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Liquor Commission says D.C. residents can buy with just a license

Decades after they were apparently snubbed by New Hampshire law, residents of Washington, D.C., can now legally purchase alcohol in the state with just a driver’s license or non-driver identification card.

In a memo released yesterday, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission said that, though the state’s liquor laws do not explicitly include those documents as acceptable forms of identification, it “does not believe the legislative intent of the statute was to omit and thereby exclude” them.

“Therefore, the Division of Enforcement and Licensing’s position is that Washington D.C.’s driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards are acceptable for the purchase of alcoholic beverages,” wrote enforcement Director James Wilson.

The omission surfaced last week when a D.C. resident reported that he and a few friends had been turned away while trying to purchase drinks at the Concord Food Co-op. Joshua Bourassa, the store’s customer service manager, said employees were simply adhering to the law.

That law, drafted in 1990, lists four acceptable forms of identification: a passport, a military card, or a driver’s license or photo identification from any of the 50 states, as well as provinces of Canada.

In a letter yesterday to Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, Wilson noted that his division has never brought criminal or other charges against retailers who accept D.C. identification, nor had any plans to.

Van Ostern, who is running for re-election, said he had reached out to the commission after hearing about the encounter in the Monitor.

“While we as a country deny Washington, D.C., representation in the U.S. Congress, the last thing we should be doing is denying them a drink when they come to New Hampshire,” Van Ostern said.

He said the commission’s action would likely preclude any change to the existing law.

“My hope is that this administrative fix will solve things and that we don’t need any new legislation,” he said.

Joseph Mollica, chairman of the liquor commission, said in a statement yesterday that the state’s 5,000 licensees, including restaurants and stores where alcohol is sold, would be notified of the change by close of business.

“While we are a state agency that is charged with enforcing alcoholic beverage control laws and administrative rules, we are also a $600 million retail business and must address customer service issues quickly and decisively,” Mollica said. “This action is an example of that.”

Meanwhile, Bourassa said the co-op welcomed the move.

“It’s great news,” he said. “We’re happy to be fully compliant with all the laws and regulations. If they say this is an acceptable form of ID, come on down.”

Travis Mitchell, the customer who reported being turned away, seemed pleasantly surprised.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect much to happen,” said Mitchell, a New Hampshire native. “I’m glad the commission took the time to clarify the law so that D.C. is recognized.”

“The fact it happened so quickly,” he said, “I would assume it wasn’t that big a deal.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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