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Task force expected to urge removal of limits on Md. craft brewers

Len Foxwell, chief of staff to Comptroller Peter Franchot, holds up a chart showing how neighboring states do not regulate how much beer craft brewers an produce or sell at their plants. (Photo by Bryan Sears)

Len Foxwell, chief of staff to Comptroller Peter Franchot, holds up a chart showing how neighboring states do not regulate how much beer craft brewers an produce or sell at their plants. (Photo by Bryan Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Legislation appears to be forthcoming that would lift limits on how much beer craft brewers in Maryland can produce and sell.

Legislation is expected later this month following the scheduled release Wednesday of findings by a task force created by Comptroller Peter Franchot. A senior aide to the state’s top tax collector and alcohol regulator said the state is at risk of losing ground to breweries in neighboring states that do not have antiquated laws focused on protecting segments of the industry.

“I think what you’ll find is that there is a consensus, not only among the brewers on the task force but among consumers and observers, that two things are needed,” Foxwell said. “One, we need to rededicate ourselves to an economic development strategy, to market, to brand, to recruit and publicize — but we need first and foremost to change the laws. And we need to do away with so many of these arbitrary and nonsensical limits that hinder the growth of this industry.”

Franchot’s Reform on Tap task force is scheduled Wednesday to release its findings gathered during a series of meetings over the spring and summer. The comptroller is expected to use those findings to draft legislation, details of which are expected to be released later this month.

Jack Milani, owner of Monahan’s Pub in Woodlawn and co-chair of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, declined to comment until after the task force meeting Wednesday.

Franchot created the task force in the wake of successful legislation meant to make the state friendlier to small brewers. The law expanded production but also limited hours for new ventures and created a new, discretionary license process for those who want to have tap rooms for on-premise consumption.

The law effectively limits how much brewers can produce and sell on premises before being forced to buy their own products back from a distributor.

“We don’t know of anywhere else in the capitalist system both here and abroad where that kind of a business arrangement exists,” Foxwell said.

“These laws exist for the benefit of corporate monopolies and a handful of politically connected insiders but they have done immeasurable damage to the state of Maryland’s reputation as a place that nurtures and grows this industry and it has taken a toll, make no doubt about it, on the state of Maryland’s business reputation,” he said.

Virginia, Delaware, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania do not impose similar limits.

Foxwell noted that a number of brewery owners are being actively recruited by officials from Virginia. Last month, the owners of Flying Dog Brewery announced they were shelving plans to build a larger brewing facility, citing Maryland’s post-Prohibition era laws.

The bill, which Gov. Larry Hogan allowed to become law without his signature, helped pave the way for a $50 million Guinness brewery in western Baltimore County built by Diageo Beer Co., but it left a bad taste in the mouths of some craft brewers and the comptroller.

During a panel discussion sponsored by the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Foxwell said the state’s craft brewers are leading the “renaissance of older buildings in older communities” in urban areas like Baltimore and rural areas in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

“There’s not a politician in Maryland today who if given the opportunity wouldn’t step up to a microphone and say, ‘You know what, Maryland needs to get back into the manufacturing business.’ How many times have you heard that?” Foxwell said. “We as a state, we as a country, we have to get back to making things again. Make no mistake about it, the Maryland craft brewing industry is a manufacturing industry, and it’s the manufacturer of the 21st century.”

A recent economic impact study produced by the comptroller’s office attributed $100 million in tax revenue, 6,500 jobs and more than $228 million in wages to the more than 80 brewers in the state.

 

 

 

 


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