Friday Groove: George Harrison

When I worked at Record and Tape, we had a poster in the back room of the Beatles, with handwritten labels above each member. Ringo’s said “Stupid Head.” John’s said ”Dumb Head.” What Paul’s said is too vulgar for this publication. But George’s said “Eh, he’s ok.”

Over the years, I don’t really recall hearing anyone say anything bad about George Harrison. Meanwhile, I’ve heard people say a lot about the other three members of the Beatles. Even before knowing much about Harrison’s music, I could tell something was different about him. He didn’t seem as pretentious as Paul. He didn’t seem as hot-headed as John. He didn’t seem as drunk as Ringo.

A few years ago, when I came across a clip of George Harrison on The Dick Cavett Show, he proved what I suppose I had always known about him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone who was as purely human as he was. As he made quips to Dick Cavett, you could tell he was uncomfortable with the prospect of being interviewed in front of millions of viewers, as anyone might be in a similar situation.

He wasn’t there to show off or brag about what he had done recently. When pressed about what he had said to John Lennon at a recent movie premiere, Harrison replied “I said ‘Hi, hello.’” There was no profound conversation or intense encounter. To me, in a way, that was almost better than anything he (or anyone for that matter) could have made up.

I think there’s a misconception about professional musicians that they’re these larger than life figures who are always out at parties or events, or always on tour. George Harrison, by no means, was larger than life, but just because he wasn’t larger than life doesn’t mean he didn’t have a large life. 

Born in Liverpool, England in 1943, George Harrison started playing music with Paul McCartney and John Lennon in his early teens. In the Beatles, Harrison couldn’t fully express himself. Stuck playing lead guitar and singing background vocals to the overwhelming majority of songs that were written by Lennon and McCartney, Harrison was only able to get a couple of songs on each record. 

As turmoil grew within the band, Harrison quit on multiple occasions, with the most iconic departure occurring on January 10, 1969. After McCartney and Lennon continuously shot down song after song of Harrison’s, he had had enough. He went home that day and wrote the song “Wah-Wah,” which would later appear on his second solo album. Of course, Harrison came back to finish the rest of the Beatles’ recordings, but within a year, the band broke up for good.

In 1970, about a month after the Beatles broke up, Harrison went to work on his magnum opus. The triple-LP All Things Must Pass, which featured some of the greatest musical talent of the time, including Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Pete Drake and too many others to count, was released in November of that year. 

It’s hard to find the right words to describe that album. I don’t have another piece of music in my collection that even remotely compares to the raw emotion that Harrison digs into on the record. It has made me laugh. It has made me cry. Tracks like “What Is Life” and “Art of Dying” make you want to roll the windows down and turn the volume up. Tracks like “My Sweet Lord” and “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” are delicate and timeless. 

Easily, All Things Must Pass is my favorite record of all time. Even as I try to put some variety into what I listen to, I put that album on the turntable at least a couple times a month.

All of Harrison’s other eleven solo albums are fantastic pieces of music too. Isn’t it a pity that he was so constrained in the Beatles? Who’s to say what some of those records would’ve looked like had Lennon and McCartney given Harrison more freedom to express himself. Later in his career, he also appeared alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison in The Traveling Wilburys.

Harrison’s ventures weren’t limited to just music either. He was a founder of HandMade Films in 1979, which helped produce the films Life of Brian (1979) and Time Bandits (1981). When Monty Python lost their funding for Life of Brian due to uproar from the Catholic Church over the film’s content, Harrison took out a second mortgage on his home to fund the film’s completion. The only condition was that he got to be in the movie.

On Thursday, George Harrison would’ve turned 78. There were tributes on Facebook from former bandmate Paul McCartney and millions of fans everywhere. I personally threw on his 1974 LP Dark Horse to mark the occasion. 

Although Harrison passed away 20 years ago this November from cancer, his legacy continues. His son, Dhani Harrison, recently revived his father’s old record label Dark Horse. Next month, the label is releasing a compilation of Greatest Hits from The Clash frontman Joe Strummer.

I always get a little upset when there’s an artist I couldn’t appreciate until after their death. Of course, being only three when he died, it’s not through any fault of my own. I do take comfort, though, in knowing that Harrison did finally get the recognition he deserved after the Beatles broke up, and that he was able to have such a successful career while also maintaining such a deep sense of humility.

