Free Minds & Free Markets

Maryland Decriminalizes Unlicensed Barbering; Jacks Up Fines for Unlicensed Barbering

The state won't throw people in jail for cutting hair without a state-issued permission slip, but it's only a marginal step forward.

Retales Botijero Westend61/NewscomRetales Botijero Westend61/NewscomIf you're one of those glass-half-full people, the good news is Maryland can no longer throw people in prison for the supposed crime of cutting hair without a license.

Reforms to the state's barber licensing laws unanimously passed the state legislature earlier this month and were signed Tuesday by Gov. Larry Hogan. The new law eliminates a provision that allowed unlicensed barbers to be tossed in jail for up to 30 days. That's a welcome change to a completely overblown punishment—under Maryland law, first-time DUI offenses come with just 48 hours of prison time—and another step towards fixing onerous licensing laws, similar to changes other states have made this year.

If you're one of those glass-half-empty people, though, you might notice that cutting hair in Maryland without a government-issued permission slip will now carry fines of up to $1,000. Previously, fines had been capped at just $100.

I suppose this counts as a marginal victory for the freedom to cut hair without the government being involved, but it's definitely of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety.

"Instead of tinkering with punishment, Maryland legislators should recognize that occupational licensing is an anti-competitive scam that benefits licenses and not consumers," says Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that advocates for changes to state-level licensing laws, told me via email.

Maryland has the 10th most burdensome licensing laws in the country, according to a 2012 IJ report that looked at licensing laws in all 50 states. While the requirements for the state's 42 different occupational licenses (including things like animal trainer and tree trimmer) vary widely, on average workers can expect to pay about $200 and spend more than 400 days on mandatory education to qualify for a license. Becoming a barber requires 280 days of training and passing two exams.

Licensing serves as a significant barrier to entry for potential workers, and there's better ways to make sure that barbers are qualified to do the job. Market-based regulations, which are more effective than ever thanks to apps like Yelp, are probably all that's really needed to sort out good barbers from bad ones. Licensing should only be used when there is a compelling health and safety interest at stake—and, no, bad haircuts don't count.

"There have been no reports of bad barbicide or bad haircuts in Maryland," McGrath says. "Why is the government intervening?"

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  • esteve7||

    Please tell me how bad barbering is a state issue at all. What fucking business of it is yours who I choose to cut my hair.

    My dad would line up all the neighborhood boys and give us all buzz cuts in the backyard before summer started. Someone should send him to jail.

    Seriously, what the fuck goes through these slaver's heads....fuck off

  • timbo||

    I think it is the oldest or second oldest regulated industry from the barbering days.

    You have to be licensed to bleed someone almost to death.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But the first time you get uneven bangs or lose an ear you'll go running to the state!

  • timbo||

    Sue everybody

  • timbo||

    You know what goes through their heads?

    "We need money in the coffers so I can spend it on stuff that will get me re-elected."

    Because they know that they are not capable of earning a dime in a real job. So goes all bureaucrats under the sun.

  • psmoot||

    There can be legitimate safety concerns. A few years back there was a local scandal where people were getting horrible skin infections from a nail salon. The salon wan't fully sanitizing their gear. I suppose I could imagine a way to transmit germs while cutting hair, especially if some clippers nick your scalp.

    That being said, 280 days of training to learn to dunk the clippers in sanitizer? Really? 280 minutes should be more than enough.

  • Agammamon||

    Did your father *charge* for that. Because, for some reason, that's the key component to something being 'justifiably' regulated by the state. The instant money changes hands then the state considers it something they can control.

  • KerryW||

    No, it doesn't even have to involve money (at least not directly).

    This story was about a man giving free haircuts in Arizona and he got into trouble because he was unlicensed.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The state won't throw people in jail for cutting hair without a state-issued permission slip, but it's only a marginal step forward.

    Of course it will. Don't pay the fine. See what happens.

  • Crusty Juggler aka "Chad"||

    Flowbee hardest hit.

  • chemjeff||

    I know, right?
    When you think about it, it's amazing that barbering shears or flowbees are even still allowed to be sold.

  • Crusty Juggler aka "Chad"||

    That one hit home.

  • The Last American Hero||

    No. Brutus Beefcake hardest hit.

  • Stilgar||

    Suppose my wife barbers my hair? Can I have her fined or tossed in jail?

  • chemjeff||

    Depends on how much you like sleeping on the couch. :)

  • sarcasmic||

    Nope. It isn't commerce. Trading sex for room and board isn't commerce unless it is, or something.

  • Brandybuck||

    My mom or dad always cut my hair. When I was in college my hair only got cut during breaks when I went home when mom or dad would cut it. After college if I was close enough to home my mom or dad would still cut it. Thus, from age 0 to age 30 or say, I was only ever in a barbershop three times. Once was was a treat from my grandpa, once was junior high graduation, and once for the senior prom.

    I had to learn all the barbershop etiquette when I was thirty!

  • The Last American Hero||

    It's really pretty simple.

    1) No swearing or money goes in the swear jar

    2) Avoid Jordan vs. King James discussions

    3) Really avoid 2pac vs. Biggie discussions

  • Agammamon||

    You know, I'm thinking that in the new state's constitution I'm dreaming up, there will be a provision that forbids fines for criminal infractions (and civil infractions will not be a permissable category).

    If its not worth locking someone up for, maybe its not worth making illegal. And this would eliminate the moral hazard associated with fines.

  • Peter Duncan||

    Holy shit! The only difference between a good haircut and a bad one is 2 weeks. Get the govmint outta my hair, damn it!

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