Task Force to Study Maryland Alcohol Regulation: Round #1

The first meeting of the new State Alcohol Regulation Task Force (created by the passage of HB 1316) was held in the Economic Matters Committee Hearing Room on September 12, 2018. I realize it has taken me a week to weigh in. In part I wanted to digest what transpired, but I also wanted to conduct a little more research. This provided some clarity as well as a bit more confusion with regard to the direction this task force is headed. It also forced me to speculate about an underlying, hidden agenda.

I was relieved to see members of all three tiers represented on the task force. The standard protocols were followed beginning with an historical jaunt through Maryland’s 3 tier system, followed by a breakdown of exactly how alcohol is regulated and by whom. A brief comparison of Maryland’s regulatory system with other states was also done and this was when things began to get interesting. Challenges to the methodology of the comparison came quickly from one panelist- David Jernigan PhD.
A little background research on Jernigan is quite revealing.

Jernigan is best known for his action-research approach to the issue of alcohol advertising, marketing, and promotion and its influence on young people…He testifies regularly at city, state, and national levels around alcohol availability and taxation. He trains advocates around the world using the best evidence.1

A quick glance at his list of publications and one quickly fathoms the purpose of his research- restructuring alcohol regulation with a goal to limit access through complete state control and high taxation. Yes this is called Temperance. He veers away from Prohibition…but not really. Jernigan was the architect of the increased alcohol tax in Maryland a few years back, and he is back now trying to go further. His acolytes are widespread including Raimee Eck, current President of the Maryland Public Health Association, who also testified and even chose to use the word ‘temperance’ in her slide presentation.

Eck also wrote an Op-Ed in the Baltimore Sun November 29, 2017 challenging Reform on Tap, while completely misconstruing its point…”Comptroller Franchot’s focus on increasing alcohol production, sales, and consumption without a review of the health consequences and costs is misguided.” Clearly she did not grasp the point of HB 518- which was not to increase consumption but replace the purchase of out of state beer with Maryland manufactured beer.

Some important points:

1) Is alcohol consumption increasing or decreasing? It depends upon who you ask. Jernigan says it’s up, while most other data sets suggest it’s down.

2) Jernigan chose not to weigh vital statistics from Maryland, but instead chose CDC statistics which enabled him to count far more deaths as ‘attributable’ to alcohol. Jernigan was challenged by Webster Ye of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Ye noted that alcohol related deaths had not increased, but held steady. Ye also noted the decrease in deaths overall, whereas Jernigan said death rates were on the rise in Maryland.

3) Senator Conway also weighed in with questions on causation, particularly when Jernigan stated that the vast number of homicides in Baltimore City were attributable to alcohol. Jernigan stated it was difficult to disentangle gangs and illicit drugs from alcohol in homicides rates. Jernigan stated that 80% of homicides are committed while drinking. Conway recognized along with most of us that homicides have other causal factors that could be addressed- entirely unrelated to alcohol. It begins with job training and educational opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas to provide options other than gangs and criminal activity for people to not only survive but build a future. That discussion is for another day however. People commit crimes for a host of reasons and ignoring those other causal factors in deference to alcohol will not solve those problems.

4) Jernigan and Eck could not truly differentiate craft beer from other beer, spirits or wine. When he was asked by Shelby Watson of Robin Hill Winery what was the alcohol 12-20 years olds were drinking and where they were getting it, Jernigan answered that ‘cheap’ was what they targeted in straw purchases, while the younger ones were stealing only the ‘good stuff’ from home. Wine however wasn’t really a factor in this age group. ‘Cheap’ and craft beer are not synonymous and what Jernigan did not chose to point out was that the cheap beer is in large majority supplied by the monopolistic mega brewers- you know who I am referring to. They also made the obvious mistake of stating that craft beers are 7-9%, and consumers don’t seem to comprehend they are drinking higher ABV. All of this completely disregards a large segment of the craft beer market that produces session beers, and the exceptional labelling (as required by the TTB) of the ABV, coupled with the work craft breweries in educating the populace on the ABV. The paucity of authentic craft beer specific statistics and documentation was deeply concerning.