Tony Sheaffer is editor-in-chief for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

Hogan looks to new vaccine during stadium site visit

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Emergency use authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine would provide a huge boost to Maryland’s efforts to fill the gulf of supply in the state’s vaccine allotment, Gov. Larry Hogan, R, said Thursday.

Hogan made the statement at a press conference after a tour of the M&T Bank Stadium vaccination site.

The governor’s comments echo those he made on Tuesday that the vaccine, produced by Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore, could receive FDA Emergency Use Authorization as early as Friday. 

Authorization by the FDA, which would make it the third vaccine in the U.S, would bolster the options states have in treating the enormous demand for vaccinations.

The single-dose vaccine would allow more people to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 quicker than the two-dose variants from Moderna and Pfizer.

Earlier in the day, Hogan took a tour of the newly operational mass vaccination facility, along with the head of the State’s Vaccine Equity Task Force, Gen. Janeen Birckhead.

The governor spoke with constituents and watched several vaccinations in progress during the walkthrough of the site, built in a large reception area in the stadium’s club level.

President and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System Dr. Mohan Suntha and Michael Frenz from the Maryland Stadium Authority were also in attendance. 

Suntha called the establishment of the new mass vaccination site a step in a “big process” of ensuring Maryland Communities were vaccinated.Birckhead said the new vaccination center was “one step closer to getting us back to normal.” 

The site is expected to eventually administer 2,000 doses of the vaccine per day, and up to 10,000 per day at its peak, according to Hogan. 

Signups for the M&T Bank Stadium vaccination site began on Monday, with some some 15,000 appointments registered before Thursday’s opening, according to the governor’s office.

However, the Baltimore Sun reported that the signup page for appointments was overwhelmed as Marylanders rushed to schedule an appointment.

M&T Bank Stadium is the third Mass Vaccination site to open in Maryland, joining the Baltimore Convention Center and Six Flags America in Bowie.

A fourth mass vaccination site is slated to open in Southern Maryland in March at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf with support from FEMA.

 Maryland has administered 1.18 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine at a seven-day average of 31,050, according to the Maryland COVID-19 vaccination dashboard. 

Maryland is in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C of its vaccination plan, which allows residents 65 and older, teachers, health care workers, the developmentally disabled, nursing home staff and residents, and others to get the vaccine. 

Eligible Maryland residents can call 1-855-MDGOVAX(1-855-634-6829) to schedule an appointment from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. 

Pandemic could change Md. oyster industry for good

Photo: Ben Stern

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

The pandemic-affected oyster season has been difficult for the industry in Maryland, causing farmers and watermen to rethink how they sell their product and changing how programs conduct oyster restoration.

After restaurants reduced their capacity and a stay-at-home order was issued last spring, restaurant sales essentially went to zero within a matter of a week, said Scott Budden, founder of Orchard Point Oyster Co. headquartered in Stevensville, Maryland. 

Pre-pandemic, Orchard Point Oyster Co. would primarily sell to restaurants, either directly to the chef or through regional distributors and wholesalers. Since April, they have transitioned to directly selling to the public, through local pick-ups and cold shipping, Budden said. 

While the 2020 harvest numbers are preliminary, as of December, there were 39,913 bushels of oysters sold in Maryland in 2020 from leased beds, compared to 54,903 bushels sold in 2019, according to the Department of Natural Resources. This is more than a 25% decrease in the number of oyster sold off of Maryland shellfish aquaculture leases, which includes harvests from farmers and some watermen.

Many people only see oysters as something they enjoy at a restaurant, said Karis King, public relations and event manager at the Oyster Recovery Partnership. 

“With restaurant closures and events being pretty much non-existent, oyster farmers are left with a ton of supply with oysters that need to be harvested right away or else they are going to grow larger than the desirable market,” King said. 

There’s a sweet spot for oysters to be harvested — between three to four inches from one tip to the other. Beyond that, the meat becomes too large, King said.  

“Oysters don’t stop growing because of a pandemic amongst humans,” Budden said.  

To help address the demand problem, the Oyster Recovery Partnership has been working with oyster farmers to connect them directly to consumers and educate the public on how to shuck at home, King said. The Oyster Recovery Partnership works to increase the number of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and implement oyster restoration projects. 

Similar to Budden, Jason Wilford, the founder of Pirate’s Cove Oyster Co., also pivoted to online sales. However, even that has been a hit or miss, he said. Pirate’s Cove Oyster Co. is headquartered in Easton, Maryland, and grows their oyster on the Choptank River.  

