Montgomery's Monopoly


It's Nearly an Antique

Montgomery County's alcohol laws were established eighty five years ago, right after prohibition ended in the United States in 1933. At that time, Montgomery County was largely rural and had a twentieth of its current population. Today, despite enormous change, Montgomery County remains the only county in the DC metropolitan area and in the State of Maryland,  and among relatively few jurisdictions in the Nation, that clings to a control system where it acts as the main purveyor of alcohol, even to private retailers and restaurants.    

How It Works

The County’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) buys spirits, wine and beer from manufacturers and distributors and then resells these products to restaurants and wine and beer retailers, charging a markup. Currently, consumers who wish to purchase liquor can only obtain it at a County DLC store or leave the County to shop. Nearly all grocery stores as well as Costco, drug stores and convenience stores are not permitted to sell wine and beer in Montgomery County.   

It's History

Bethesda Magazine described the monopoly’s origins in a 2014 article.

"The County’s control regimen was instituted E. Brooke Lee, soon after ratification of the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition. Lee, a former state comptroller and former speaker of the Maryland House, was a private developer in 1933—and Montgomery County’s undisputed political boss.

A rural area of fewer than 50,000 residents at the time, Montgomery County had been 'dry'  since voting in an 1880 referendum to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages. 'Colonel Lee,' as he was known in deference to his decorated service in World War I, was not himself a teetotaler. But he nonetheless saw controlling the sale of alcoholic beverages—along with restricting other vices, such as gambling and horse racing—as good for business, according to his grandson, commentator and columnist Blair Lee IV.

'For him, it was strictly practical,' says Lee, who lives in Silver Spring. 'He wanted to keep the county an attractive place to live, so he wanted to [control] certain obnoxious practices.' He adds: 'The colonel’s motive was not revenue whatsoever.'

Today the System is Out of Step with an Urbane Population, Bad for Consumers and Businesses

Montgomery County has changed a lot since 1933. Today it’s far more urban and enjoys its diverse and well-educated population of approximately 1,000, 000 people. Nevertheless, its alcohol laws are stuck in a bygone era.  The liquor monopoly and the county's antiquated laws are bad for consumers [link] and bad for businesses [link].  Reform is way overdue.