5) Jernigan also stated that the recent proliferation in retail outlets has been ignored and is responsible for a 4% increase in violent crime. President Mullikin asked if he had the statistical carve out for the breweries. He did not, and reverted to the stat that off-premise sales are responsible for twice the number of violent crimes as on-premise sales.

To quote Mark Twain, “Lies, damn lies and statistics…”

6) Jernigan’s testimony nearly word for word, could be taken from an article in The Lancet, titled “Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016”. This article
a. Lays alcohol at the feet the most of society’s ills;
b. Completely disregards any health benefits of alcohol as negated by the harm;
c. And adds the best method to eradicate it:

“The most effective and cost-effective means to reduce alcohol-related harms are to reduce affordability through taxation or price regulation, including setting a minimum price per unit (MUP), closely followed by marketing regulation, and restrictions on the physical availability of alcohol.”

As a point of note, I too believe we should work constructively to educate young and old alike on the dangers of binge drinking, drinking and driving, and health and societal related complications of alcohol. I am also neither an epidemiologist, nor a statistician. I do however recognize cherry picking data to persuade an audience.

Jernigan and Eck certainly had a rapt audience in Miller and Kramer who both seemed to have pre-planned some of their questions and commentary. Kramer’s reference to the Governing article he read was one that Jernigan himself was a contributor to. Miller was eager for “simple fixes at the regulatory level” to stop the alcohol related deaths, which alluded to higher alcohol taxes and state control of production, distribution, and sales. Miller also commented, almost verbatim to Jernigan that he was extremely concerned with the whittling away of the alcohol regulatory framework each legislative session.

dry

Folks, we have been down this road before. Nearly two centuries ago a Temperance movement began with a belief it would cure all of the ills of society. It took decades, but when it finally found support it quickly moved from Temperance to Prohibition. I don’t have to tell you how that turned out but I will remind you of a few key takeaways from the failed experiment. Prohibition did not solve society’s ills. Try as you might you cannot regulate morality. It has been tried- repeatedly and failed. You can legislate and make things illegal, but people will still act in the manner they choose. During Prohibition alcohol was still produced, distributed, and consumed- most of it at much greater potency than anything being consumed before the Volstead Act. The loss of state, local and federal revenues was catastrophic to the economies, coupled with incredible job loss. Closing the breweries, wineries, and distilleries put a fair percentage of people out of work but it also severely harmed the 200 affiliated industries that relied upon their business from glass manufacturers to painters, leaving many more without wages. This was supported in 1926 when the federal government completed its inquest into the causes of unemployment. It was directly attributable to Prohibition, not automation as the dry party proclaimed. If you think crime and unemployment are problematic now- enact Prohibition.

I am not suggesting this task force will currently push for Prohibition, but they are well on their way based upon week 1. For now I expect higher alcohol taxes and a move toward complete state control- only one of these will likely gain traction in the next few sessions. We will need to wait to see what happens next month.

Beer for thought…

 

Governing Article
http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-alcohol-abuse.html
Lancet Article
https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2.pdf
Task Force Testimony
http://mgahouse.maryland.gov/mga/play/5c144f0e-acc1-42f7-ba99-e13563125da4/?catalog/03e481c7-8a42-4438-a7da-93ff74bdaa4c

1. David H. Jernigan, PhD. Professor, Health Law, Policy & Management , “Biography”. accessed September 19, 2018 via Boston University School of Public Health https://www.bu.edu/sph/profile/david-jernigan/

REPEAL!!!!!!

A brief jaunt through the Repeal of Prohibition in America.

In honor of the 84th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition it seemed fitting to take a stroll through the dry years, revisiting some of the motives and debacles of a failed experiment. The Volstead Act was brought before the United States Congress to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages in the United States. It was ratified on October 28, 1919 despite a presidential VETO, and went into effect as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. One has to question how this got traction, and why the government would support it.

