A new online petition is aiming to support an effort by six Montgomery County state delegates to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot that would ask voters if private alcohol distributors and liquor retailers should be allowed to compete with the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC).
Adam Pagnucco of Silver Spring, who has organized other local advocacy efforts in the past, is behind the petition, which was posted this week on change.org.
“Montgomery County residents are fleeing the county’s liquor stores in huge numbers,” the petition says. “This inconveniences residents, hurts county businesses and costs our state money… . For all the headaches caused by this monopoly, its revenues only account for 0.5% of the county’s total budget. And some portion of these revenues are only at risk if the county can’t compete. By signing this petition you are asking Montgomery County’s State Senators and Delegates to End the Monopoly and let the voters decide.”
The petition is addressed to 36 General Assembly legislators, including the entire Montgomery County delegation.
The DLC controls the wholesale distribution of all alcohol in the county as well as the retail sale of liquor. The monopolistic structure is believed to be the only of its kind in the country.
On Thursday, County Council member Roger Berliner, who is supporting the referendum effort, sent an email to his constituents Thursday asking them to sign the petition.
“Our state legislature, which has 100% control over liquor laws, will decide whether Montgomery County voters should be empowered to make this fundamental choice—whether our county stores should compete with the private sector,” the email reads. “Not replace them. Compete with them.”
Since launching Thursday afternoon, the petition has garnered more than 450 signatures.
The effort is designed to support a bill proposed by state Del. Bill Frick and co-sponsors Dels. Kirill Reznik, Kathleen Dumais and Aruna Miller as well as state Sens. Brian Feldman and Nancy King. Comptroller Peter Franchot also said last week he would be pursuing legislation to open the alcohol market in the county to competition.
Frick unveiled legislation last week calling for a referendum to allow voters to decide. At the time, he said, “This is a reform that our constituents frequently ask us to make. It’s a reform that our restaurants and our retailers have asked us to make. So it seemed like time to make reforms, one way or another.”
County Executive Ike Leggett and some members of the County Council have spoken out against opening the county’s alcohol market to significant private competition. Leggett’s spokesman Patrick Lacefield said last week the county would either have to raise taxes or cut services if it lost the more than $30 million in profit the DLC brings in annually.
Council members George Leventhal and Hans Riemer said they support a resolution unanimously passed by the council in July that would allow private distributors to sell certain types of craft beer and fine wine in the county. That resolution is also expected to be considered by the General Assembly when it convenes next year.