Maryland’s legal cannabis market to be shaped by many hands
With lawmakers facing a July 1 deadline to provide a framework for the legal use, possession, and sale of cannabis after voters approved full legalization in November, it’s clear, just a week into the General Assembly session, that the task won’t be straightforward.
While the public is generally enthusiastic about legalization, which passed with 67% support and received more votes than new governor Wes Moore, legislators have a lot of work to do to build a legal market that fulfills their commitments on issues like equity, public safety, taxation, and revenue.
“The people of this state have spoken, and they have spoken loudly,” said Moore at a press conference Thursday. “We cannot, and we will not repeat the mistakes that the state has made when medical cannabis was legalized…we have to get this right from day one.”
While lawmakers are committed to meeting the July 1 deadline, the state of the legal cannabis market nationwide remains an unwelcome specter hanging over the process. An oversupply crisis has depressed cannabis prices, decreasing margins for producers and making it far more difficult for small producers to compete with well-established companies that can produce and distribute at scale. The national spot price of legal cannabis reached an all-time low of $950 per pound in December 2022, according to Cannabis Benchmarks.
Without what they feel is a viable model to look to, lawmakers are instead trying to avoid other states’ mistakes.
“We’re starting from the ground floor,” said Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee. “All we know is what they didn’t do right.”
Wilson and his committee colleagues will have an important role to play in the legalization process: regulating the supply of legal cannabis through licensing and taxation.
The number of licenses distributed and the process of obtaining a license to produce and sell cannabis products in Maryland will largely dictate who can enter the legal market. Moreover, supply will play a large role in determining the price Marylanders pay for cannabis products, a crucial factor in convincing consumers to abandon the illicit market, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
Given the less-than-successful history of the United States’ war on drugs and its disproportionate impact on Black Americans, legislators seem committed to fostering equitable access to the legal market.
“I’m very worried about this issue…this is always how we’ve done things, where we allow rich people to capitalize and profit, and then we put some minor appeasement in there to placate people that have been harmed (by marijuana) and don’t have the equity, the money upfront, to get involved,” said Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore City.
“I think equity has to be across-the-board considered for everything we do,” said Del. Lily Qi, D-Montgomery, who, along with Wilson, is a member of both the Economic Matters Committee and the Cannabis Legalization Working group, which held hearings on several aspects of the legalization process while the General Assembly was out of session.
While neither Wilson nor Qi explicitly answered what percentage of licenses should go to members of marginalized groups, Wilson hinted at a few policies his committee was considering to ensure an equitable system.
Foremost among them is keeping the license application fee reasonably low. In some states, this cost can reach six figures, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, and serve as a significant barrier to entry for small business owners without a lot of startup capital.
“(The application fee) cannot be high, and it must be refundable,” said Wilson, who added that six-figure application fees were “not the goal.”
Also of concern is keeping taxes low, which lawmakers said they hope will have the dual effect of allowing more producers to enter the market and keeping legal cannabis prices reasonable, an important factor in allowing new market entrants to chip away at the illicit market.
For some advocacy groups, guarantees on equity in employment and working conditions in the industry are just as important as equity in ownership or licensing.
“As a union, we bring a lot of concern around employment practices and how employees are treated, how well they’re compensated, and are they able to share in the success of their industry,” said Jonathan Williams, spokesperson for UFCW Local 400, which represents cannabis workers in Maryland.
Economic Matters will be just one of several committees to work on a chunk of the cannabis framework. The House Judiciary Committee, and perhaps others, will look at undoing another one of the lasting legacies of the war on drugs: thousands of convictions for cannabis-related offenses, which can often serve as barriers to the job market for those convicted.
Judiciary Committee member Christopher Bouchat, R-Carroll, who was convicted of a crime and charged as an adult at age 16, recalled firsthand the impact of such a criminal conviction.
“For the rest of my life, I have that assault conviction on my record. And I think that having felt that, I understand the impact that cannabis convictions have on adults trying to get employment.”
For the new governor, expungement is a crucial part of the legalization process, and righting the wrongs of the last 40 years has been central to his message on this issue.
“As we have said, we cannot talk about the benefits of legalization if we’re also not willing to wrestle with the consequences of criminalization,” said Moore at the press conference.
While Moore supports expunging records of all those convicted solely of marijuana possession, other lawmakers worry that his plan does not go far enough to protect those convicted on other charges or of a cannabis-related felony.
“We know that felony convictions are what harm people from getting jobs, housing, and other opportunities. The stigma of felonies is the problem. Misdemeanor possession is hurting very few people,” said Carter, a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee member. She added that institutions, including many police departments around the state, now allow officers with prior misdemeanor possession convictions on the force. Carter has introduced legislation to give judges more flexibility in expunging records.
