Every year 9,878 Americans are killed in drunken-driving accidents, and 350,000 more are injured (compared to 8,583 Americans who are victims of firearms murders).
Alcohol abuse and addiction also lead to underage drinking, binge drinking, date rape, divorce, disability, suicide, career failures and widespread health hazards, placing a significant strain on public and private health systems.
The time has come to limit access to alcohol, an inherently dangerous substance. That’s why every state lawmaker and voter should support Gov. Martin O’Malley’s far-sighted reform initiative, “The Alcohol Safety Act of 2013.”
The governor’s proposal is a reasonable tightening of Maryland’s alcohol beverage laws, which currently fail to protect the public from the dangers of alcohol abuse. Most importantly, this new law will save lives.
The act provides three reform measures as follows:
Currently, there virtually is no legal limit on the alcohol content of alcoholic beverages sold in Maryland. High-capacity beverages of more than 10 percent alcoholic content serve no positive public or social purpose. Their chief aim is to induce rapid and long-lasting intoxication with all of its associated negative consequences.
O’Malley’s Alcohol Safety Act prohibits the sale, use or possession of any alcoholic beverage with more than a 10 percent alcohol content. Limiting alcoholic beverages to beer and light wines is a proper balance between public access to alcohol and public safety.
The act also prohibits the sale of so-called “miniatures” (small bottles) and “singles” (single cans of beer), products commonly associated with alcoholism and drunken driving.
If approved by the legislature, the act takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, providing adequate time for dealers and consumers to dispose of the soon-to-be illegal beverages. Until then, state and local governments might conduct “buy-back” programs wherein the prohibited beverages are exchanged for gift cards or cash.
The act exempts Maryland manufacturers of high-capacity alcoholic beverages and transportation to less-enlightened states that still permit such beverages.
The act requires alcoholic beverage consumers to apply for an “Alcoholic Beverage Qualification License.” The purchase or possession of alcoholic beverages without such a license will be illegal after Jan. 1, 2014. To obtain the license an applicant must:
• Be over 21 years of age.
• Be fingerprinted.
• Pass federal and state background checks for criminal convictions, mental disorders and restraining orders.
• Sign an oath that they are eligible to possess/consume alcohol.
• Pass a four-hour training course in alcohol usage and law.
• Pay for the background checks and a $25 license fee.
• Pay a $20 license renewal fee every five years.
This important licensing measure is designed to thwart so-called “straw purchases” of alcohol, a major factor in underage drinking. In Maryland last year, 27.3 percent of youths between ages 12 to 20 used alcohol. That’s 194,000 cases of underage drinking, which will be addressed by this new licensing safeguard.
Restricting alcohol sales to license holders also will help keep alcohol out of the hands of alcoholics and motorists with previous drunken-driving convictions.
The penalty for license violations is up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Currently, liquor stores, bars, taverns, restaurants and other alcoholic beverage outlets are subject to various use and sales restrictions. But to make Maryland’s new alcoholic beverage licensing measure effective, new record-keeping requirements must be applied to alcoholic beverage dealers as follows:
• Keep detailed, up-to-date inventory records, which are subject to periodic state inspection.
• Keep detailed, up-to-date sales records of every item sold, the date of sale and the name, address and license number of every purchaser. These records also are subject to periodic state inspection.
• First infractions are subject to a $1,000 fine. Second infractions are subject to a $10,000 fine.
O’Malley’s crackdown on alcohol abuse has drawn broad public support. A recent Washington Post poll showed 97 percent of Maryland teetotalers and households without alcoholic beverages support the act.
And when all Maryland voters were asked “would you support reasonable reforms that help end drunken driving and save lives?,” 94 percent answered positively.
Will O’Malley’s Alcohol Safety Act of 2013 lead to a black market in high-capacity alcoholic beverages illegally imported from other states? Probably. Will the act reduce “straw purchases,” underage drinking and drunken driving deaths? Probably not.
But, by passing these restrictions, state lawmakers and residents can say, “We did something about alcohol,” even if it’s only a meaningless symbolic gesture.