“Some weeks are great, some weeks are nothing,” Wilford said.

Pirate’s Cove Oyster Co. participated in the Nature Conservancy’s two-year initiative, Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration — known as SOAR — in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Oyster Recovery Partnership. 

This program has helped farmers stay afloat by purchasing uneaten oysters from farmers and using them for restoration. 

SOAR provided cash to purchase new seed and cleared some of his inventory to make room for this year’s oyster planting, Wilford said.  

A farmer grows their own oysters, while watermen participate in public fisheries. Farmers don’t harvest from public shellfish areas, rather they have aquaculture leases. A lot of watermen are also farmers, however, and have applied and received leases to grow oysters. 

Robert Brown, watermen and oyster grower, has bottom oyster leases on the tributaries of the Potomac River. While more watermen are getting into growing each year, many of them are in their upper 60s and don’t want to invest the type of money at that age to start an aquaculture business, Brown said.

Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said he sells the majority of his oysters to oyster packaging houses, which aren’t working at capacity because they can’t sell the oysters once they shuck them.

Watermen are being hit hard in the pandemic and it might be a few years before we get back to normal, Brown said. 

Oyster restoration efforts have also been affected during the pandemic.

Each year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation adds 25 million oysters to the Chesapeake Bay on average. They added 14 million oysters in 2020, 10 million less than usual, according to a recent press release. 

Their oyster restoration season started three months late after non-essential activities were put on hold, said Allison Colden, Maryland fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Their season only lasts six months of the year, cutting their time to restore oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay in half.

Considering the challenges they faced due to the pandemic, adding 14 million oysters is still a big feat, Colden said.

But even past the pandemic, Jason Ruth, owner of Harris Seafood Co. in Grasonville, Maryland, said he doesn’t see the oyster industry getting back to the numbers they once had. 

People are creatures of habit and now that they’ve gotten used to doing things at home, the restaurant industry might never go back to how it was, Ruth said. 

Moving forward, the oyster industry has to get creative in how they sell oysters and how they teach people to eat oysters at home, Ruth said. 

The Maryland General Assembly is also working to protect oysters and aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay. 

Last week, the Environment and Transportation Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates held a bill hearing for HB0800, a bill that would require the Department of Natural Resources to develop a mobile application to determine an individual’s location in relation to aquaculture leases, natural clam or oyster bars, oyster sanctuaries, open harvest areas, and other relevant data, according to the bill’s fiscal and policy note. 

Even if this bill can save 10 watermen from losing their living for being in the wrong area, it’s worth it to the citizens of Maryland, said Del. Jerry Clark, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, sponsor of the bill.

Bills seek to limit implicit bias in Md. judicial system

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

Maryland legislators introduced a pair of bills that could mandate police, judges, state’s attorneys and public defenders undergo implicit bias training in order to recognize and counteract any potential biases they may carry against specific groups.

Implicit bias is the attitudes, or stereotypes that may unconsciously affect someone’s actions and decisions toward a person or group of people. 

“I think we can all agree that anyone with a strong recognizable bias against a certain group, might not be the best protector of that group,” Del. Melissa Wells, D-Baltimore said at a Tuesday House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Both HB0194 and HB0413, with Wells as the sponsor, aim to reduce the potential risk of bias for minorities and marginalized groups when interacting with members of the judicial system.

HB0413 stipulates that each appellate, circuit court and district court judge undergo testing and  training on implicit bias as early as possible after assuming office, according to a state legislative analysis. 

This legislation aims to mitigate the potential biases judges may have, including when sentencing people of different races.

“Having a judge realize and understand their bias could change the decades-long systemic failure that is the harsh difference in sentencing Black and white people,” Wells said at a Jan. 27 House Judiciary Committee hearing.

HB0194 proposes the same criteria — that police officers and public defenders receive implicit bias training and testing before beginning service, with an added amendment that the policy also apply to state’s attorneys.

“An officer’s duty is to protect, a public defender’s duty is to represent, and a state’s attorneys duty is to enforce laws and adjust in an unbiased manner,” Wells said at the hearing.

“By simply being able to identify potential unconscious biases the system can better serve the people they swore to protect,” Wells added.

The Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission would be responsible for overseeing a curriculum that includes an implicit bias test and training to address it for all entrance-level police schools at the state, county and municipal levels, according to a legislative analysis.

