Sunday, March 30, 2008

Maryland malt tax on hold, maybe

Rick Lyke—at his otherwise informative blog—recently got it partly wrong when he noted that a bill had passed the Maryland Senate that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell hard cider and malternatives (sweet soda-pop-like alcohol products such as Mike's Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff Ice).

No grocery stores or convenience stores in Maryland may sell liquor; and only one store per any particular grocery chain in the state may sell beer and wine.

The proposed law is a tax thing. It would maintain the rate on malternatives at the same level as on beer, rather than increasing it to that of distilled spirits.

Most malternatives begin as beers of 4-6% alcohol by volume, then are filtered to the nth degree and dosed with artificial flavorings. Many ciders, often flavored as well, fall into the same alcohol range.

Here's what occurred, as reported in the Baltimore Sun today:

A number of lawmakers and county public health directors also opposed the measure [taxing malternatives at the same rate as beer], saying the products are marketed to teens and should not be afforded the wide distribution or lower taxes of beer. Supporters noted that most other states allowed this classification and that the products had roughly the same percentage of alcohol as beer.

The bill passed in the Senate, 36-10, and is scheduled to be heard Tuesday by a House committee.

If the tax on malternatives were to be increased, wouldn't then beer become relatively more affordable? The real issue is, of course, the sale of any alcohol to minors. Enforcement, penalties, and education are the solutions. (For this argument, I'll leave aside any discussion of the value—or not—of small amounts of beer or wine at the family table.)

And while I'm at it, isn't someone, who misrepresents his or her age when attempting to purchase alcohol, committing fraud? Shouldn't penalties be divided between the seller and the buyer?

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