ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland bill that would crack down on grain alcohol divided state senators from Frederick County on Wednesday.
Sen. Ron Young, who supported the legislation to ban selling 190-proof alcohol, said the change could help curb binge drinking and take a date-rape substance off the market. Voting against the bill, Sen. David Brinkley said it doesn't go far enough to make a significant difference.
"If someone wants to get around this, they easily can get around it," said Brinkley, R-District 4.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery, would make selling alcohol of 190 proof or higher a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine. The proposal passed the Senate on Wednesday on a 37- to-10 vote and is now headed to the House of Delegates.
Young said state colleges and universities supported the legislation as a way to combat excessive drinking among students. Grain alcohol allows people to get drunk quickly and cheaply and can also be used in date rape because it can be unnoticeable when mixed with other drinks, Young said.
"If you put it in watermelon or lemonade, you might not even know it's there," said Young, D-District 3.
A health worker at Hood College indicated she wouldn't say grain alcohol is a problem at the school. However, she said such potent spirits do come with heightened risks.
"When you have more concentration in smaller volume, there's potential for harm, especially with inexperienced drinkers," said Teresa Cevallos, director of the health center at Hood College.
There were 1,000 alcohol-related deaths in Maryland from 2007 through 2012, according to a report from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Thirty-eight of those deaths were in Frederick County.
Brinkley said he would've supported Madaleno's bill had it set the cap lower, banning sales of alcohol above 151 proof. However, he said people will find a way to get drunk despite prohibitions.
"There's a problem with beer binge drinking, wine binge drinking and hard liquor binge drinking," he said. "So ... you're back to the education of people in how to drink responsibly."
Neighboring states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia already ban grain alcohol sales, according to a legislative analysis.
Neither Young nor Brinkley thought Madaleno's proposal would set back the state's businesses, since would-be buyers of grain alcohol would simply settle for a less potent drink. For the same reason, legislative analysts reported that the bill probably wouldn't reduce state alcohol tax revenue by a significant amount.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.