ANNAPOLIS – For Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, the thought that an underage or intoxicated driver can pull up to a drive-through window and buy liquor is a “scary scenario.”
But that can happen now in Maryland liquor stores that offer drive-through or walk-up service, she said Wednesday. That’s why she sponsored a bill to ban such sales statewide.
Forehand said that a liquor store clerk may not be able to identify underage drinkers in cars at drive-through windows. She also said that, unlike driving up for liquor, a walk to the counter “might show the clerk that the purchaser is too drunk to buy some more.”
Liquor drive-throughs “fly in the face all we’ve done,” Forehand told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, citing advances against drunken driving and the sale of alcohol to minors.
But a lobbyist for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association said some liquor stores rely on drive-through windows for safety, locking the main doors at night in high-crime areas.
And liquor store employees said they check the age and sobriety of drive-up customers the same as those who walk up to the counter. They questioned whether Forehand’s bill would make any difference.
“People who break the law and buy alcohol for teen-agers are going to keep doing it,” said Judy Milam, daytime bartender at the Mousetrap in Mechanicsville. They could hide kids outside the store or leave them in the car, she said.
Reggie Harris, a clerk at 450 Drive-Thru on Annapolis Road in Lanham, said that underage kids can get liquor from patrons who walk in as well.
“All we can do is get an ID from [customers],” Harris said.
Harris said that if a driver looks drunk, he does not give them any liquor. Milam has a similar practice, she said.
But in a letter to Forehand, the Maryland executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said it is harder to check a person’s ID when they are sitting in a car.
“It simply is not possible for the clerk to accurately gauge the height, weight, eye color, etc., of the buyer,” wrote Brenda Barnes. “Using the identification of an older sibling or friend becomes much easier for an underage buyer.”
Forehand could not say how drive-through stores exist statewide, but said there are 54 of them in Prince George’s County alone. They also dot Route 301 through Southern Maryland.
Only Carroll County has outlawed drive-through and walk-up windows at liquor stores. Officials in Montgomery and St. Mary’s counties said their liquor boards have been refusing licenses for such operations.
Joseph Schwartz, the lobbyist for the liquor store owners, noted that restrictions like Forehand’s have “historically been the prerogative of local government” and should remain so.
But Forehand said there is a need for a state prohibition on drive-through sales.
“If there was a shift of membership on the (local licensing) board those regulations are very easy to change,” she said. “It would be better to have it in state law cause then it couldn’t be changed.”
Forehand said after the hearing that she would add a grandfather clause allowing existing drive-throughs to continue to operate.
“I think it’s a fairness issue to let them stay open,” Forehand said.
At Waldorf Liquors on Route 301, owner Gene Hendifar welcomed Forehand’s bill.
“The point is to get customers in your stores,” said Hendifar, whose store has a drive-up window. “I love it. I wish they would stop it. They can close it down tomorrow.”
It also deters employees from giving beer or other items to friends without charging, Hendifar said.
“I’ll be the first one to vote for it,” he said.