Maryland law provides, “before deciding whether to approve an application and issue a [liquor] license, a local licensing board shall consider .. the public need and desire for the license,” among other factors.

And the laws goes on to further provide the “local licensing board shall deny a license application .. if the local licensing board determines that .. the granting of the license is not necessary to accommodate the public,” among other grounds.

But what does that nebulous legal test mean? Among the most frequent question we are asked is, “how do I prove that a liquor license is necessary at a location?”

The answer is different depending upon the location. The structure of Maryland’s liquor board system is local, independent boards, mitigating against any consistency of interpretation. Such is intentional. There is reason to conclude from the elaborate statutory scheme regulating the liquor boards that the legislature well understood that there was a substantial likelihood of differing interpretations of the term “necessary” by different local liquor boards.

In Baltimore County, the local liquor board Rule 19 furnishes a population based formula for determining the maximum number of licenses that may be issued for each election district, and that rule does not mention the term “necessary.” In determining the legal meaning and effect of Rule 19, the population based nature of Rule 19, that one off-sale liquor license is appropriate for every 2,500 people, suggests that this is the number of licenses that is most appropriate for the population. Is it possible that this number is “necessary for the accommodation of the public?”

No, because the final paragraph of Rule 19 states that the rule is in addition to those State law factors and that the Rule is not sufficient, alone, to meet the requirements for new licenses.

If Rule 19 does not control the standard for necessity, then how is that standard to be given meaning? The Maryland Court of Appeals defined the term “need” in the context of zoning law involving a challenge to the location of a doctor’s office in a residential area. The relevant law stated that a doctor’s office was a permissible use in a residential area if, inter alia, there was a “need” for such services in the area. The Court held that, in this context, “need” meant that which was “expedient, reasonably convenient and useful to the public.”

That zoning case is analogous to liquor licensing matters. State law allows for the transfer of a liquor license if, among other things, “need” is shown. The statute itself indicates that “need” should be considered in light of what is “necessary for the accommodation of the public.” When accommodation is the ultimate goal, it is reasonable that absolute physical necessity is not required. This is especially true when, as here, the accommodation at issue involves the location of a liquor store.

Black’s Law Dictionary states that the meaning of “necessary” varies with the context in which it is used:

[The word] may import absolute physical necessity or inevitability, or it may import that which is only convenient, useful, appropriate, suitable, proper, or conducive to the end sought. It is an adjective expressing degrees, and may express mere convenience or that which is indispensable or an absolute physical necessity.

The Baltimore County licensing board determined, here, a definition of need that focuses on convenience is, given the context, most appropriate.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in 2000, concluded that “necessary,” in this instance, means that the transfer of the liquor license to the transfer site will be “convenient, useful, appropriate, suitable, proper, or conducive” to the public in that area. And this is proven at a liquor board hearing with both expert and lay witness testimony.

We can provide you with expert witness testimony for your liquor board hearing to prove that a liquor license is necessary at a location.