Diminishing implicit bias within policing was one of 12 major recommendations that came out of the Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland Workgroup, which focused on minimizing police misconduct as well as increasing accountability and transparency in policing. 

That group convened from June to September 2020 and was chaired by Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary, D-Howard.

It included bi-partisan membership from 14 different delegates representing 12 different jurisdictions throughout the state.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, D, signed similar legislation in August, which requires the Department of Law and Public Safety to add implicit bias training to their curriculum for law enforcement officers. 

Similarly, the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety conducted a study in 2020 measuring the impacts of implicit bias awareness training in the New York Police Department.

That study found that after taking part in the training officers were better able to recognize the concept of implicit bias and make an effort to combat it.  

Proponents explained that testing and training for implicit bias is essential to ensure that marginalized people such as those who have a disability or speak a different language are treated fairly within the judicial system.

“We believe that implicit bias is something that everyone has,” Cecilia Plante co-chair of the Maryland Legislative Coalition, said at the Tuesday hearing.

“It affects how we deal with people; it affects our level of patience and our capacity for empathy, all of which are required when dealing with the public,” Plante added.

Natasha M. Dartigue, the deputy district public defender for Baltimore City testified in support of both pieces of legislation. 

Dartigue has extensive experience with implicit bias training, teaching a course on it since 2017 as part of new employee training. 

The training typically lasts for 90 minutes and was modeled after training from the American Bar Association, according to Dartigue.

It includes an explanation and understanding of implicit bias as well as techniques to decrease any potential biases.

“From my experience there’s definitely a level of understanding that comes from the class, a self-awareness,” Dartigue told Capital News Service.

“It will assist you in taking affirmative steps in changing your behavior,” Dartigue added.

No one provided oral testimony in opposition of HB0193 at its hearing on Jan. 27.

However, Stephen Kroll, executive director for the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association expressed opposition to HB0194 citing that the inclusion of the state’s attorney in the bill came as a surprise and that he’d need permission from the board to provide funding for the evaluation of the implicit bias training.

Wells explained that she was adding an amendment to remove the evaluation aspect of the training.

Neither bill has been scheduled for a voting session yet.

New bill would change police procedure during traffic stops

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

A bill in the Maryland General Assembly would change procedure during a traffic or other stop to ensure that officers explicitly state certain rights, and aims to prevent police from using deceptive or coercive measures to obtain information.

SB0589, also known as the Know Your Rights Act, was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week.

The Know Your Rights Act would require all law enforcement officers to display proper  identification, such as name and badge number, as well as verbally communicate it to the individual being stopped, according to a legislative analysis. 

“I believe that when law enforcement is approaching its citizens, those types of identifications should be clearly seen by the citizen so that they know you are a true law enforcement officer,” said Sen. Charles Sydnor, D-Baltimore County, the sponsor of this bill.

Stanford Fraser, an assistant public defender  in Prince George’s County who gave testimony in support of the bill, stated that 14 other states made similar changes to police procedure.

“There has not been data presented that suggests that doing these actions would create safety concerns or jeopardize investigations,” Fraser testified during the hearing, which Capital News Service viewed.

The Know Your Rights Act would require a police officer to inform the stopped individual of their right to refuse to speak or provide information to the officer, of the reason that they were stopped, and of their ability to terminate the encounter. 

During a traffic stop, in addition to informing the driver of their rights, the officer would also have to inform any passengers of the vehicle of their right to refuse to identify themselves, according to the legislative analysis. 

Howard County State’s Attorney Richard Gibson, D, spoke in opposition to this bill, stating that not identifying the passengers of a vehicle can impede the officer’s duty and can pose a potential safety risk. 

“So, if a person with an open warrant for murder is a passenger in a car that is stopped for speeding, under this bill, the officer would be denied the opportunity to learn who the passenger is,” Gibson stated in written testimony submitted to the Judicial Proceedings Commitee. 

Gibson also wrote that informing the driver of a vehicle of their ability to withhold information from the police directly contradicts the current Maryland Transportation Code, which requires people to provide their license and registration. 

The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriff’s Association submitted written testimony in opposition to SB0589, stating that the change in procedure regarding traffic stops would increase the risk of danger for both the officer and the occupants of the vehicle. 

“Traffic stops are also one of the most inherently dangerous activities in which police officers are involved, unaware of who they are stopping or what other possible criminal activity in which the operator or passengers might be engaged,” the testimony stated. 