Lawmakers are also tasked with figuring out a plan for the tax revenue cannabis legalization will generate. In a meeting with the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup during the interim, consultants from the Marijuana Policy Project suggested that cannabis legalization could generate over $1 billion in revenue for the state.
Responsibility for that tax plan will fall to the House Ways and Means Committee, whose membership includes Prince George’s County Delegate and Cannabis Working Group member Darryl Barnes.
“This is an exciting time in the history of the state of Maryland,” said Barnes, adding, “we have an opportunity to put forward legislation that impacts a billion-dollar-plus industry that’s coming, but, more importantly, to frame the conversation around equity and inclusion. And that is the most important thing to me, as well as looking at how we will tax this where it’s fair and equitable for those participating.”
By GREG MORTON
Capital News Service
Fauquier Health welcomes new general surgeon Dr. Nathaniel Saint-Preux
Fauquier Health announced the welcoming of their newest general surgeon, Nathaniel Saint-Preux, MD. Dr. Saint-Preux has joined Fauquier Health’s Northern Virginia Surgical Specialists group, which was recently acquired in the fall of 2022. Dr. Saint-Preux joins board-certified physicians Joseph Brown, MD, FACS, Cynthia Dougherty, MD, and Benjamin Wampler, MD, FACS.
Dr. Saint-Preux graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 2013. He completed his Doctor of Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. in 2017. Dr. Saint-Preux then completed his general surgery residency at the Detroit Medical Center/Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan in 2022.
“As a physician I strive every day to develop a deeper understanding of the interaction between health, social, cultural, and environmental issues in our communities,” commented Dr. Saint-Preux. “I enjoy working with my patients to ensure they feel educated about the issues they may be facing, what options they have, and what their future path of wellness could look like.”
Dr. Saint-Preux is trained in minimally invasive robotic surgery and has interests in hernia repair, colonoscopy, upper endoscopy, colorectal, appendectomy, skin lesions/lipomas, thyroid disease, breast procedures, and more. Dr. Saint-Preux has conducted multiple service trips, including outreach in Haiti to provide health care to under-served populations. Giving back to the community and providing cross-cultural care has led to a greater understanding of the health issues facing our world today.
Dr. Saint-Preux is accepting new patients at all four locations in Warrenton, Gainesville, Culpeper, and Manassas. The Warrenton office, located at 550 Hospital Drive, can be reached at 540.347.2805. The Gainesville office, located at 7915 Lake Manassas Drive, can be reached at 571.261.2782. The Culpeper office, located at 1100 Sunset Lane, can be reached at 540.812.2937. Lastly, the Manassas office, located at 9001 Digges Road, can also be reached at 571.261.2782. Additional details about Dr. Saint-Preux can be found at FHDoctors.org or FauquierHealth.org.
About Fauquier Health
Fauquier Health is a community health system dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care in a unique environment that considers the multiple facets of healing and respects the individuality of each and every patient. Located at 500 Hospital Drive in Warrenton, Virginia, Fauquier Health serves the residents of Fauquier and several surrounding counties. It comprises: Fauquier Hospital, a fully-accredited, 97-bed hospital; Fauquier Health Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, a 113-bed long-term care and rehabilitation facility; the Villa at Suffield Meadows, an assisted living facility; the Wound Health Center and a medically supervised Wellness Center offering health and wellness programs. Fauquier Health also operates several physician’s offices, including primary care, generay surgery, OB/GYN, Neurology and more. More information on Fauquier Health is available online at FauquierHealth.org or by calling 540-316-5000.
New daily rail service into Tennessee begins in April, expanding port’s reach west and south
Beginning April 1, The Port of Virginia® will expand its westward reach with a new daily rail service between the port’s primary container terminals and Norfolk Southern’s regional intermodal terminal near Memphis.
“It’s an important step west and south for The Port of Virginia,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “Both exporters and importers have asked us [Norfolk Southern and the port] to develop a high-quality Memphis rail service.
“When we first discussed this possibility, we agreed consistency was critical to developing a first-class product that provides daily service to and from this market. We have spent the past six months working together to ensure we are both ready and capable to meet customer expectations.”
The railroad’s regional terminal is in Rossville, which is in Southwest Tennessee, and located on Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor route. The terminal is about 40 miles from Memphis, which is an important Midwest intermodal center. Memphis is one of only four cities in the US to be served by five Class I railroads, and according to the Greater Memphis Chamber, cargo moving through Memphis can reach 45 states and Canada and Mexico by rail within two days.
