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Friday, July 18, 2014

DC ID story is about caution

Telegraph Editorial

There’s a longstanding joke that says anyone who pulls up to a stoplight in New Hampshire with their windows open in the fall risks having people throw zucchini into their back seat, so ubiquitous is that squash and so eager are gardeners to rid themselves of it.

Folks from away have been under much the same impression about New Hampshire’s eagerness to sell liquor to out-of-staters. That’s the price we pay, so to speak, for positioning our state-run liquor stores right next to the highway. We’ve created the idea in the minds of some tourists that they risk somebody throwing a bottle into their back seat if they drive too close to a liquor store with their windows open. ...

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There’s a longstanding joke that says anyone who pulls up to a stoplight in New Hampshire with their windows open in the fall risks having people throw zucchini into their back seat, so ubiquitous is that squash and so eager are gardeners to rid themselves of it.

Folks from away have been under much the same impression about New Hampshire’s eagerness to sell liquor to out-of-staters. That’s the price we pay, so to speak, for positioning our state-run liquor stores right next to the highway. We’ve created the idea in the minds of some tourists that they risk somebody throwing a bottle into their back seat if they drive too close to a liquor store with their windows open.

As it turns out, that is mostly a total exaggeration.

In fact, the state is pretty aggressive when it comes to enforcing the law that restricts the purchase or consumption of alcohol to those people who are at least 21 years old. The State Liquor Commission’s Division of Enforcement and Licensing has run sting operations for years in which they send underage patrons into stores to buy alcohol. When somebody gets caught, a variety of sanctions – including the occasional license suspension – are likely to follow.

It’s understandable, then, that stores which sell beer and wine might be pretty cautious when it comes to checking the identification of people seeking to buy alcohol, but the unthinkable happened last week when somebody with a valid ID who was old enough to buy alcohol was turned down.

It happened at the Concord Food Co-op, according to a story in last Saturday’s Concord Monitor, when a young man – who was sober and met all of the qualifications you’d want – was rejected soley because his valid ID was from the District of Columbia.

Turns out, they have their own license plates, drivers’ licenses and everything down there, though you might not know it from New Hampshire’s law.

The state recognizes licenses from all 50 states and the provinces of Canada, as well as military IDs.

However, it seems that a license from “The District” wasn’t one of the acceptable forms of ID listed on our books. So the store clerk who turned the patrons down was just wisely following the law to the letter, even if it seemed to run against the grain of the state stereotype a little bit.

Alcohol sales are an important revenue source for the state. The State Liquor Commission reported the state took in revenues of $145.6 million on sales of more than $600 million last year. With limited sources of revenue, the state can’t afford to turn down legitimate sales, which is why this incident rocked New Hampshire to the highest levels of state government.

OK, so maybe “rocked” isn’t exactly the right word, but it’s fair to say the story caught the attention of some people with distinctive license plates.

Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, of Concord, made some inquiries with the State Liquor Commission. The director of liquor enforcement issued a ruling that said D.C. licenses, while not specifically allowed by law, would not be considered violations. You can expect legislation to be filed after the November election to add D.C. to the list of permissible IDs spelled out in the law.

The incident also caught the attention of Gov. Maggie Hassan, whose spokesman also distributed the Liquor Commission’s ruling.

We especially liked the response from state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, who owns a Concord sports bar and knows an opportunity when he sees one. Sanborn told the Monitor that the patrons with the D.C. IDs who were turned down at the Concord Food Co-op were welcome in his establishment, The Draft. Heck, Sanborn said, he’d even sell them beer.

That’s the New Hampshire way we all know and love.