The bill would also prevent police from seizing personal belongings from someone who is being stopped without a warrant. 

Fraser said that this requirement was created with the seizure of cell phones particularly in mind. 

“Even more than body cams, the public’s ability to record police interactions provides accountability and transparency in policing,” Fraser testified. 

Lawrence Greenberg from the Maryland Association for Justice, told lawmakers he receives calls “every single week” from people who were pulled over and were not told the name of the officer or allowed to record from their phones. 

“This goes on more than you think and it is not right,” said Greenberg, an attorney. 

Gibson also addressed this provision in his opposition testimony, stating that preventing the seizure of personal items is directly contradicting Supreme Court cases like Carroll v. United States, which allows for the search of a car without a warrant. 

Retired Maj. Neill Franklin of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department and current treasurer of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership stated in his written testimony in support of SB0589 that many Maryland police agencies do have policies in place for police officers to identify themselves, but there is evidence that it is not enforced.  

Introductions as well as an explanation of the reason for the encounter have been shown to put individuals at ease and de-escalate tense situations, according to Franklin. 

Franklin stated that the Know Your Rights Act will provide state-wide consistency in policy as well as send an important message about the value put on the rights of citizens. 

“Its passing will reinforce training and policy, and greatly assist with closing the divide between police and community, which will ultimately result in improved public safety,” Franklin wrote. 

Lastly, the Know Your Rights Act would prevent law enforcement officers from using coercive tactics or misrepresent facts in order to obtain information. 

Sydnor stated that although use of coercion and misrepresentation of facts has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court, it is within the state’s ability to change the conduct of its officers. 

“I think it is wrong, and we have the opportunity to stop that,” Sydnor said.  

Fraser said the Supreme Court ruling to make coercive measures permissible created a “floor and not a ceiling” for what states can do. 

This means that state legislatures cannot outright declare it illegal or unconstitutional, but they can build on that ruling and create laws that will determine conduct, according to Fraser.

However, Gibson, said this legislation would directly contradict constitutional law, and stated this bill was a “criminal’s dream” in his written testimony.  

“The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue, and whether you personally find it offensive or not, it is of no moment because the court has occupied that space with constitutional law,” Gibson said during the hearing. 

Gibson told lawmakers that coercive tactics are used to draw out guilty parties, and when used correctly, serve a “greater societal purpose than saying no you can’t ever lie.”

Gibson said he was willing to work with Sydnor to create amendments and negotiate as he did not have issues with other parts of the bill.

If passed, the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission would be required to develop standards to implement the provisions of the bill, according to a legislative analysis. 

The commission indicated that the bill would require a full time employee, costing $70,093 annually, according to a state fiscal analysis. 

However, the Department of Legislative Services reported it could be implemented with the current resources available and integrated into annual in-service training programs. 

SB0589 has a cross-filed bill in the House of Delegates, HB0197. 

The bill hearing for HB0197, sponsored by Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, was held on Feb. 9. 

There are no voting sessions currently scheduled for SB0589 or HB0197.

Police reform has been a focus for many lawmakers this session in the Maryland General Assembly. 

After the death of George Floyd during an arrest in May and the protests that sparked across the county, House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, created the House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland with the objective of pushing legislation in the 2021 session that would make effective change.

The workgroup submitted a report in December with recommendations for reforms, which included the creation of a use-of-force statute and implicit bias tests, and improving police accountability. 

Marijuana legalization proposed in Maryland Legislature

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

A bill essentially legalizing recreational use of cannabis in Maryland would be an important step toward addressing social equity and racial injustices, advocates said. 

“This is the year we are talking about equity,” Del. Jazz Lewis, D-Prince George’s, sponsor of the bill, said at a Wednesday House Judiciary Committee hearing Capital News Service viewed. “And now is the time that we pass this bill.”

HB32 would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana, referred to as cannabis in the bill, for adults 21 and older and also allow for expungement and release for individuals previously arrested or incarcerated. 

Lewis argued at the hearing that the bill would take the production of cannabis off of the streets to ensure safer products, while simultaneously creating jobs, helping small businesses, and bringing in potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue. 

General fund and special fund revenues in Maryland would be expected to increase significantly in future fiscal years due to taxes, licensing fees, and civil penalty fines, according to a fiscal analysis. Exact dollar amounts, and the market for recreational cannabis, are unpredictable, according to the analysis. 