“We’re investing nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars to expand our on-dock rail capabilities, modernize one of our terminals and make our shipping channels the deepest on the US East Coast to create the East Coast’s leading global gateway,” Edwards said. “We are always looking for opportunities to expand into new markets and create demand. It’s important that we continue to collaborate with our long-time rail partner, Norfolk Southern, to create consistent, complimentary rail products to meet the needs of those companies that want to diversify their logistics and supply chains and reach new markets.”
The port is engaged in a $1.4 billion expansion effort called the Gateway Investment Program. This includes expanding the port’s overall annual rail capacity to 1.8 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units); completely renovating the North Berth at Norfolk International Terminals to create the capacity for 800,000 lifts, annually; and deepening the commercial shipping channels to at least 55 feet deep and making them wide enough for two-way traffic of ultra-large container ships.
(The Virginia Port Authority (VPA) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The VPA owns and through its private operating subsidiary, Virginia International Terminals, LLC (VIT), operates four general cargo facilities Norfolk International Terminals, Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Newport News Marine Terminal and the Virginia Inland Port in Warren County. The VPA leases Virginia International Gateway and Richmond Marine Terminal. A recent economic impact study from The College of William and Mary shows that The Port of Virginia helps to create more than 437,000 jobs and generated $1 billion in total economic impact throughout the Commonwealth on an annual basis.)
D.C. Guardian Angels return to the city to patrol Metro following increase in crime
The D.C. Guardian Angels, unarmed volunteer safety patrols dedicated to helping prevent crime in public spaces, are making their return to the Washington area’s Metro system after an increase in reported crimes.
The group is led by John Ayala, who started the Washington chapter in 1989 after previously being a New York City group member.
The Guardian Angels are a New York City-based nonprofit started in 1979 by Curtis Sliwa. Since then, thousands of volunteers have joined the organization in cities nationwide and worldwide.
Ayala moved to Washington from New York City when he was 19 to bring the Guardian Angels to the nation’s capital. During the 1990s, the New York and Washington groups focused on the “crack cocaine era,” Ayala said.
“We were involved with the open-air drug market, trying to get a hold on it. So people in D.C. saw it and said, ‘you know what, we have that same issue here in D.C.,’” Ayala said in an interview with Capital News Service.
Ayala grew the group to about 100 members in the early 1990s, with an average age of around 18. Today, the group is working on trying to keep the Metro safe while recruiting new members with the goal of returning to a core of about 100 people. There are currently 40 members signed up, averaging around 40 years old.
“Now it’s going to get to the point…where history is starting to repeat itself. It’s not the gang violence, it’s not the drugs, but it’s the young people going out there hurting so many people in the community, and people are saying ‘enough is enough,’” Ayala said.
While people in their 40s and 50s may remember the Guardian Angels from the 1990s and early 2000s, Ayala said younger people are less familiar with the group. So part of the Guardian Angels’ efforts is telling the younger generation about the group’s activities and mission, he said.
The Guardian Angels are currently concentrating their efforts on patrolling the Green Line, focusing specifically on the Anacostia and Congress Heights stations. Their goal is to be a deterrent, to observe and to report to Metro Transit Police Department, Ayala said.
Although the MTPD does not directly endorse the Guardian Angels, it “appreciates eyes and ears on the system,” Sherri Ly, Metro media relations manager, said in a statement to CNS.
Despite the MTDP’s efforts, Ayala said, “there are not enough police officers out there.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a partnership between MTDP and the Metropolitan Police Department early last month, aiming to increase police presence at Metro stations.
While police patrol the stations, Ayala said there are not enough officers to patrol trains. After hearing about the increased police presence, the Guardian Angels are focusing on what is happening on the trains while also monitoring the station platforms.
“We're tired of hearing everybody blaming the mayor, blaming the police chief, blaming the councilman,” Ayala said. “Those people are not the ones out...robbing people, they’re not telling people to rob people. They’re doing the best that they can, but they can't do it alone. It takes a village.”
The safety patrols are recognizable by their red berets and white shirts.
“Prevention is the best cure… so if wearing a recognizable pseudo-uniform can help deter people from getting froggy on public transport, that's the right way for a civilian to help, I think,” said
Christopher Dailey, a Washington resident interested in potentially volunteering with the Guardian Angels.
Dailey rides the Metro about once a week. He recently heard of the Guardian Angels through social media and saw they were looking for volunteers.
“I've seen increasing reports of violence and harassment on the Metro, particularly against women, and I'm a pretty strong and tall guy, so I'd like to think I'd step in and stop some acts like that, but it's easy to vigilante yourself thinking about it in confrontational terms like that,” Dailey said.