Initially the movement was known as ‘temperance’, indicating a lessening of manufacturing, sales, and consumption. This in no way was originally intended to ban alcoholic beverages. The early intent of the temperance movement involved improving the troubles within society. The mindset of those (predominantly women) supporters was that men would become better citizens and husbands if they limited or even suspended their alcohol intake. This bloomed into a vast and incorrect conviction that ALL of societies’ ills would be cured if alcohol were removed from the equation. The list is extensive but includes the belief that:

1) Domestic violence would end
2) Penury would cease as all men would be employed
3) Divorce rates would drop substantially
4) Literacy rates would skyrocket
5) Crime would diminish drastically, and the list went on, and on…

We were in for a true Utopia if the Volstead Act passed. Adding fuel to the temperance (now Prohibition) fire in the early 20th century was the anti-German sentiment sweeping the United States (and the world) because of the Great War. In Maryland, and much of the USA, a vast migration of Germans in the 19th century equated to a cataclysmic rise in the number of breweries. Prohibition certainly would have an impact upon German interests across the nation. German societies and newspapers were silenced along with the US Brewers Association when they dared speak in opposition to the proposed legislation. The KKK also supported Prohibition as they too were both anti-German (anti-immigrant), and anti-Catholic. The Catholic Church of course opposed Prohibition, as the body and blood of Christ is taken in the form of a wafer and wine as an intrinsic part of ritual.

What was never truly factored into the equation was the loss of jobs, and revenue. It wasn’t just the breweries, wineries, and distilleries that would be impacted, it was all of the affiliated industries that would feel the loss, over 200 to be precise. Coopers, glass manufacturers, sign painters, liveries, cork manufacturers, and a host of others were deleteriously affected by this legislation. Fiorello La Guardia of New York served in the US House of Representatives, and as Mayor of NYC during Prohibition. He commented on the loss of local, state, and federal revenues particularly when alcohol was still being manufactured, sold, and illegally distributed across America. He also noted that the Federal Government KNEW this and accommodated it by printing large bills ($5,000, and $10,000 bills) in much greater quantities than ever before. Why? This was done specifically because bootleggers only dealt in cash, hence large bills. This was just one glaring witness to the failure of the experiment. Another came in the form of job loss. This was wide spread. The Federal government was told by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, the Anti-Saloon League, and other Prohibition organizations that job loss resulted from machines replacing humans, not Prohibition closing businesses. A federal study was commissioned, followed by hearings in 1926 that proved otherwise, yet the 18th Amendment remained.

Challenges were made across the country, and in Maryland by our Governor Albert Ritchie, who never employed dry agents at the state level, leaving enforcement entirely up to the feds. The veil was finally lifting on the reality of the experiment: IT FAILED. Literacy rates did not rise, nor did divorce rates decline. Domestic violence continued, and crime flourished. Most know that organized crime and the ensuing bloodbaths like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre brought attention to the widespread illegal trafficking of booze. In addition, during the dry years people were drinking alcohol that was much more potent (often deadly) than they had been drinking before 1920.

repeal

The Crusaders were just one of many organizations that demanded the Repeal of the 18th Amendment. Concern over the deaths of young people due to deadly, illegal booze coupled with the anger at the increased, unceasing bloodletting between rival crime factions in New York and Chicago. Many notable and powerful people across the country supported the Crusaders. Albert Ritchie ran for President on a platform of Repeal. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who initially did not run in support of wet party efforts, eventually came around to Ritchie’s way of thinking, even asking him to run on the same ticket. Ritchie refused and Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States. On April 7, 1933 3.2% beer was legalized, ushered in with the signature of FDR. Not all states immediately took advantage, but most, including Maryland did. Globe Brewing Company’s Arrow Beer was served just a few minutes after midnight at the Rennert Hotel in Baltimore. In attendance was another wet party advocate, H.L. Mencken.

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution was proposed to Repeal the 18th Amendment. It would be the ONLY Amendment created to repeal another. It took 36 states (a 2/3 majority) to ratify it, thus making it law. Utah became the 36th state on December 5, 1933. This week, grab a nice beverage of your choosing, a locally crafted Maryland beer perhaps, and raise a glass to Utah, FDR, and the 21st Amendment! Happy Repeal Day!
Cheers!