Legalizing cannabis would increase the state’s expenditures significantly in the first year to establish regulatory and tax frameworks, as well as the cost of implementing the bill’s social equity provisions.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Commission alone would have to increase their spending by at least $1.9 million in fiscal year 2022, which includes the costs of hiring more staff, consulting services, and overall operating expenses.

If passed, people 21 and over would be able to, “possess, consume, grow, use, process, manufacture, purchase, or transport up to the personal use amount of cannabis.”

The “personal use amount” is defined in the bill as up to two ounces of cannabis, 15 grams of concentrated cannabis, cannabis products containing up to 1,500 milligrams of THC, or up to six cannabis plants.

Having more than the personal use amount could result in a civil offense for individuals with a maximum penalty of 16 hours of community service or a $250 fine.

Underage individuals could face a $100 fine or 6 hours of community service if caught with cannabis for a first offense.

The bill originated from an informal summer work group composed of legislators from the Black caucus who worked to create legislation to address racial injustices, according to Lewis.

Lewis also testified that there are three components that address social equity within his bill, including criminal justice reform, reinvestment in disadvantaged communities, and establishing standards to allow for inclusion in the state’s recreational cannabis industry. 

Medical use of cannabis was legalized in the state in 2014, and in that same legislative session, possession of cannabis less than 10 grams was decriminalized and turned into a civil offense.

Despite these changes, Black people made up 96% of all marijuana-related arrests in Baltimore from 2015 until 2017, according to Lewis, and he argued that the laws, “only made marijuana legal for white consumption.” 

Sixty-three percent of revenue generated from the bill would go directly toward community reinvestment, including funding toward the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities, grants to organizations tackling social equity challenges, as well as funding toward startups for small businesses. 

“We must ensure those most hurt from cannabis prohibition, benefit most from the new legal industry,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ bill works with what the bill describes as “social equity applicants” — who live in an area that meets certain criteria, including living in a “disproportionately impacted area” —  in order to push further for an equitable industry.

Lewis’ push for inclusion in the bill includes reduced licensing fees for social equity applicants, as well as establishing an Office of Social Equity within the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to, “promote diversity and inclusion in the industry and foster reparative justice.”

Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP and former Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate, testified in support and argued that this bill is important in  correcting history. 

“It is rare to have the opportunity to right past wrongs and create an inclusive economy,” Jealous said. “Delegate Lewis’ bill really stands out amongst, frankly, all the bills that have been introduced in this country in its thoroughness to hit all of those.” 

A former Baltimore City detective in the criminal investigations division drug enforcement section, Debbie Ramsey, looked to her experience to testify that an arrest does not end the trade of drugs, but it actually creates a “job opening” for another seller to make money. 

“We need our police to focus on the greater threats to public safety: crimes against persons and crimes against property,” Ramsay said in support of the bill.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission did not take a stance on the bill, but Executive Director William Tilburg told lawmakers the commission has some concerns about the bill.  

Among them, Maryland would be the only state in the country to separately regulate medical and adult-use programs, an issue Tilburg testified would double the administrative costs for the state.

Those who testified against the bill cited general reasons for safety of the community as their reason for opposition.  

Dr. Amelia Arria, a professor at University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, testified that young adults are the most likely to use cannabis, which puts them at risk for mental health problems, drug dependence, and lower academic achievement.

Arria argued that these are outcomes, “at odds with Maryland’s mission to educate and prepare our youth to succeed.”

An emergency department physician from Colorado, a state that had previously legalized recreational marijuana, Dr. Karen Randall, testified against the bill based on her experience and the risks it poses to the youth.

“It isn’t a matter if they’re going to get it, because they’re going to get it,” Randall said after testifying that throughout her most recent shift she saw three youths come to the emergency room due to issues related to marijuana. 

Ragina Ali, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, a traffic safety organization, testified marijuana should not be legalized until the state is prepared to handle the traffic safety issues that would follow. 

After legalization in Washington, fatal car crashes involving drivers who had recently used cannabis doubled, according to Ali.

AAA also saw insurance claims increase in Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon following legalization in those states, according to Ali.

On Tuesday, New Jersey officially legalized cannabis for recreational use joining 14 other states plus Washington, D.C. — including Oregon, a state that recently decriminalized limited amounts of all drugs.

Similar bills to HB32 that attempted to legalize recreational marijuana have been introduced in both the Maryland House and Senate annually since at least 2017, but all have failed.

No date has been set yet for a committee vote on HB32.