In February, there were a total of 195 arrests at various Metro facilities, including buses, Metro rail, and parking lots, compared to 121 arrests in February a year ago, according to data released by the Metro Transit Police Department.
The MTPD reported 569 total crimes in February, an increase of 125 percent over the previous February. Sixty-five percent of the reported crimes in February happened on the Metro rail system.
Overall, crime in Washington’s transit system decreased during 2020 and 2021, reflecting the height of the COVID pandemic. Over the past year, crime rates have started rising again.
A Guardian Angels patrol usually lasts two-and-a-half hours; volunteers are asked to put in eight hours a month.
The D.C. Guardian Angels' goal is to have 100 volunteers by spring. Those interested in volunteering can contact the Guardian Angels at 202-359-0601.
By YESENIA MONTENEGRO
Capital News Service
Virginia making progress on 55-ft deep channel and becoming the US East Coast’s deepest port
The Port of Virginia® is progressing toward becoming the only US East Coast port with 55-foot-deep channels that are also wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic of ultra-large container vessels.
“It’s an important distinction to have because this sets The Port of Virginia apart from our East Coast peers in a way that cannot be matched,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “In less than a year, we’ll be able to handle two-way traffic of the biggest ships afloat. Having the wide channel allows for consistent vessel flow, it will increase our efficiency and further reduce any downtime at our berths.
“Cargo owners, ocean carriers and logistics providers are closely following our progress. Many of the ocean carriers that call Virginia have new, larger vessels that are coming into service within the next year. We are telling them that they can bring those vessels to Virginia without concern for channel width or overhead draft restrictions. We don’t have any bridges in the Norfolk Harbor.”
The biggest section of the 55-foot project is the Thimble Shoal West Channel and the deepening work there is 99 percent finished with full completion this fall; the Thimble Shoal East Channel is 90 percent complete with full completion coming this spring. When the work on Thimble Shoal East is complete, the first section of the two-way channel will be ready for use.
At that time, the port will work with the Virginia Pilots Association, the US Coast Guard and NOAA to update the region’s navigation charts, rules and buoys to reflect the improved channel.
Edwards said this will provide “the first real navigation benefits” to ocean carriers because there will be an area of the channel open to two-way vessel traffic. The project’s companion widening of Thimble Shoal West is set to begin in this spring with completion in the early fall. When this work is complete, the port will be finished with its share of the deepening and widening project Edwards said.
“In parallel to our effort, our partners in this project, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District office, are making progress on the inner harbor parts of this project,” Edwards said. “The contract for work on the inner harbor has been signed and there is dredge work underway in the Newport News Channel and work on the Norfolk Harbor Channel is scheduled to start by year’s end.
“The Norfolk District has been great partner in this effort and that team is working with a sense of urgency to maintain the momentum that we have going. They have been integral to the success of this project and the end is in sight as a result of our partnership.”
The project’s dredge work began in December 2019, nearly two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule. The port’s preparation for the project, its collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the support of elected officials and the state’s willingness to fully-fund the project ahead of the federal investment were factors behind the early start of construction and ongoing progress, Edwards said.
The work includes dredging the shipping channels to 55 feet – with deeper ocean approaches – and widening them up to 1,400 feet in specific areas. When dredging is complete in 2024, the commercial channels serving the Norfolk Harbor will be able to safely accommodate passage of two, ultra-large container vessels.
The federal government and the port agreed to a 50-50 cost share of the project at its outset in 2015 when the US Army Corps of Engineers began evaluating the economic value of a deeper and wider Norfolk Harbor and commercial shipping channel. The cost of the project is $450 million.
The Virginia Port Authority (VPA) is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The VPA owns and through its private operating subsidiary, Virginia International Terminals, LLC (VIT), operates four general cargo facilities Norfolk International Terminals, Portsmouth Marine Terminal, Newport News Marine Terminal and the Virginia Inland Port in Warren County. The VPA leases Virginia International Gateway and Richmond Marine Terminal. A recent economic impact study from The College of William and Mary shows that The Port of Virginia helps to create more than 437,000 jobs and generated $1 billion in total economic impact throughout the Commonwealth on an annual basis.
Dunkin’ second annual scholarship program to award $125,000 to DMV high school and college students
Dunkin’® and its DMV franchisees today announced the return of its Dunkin’ Regional Scholarship Program which will award $125,000 in scholarships to high school and college students throughout the DMV.
