Alcoholic beverage control states, generally called control states, are 17 states in the United States that, as of 2016, have state monopoly over the wholesaling or retailing of some or all categories of alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits.
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At the beginning of the temperance movement in the United States, many states controlled where and when alcohol could be sold. Before this time, most alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption were often sold just like any other item of commerce in stores or bars. Because of heavy lobbying by temperance groups in various states, most required off-premises beverages to be sold in dedicated stores (primarily called dispensaries) with controls over their location. To further enhance oversight of beverage sales, some states such as South Carolina operated state-run dispensaries.
Following repeal of national prohibition in the U.S. in 1933, some states initially decided to continue their own prohibition against the production, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages within their borders. Other states decided to leave the issue to local jurisdictions, including counties and cities, a practice called local option.
States were also able to restrict the importation of "intoxicating liquors" into their territory under the provisions of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution which, while ending the Federal role in alcohol control, exempted liquor from the constitutional rule reserving the regulation of interstate commerce to the federal government. Thus states which wished to continue prohibition could do so.
Among those states which chose not to maintain complete prohibition over alcoholic beverages, approximately one-third established government monopolies while the remaining two-thirds established private license systems. In its simplest terms, the license system allows private enterprises to buy and sell alcohol at state discretion. In actual effect, the license operates as a device of restraint and not merely a grant of privilege or freedom. In a constitutional sense, the license confers no property right and the exercise of its privilege is continuously contingent upon the holder's compliance with required conditions and the general discretion of the licensing authority.
The remaining states adopted the monopoly system of regulation, the more cautious of the two regulatory frameworks. As alluded to above, under the monopoly plan the government takes over the wholesale trade and conducts the retail sale of heavier alcoholic beverages through its own stores. That is, the state itself engages in the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages. Most of these states have an "Alcoholic Beverage Control" (ABC) board and run liquor stores called ABC stores. In all monopoly states a parallel license system is used to regulate the sale and distribution of lighter alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine.
Beginning in the 1960s onward, many control states loosened their monopoly of beverage sales. States like West Virginia and Washington sold all of their state liquor stores to private owners, while others like Vermont permit private store owners to sell alcohol on behalf of the state for a commission.
The 17 control or monopoly states as of February 2015are:
About one-quarter of the United States population lives in liquor control or government monopoly states.
Maryland as a whole is not a control state, and private liquor stores sell beer, wine, and spirits in most of the state, but under state law, Montgomery, Somerset and Wicomico counties are county alcohol-controlled, which mandates that off-premises liquor sales are to be conducted only at county-owned and operated stores. An exception exists in Montgomery County, in that four grocery stores have grandfathered licenses.Dorchester County was an alcohol control county until 2008, when the County Council voted to permanently close the county-owned liquor dispensaries, with subsequent change in the state law.Worcester County was an alcohol control county until July 2014, when the Maryland General Assembly abolished the Liquor Control Board by statute, replacing it with the Department of Liquor Control.