Maryland General Assembly Passes Grain Alcohol Bill

March 31, 2014

On March 28, the Maryland General Assembly voted to ban the retail sale of alcohol 190-proof and stronger. If the bill is signed into law, Maryland will join the ranks of over a dozen other states that ban the sale of such products, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia.

Extreme-strength alcohol (also known as grain alcohol), is 95 percent pure and has no color, taste, or smell when mixed with juice or punch. Its inexpensive price, as low as 38 cents per drink, makes it especially attractive to underage drinkers. According to a recent national survey, underage binge drinkers are far more likely to use extreme-strength alcohol than their non-binging peers.

“Grain alcohol is seen as a cheap and reliable way to get drunk quickly, sometimes without the person knowing it. Not surprisingly, its potency and low price makes grain alcohol a popular option for college students,” said Jonathan Gibralter, president of Frostburg State University and a key proponent of the legislation.

Banning extreme-strength alcohol was a top priority of The Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems, a group formed in 2013 to address problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption on ten college campuses across the state.

“We’d like to thank Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Charles Barkley for sponsoring these bills, and Senator Joan Carter Conway and Delegate Dereck Davis for providing leadership in their respective chambers,” said University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan. “Their strong commitment to protecting young adults was critical to the success of this life-saving legislation.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that, nationwide, drinking on college campuses is annually responsible for 1,825 deaths, 599,000 unintentional injuries such as car crashes and falls, 696,000 physical assaults, and 97,000 sexual assaults. Recent polling data from OpinionWorks shows that 69 percent of Marylanders consider excessive alcohol use on college campuses to be a serious or very serious problem.

Maryland college students drink at levels similar to the national average, although the highest risk drinkers in Maryland – those who abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent – appear to drink more heavily and are less likely to use services than their national peers. In Maryland, 19 percent of underage and 22 percent of 21- to 24-year-old college students meet criteria for either alcohol abuse or dependence, and almost one-third of underage Maryland college students have driven under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

The Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems addresses excessive drinking among college students as a statewide public health problem, provides public health expertise and support to implement effective interventions and policies, and provides a forum for sharing information and support among colleges statewide.

The Collaborative is led by a Governance Council of 10 college presidents, co-chaired by University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan and Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels, and staffed by teams of public health experts at the University of Maryland, College Park and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Source: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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