- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Starting July 1, owners of Calvert County establishments that permit alcoholic beverages on premises without a liquor license could face a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $10,000.
Banning the practice of “BYOB,” or allowing patrons to bring their own alcoholic beverages to the establishment — which was previously legal in the county — the new law aims to curb underage drinking and overconsumption, Chair of the Board of License Commissioners of Calvert County, or liquor board, Beth Swoap said.
While the restaurants that currently permit BYOB were in no way causing problems or violating the law, the board’s sponsoring of the legislation in the Maryland General Assembly was “pre-emptive,” Swoap said, simply addressing a need within the county as it grows.
“We want to make alcohol use as safe as possible,” she said. “We’re not trying to impose a bunch of additional restrictions.”
Calvert County Chamber of Commerce President Carolyn Hart said the closer regulation of alcohol “levels the playing field” for all establishments, as those with licenses pay fees for them and those allowing alcohol without the proper licensing don’t.
“Simply, the rules are the same for everyone,” she said of the new law.
In Maryland, 10 jurisdictions — Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties — restrict the consumption of alcohol in establishments in which it was not purchased, according to Maryland General Assembly documents.
When Calvert joins the list next month, it will also prohibit these “bottle clubs.”
Swoap, who testified on the legislation’s passage before the general assembly earlier this year, said the board sought to prevent the hypothetical opening of a club that would operate as BYOB and draw a younger crowd — meaning underage people could be consuming alcohol without the establishment being required to ID them or monitor their consumption.
While she acknowledged the potential penalty is harsh, it was also necessary to avoid the sanctions becoming a simple “cost of doing business.”
If an establishment is charging “$25 a head to get people in the door,” she said, a $500 fine for a violation is much too low and would not function as a deterrent.
“We don’t want people circumventing the liquor laws,” Swoap said, adding that an application for a liquor license can be found on the liquor board’s website.
The only two restaurants of which she is aware that currently allow BYOB, Swoap said, are Nagoya Asian Bistro in Prince Frederick and The Frying Pan in Lusby. Nagoya’s owner declined to comment on the new law, and The Fying Pan did not return calls for comment.
A caveat in the law allows an exception for a volunteer fire department, rescue squad or emergency medical services organization to conduct up to four events each year on their premises, according to the documents.