AUGUSTA (AP) – Seeking to curb alcohol sales to minors, state officials announced Wednesday a federally funded effort to conduct compliance inspections of all retail liquor licensees in Maine.

The inspections will be conducted under a contract with the Maine Sheriffs Association to assure that stores selling alcoholic beverages abide by laws requiring them to seek identification of anyone 27 and under, and to refuse sales to anyone who is under 21 or fails to produce valid ID.

Minors ranging in age from 18 to 20 will be dispatched to stores that sell beer, wine and liquor to attempt purchases. They will be supervised by a sheriff’s deputy or an officer hired by the sheriffs under the contract and authorized to write up violations.

The contract calls for 1,450 compliance checks per year over two years, enough to target each licensee at least once. Funding for the $224,000 contract came from a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Officials noted that the Maine Sheriffs Association has undertaken similar inspections of tobacco sellers under a contract with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

That program has been in place since 1997, a period in which youth smoking in Maine has declined by 50 percent.

The contract for the liquor licensee inspections will be administered by the state attorney general’s office on behalf of DHHS.

“It is imperative that we keep alcohol out of the hands of children,” Attorney General Steven Rowe said. “Maine has had great success in lowering underage tobacco use through similar enforcement efforts. We believe this initiative to prevent underage alcohol sales will be successful at slowing the flow of alcohol to our children.”

Public Safety Commissioner Cantara said the new program complements efforts by his department and local police to address alcohol-related violations.

“Store owners and managers should take this effort seriously and train their employees to obey the law. Violators will face fines and could lose their licenses if they do not comply with the law,” he said.

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