to get a bottle of Merlot," he said.
Zirkin's amendment would allow for direct wine shipments not to
exceed two-dozen 12-bottle cases annually to Maryland residents. The law
would require the signature of someone 21 years of age or older upon
delivery. Wineries would pay the state comptroller $300 for every
Maryland shipping license.
Zirkin attached his amendment to a bill sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter
Conway, D-Baltimore, who has long opposed lifting the state's ban.
Conway's bill would allow wineries to sell alcohol at farmers
markets. Her bill was expected to pass without much debate before the
addition of Zirkin's amendment.
"This wasn't meant to kill [Conway's] bill," Zirkin said. "I just
wanted to get the [wine shipment] bill out of committee so we could vote