In partnership with Scholarship America®, Dunkin’ will award 50 students throughout the DMV region with a $2,500 academic scholarship to an accredited two- or four-year college, university, or vocational-technical school of their choice in Fall 2023. Dunkin’s DMV Regional Scholarship Program will be available to current part-time and full-time undergraduate students and high school seniors. Recipients will be selected based on their academic record, demonstrated leadership skills, and overall commitment to their school and the local community.
“My fellow Dunkin’ franchisees of the DMV area and I are excited to again recognize hardworking students in our local communities with our second annual Dunkin’ Regional Scholarship Program,” said Parag Patel, DMV-area Dunkin’ Franchisee. “Dunkin’ is dedicated to the local communities that give so much to us. Scholarship recipients exhibit all the qualities of leadership we seek to nurture in young people and Dunkin’ is proud to help them and their families afford the significant investment that higher education represents.”
Applications for the Dunkin’ Regional Scholarship Program will be accepted through April 13, 2023. Applicants must be high school seniors or current undergraduate students who plan to enroll in a part-time or full-time undergraduate course of study at an accredited two-year- or four-year college, university, or vocational-technical school in Fall 2023.
Applicants must reside and/or be currently enrolled in college in one of the below regions to be considered. For more information or to apply, visit learnmore.scholarsapply.org/dunkinbaltimoredc.
Washington, D.C. Counties: Washington, D.C., Charles (MD), Frederick (MD), Montgomery (MD), Prince George’s (MD), St. Mary’s (MD), Washington (MD), Arlington (VA), Clarke (VA), Fairfax (VA), Frederick (VA), Loudoun (VA), Prince William (VA), Shenandoah (VA), Spotsylvania (VA), Stafford (VA), Warren (VA), Berkeley (WV), Jefferson (WV)
Maryland Counties: Anne Arundel (MD), Baltimore (MD), Baltimore City (MD), Calvert (MD), Carroll (MD), Cecil (MD), Harford (MD), Howard (MD), Kent (MD), Queen Anne’s (MD), Talbot (MD)
White House 2023 Christmas Ornament honors President Gerald R. Ford
On Tuesday, the White House Historical Association unveiled its Official 2023 White House Christmas Ornament honoring the 38th president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford.
Each year for President’s Day, the association releases a custom ornament honoring a former president. A team of up to 20 people works on planning and designing the American-made ornaments throughout the year.
“The ornaments serve as a wonderful teaching tool designed to tell the story of the White House during a specific presidency or anniversary,” said Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association. “Through these collectibles, we’ve been able to further our mission to protect, preserve, and provide public access to the rich history of America’s Executive Mansion.”
The 2023 ornament, a three-dimensional wreath, features symbols on the front inspired by the First Lady Betty Ford’s White House decorations that could be recreated on Christmas trees at home, Matthew Costello, senior historian at the White House Historical Association, said.
“One thing that Betty Ford did, and it was reflective of the times, was this old-fashioned, handcrafted Christmas,” Costello said. “This was a feature amongst their Christmas decorations every year that they were at the White House.”
The front of the wreath is adorned with tiny decorations, including dolls, doves, stars, candles, gingerbread men, and red ribbons with “Christmas 2023” and “The White House.”
On the back of the ornament are a series of emblems relating to the life and presidency of Ford and a gold plaque featuring the North Portico of the White House.
A member of the House since 1949, Ford was nominated as vice president by Richard Nixon in 1973 after the resignation of the previous vice president, Spiro Agnew. Ford assumed the presidency ten months later when Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal. Ford was the only president to have never been elected to the office of vice president or president.
Ford is also the only president to become an Eagle Scout, the highest achievable rank in the Boy Scouts of America, an accomplishment that is referenced in the “Troop 15” emblem on the White House ornament.
“Gerald Ford was either one of our most, or our most, athletic presidents,” Costello said. “He played collegiate football at the University of Michigan and was offered contracts to play professionally, but he decided not to and went to law school instead, which was probably a good decision.”
A football with Ford’s jersey number 48 is featured at the top of the ornament’s wreath alongside a line portrait of Liberty, the Ford family’s famous golden retriever, who had a litter of puppies in the White House.
The ornament also features a bicentennial pin commemorating the Ford family’s celebration of the 200-year anniversary of America’s founding and an emblem for the U.S.S. Gerald R Ford, a first-in-class aircraft carrier commissioned to honor the president’s service in the Navy.
“All of these different element emblems tell us a part of the story of who Gerald Ford was and, you know, what he did earlier in his life, and what took place when he was president of the United States,” Costello said.
Costello said proceeds from the ornaments fund the White House Historical Association’s educational work, including a teacher institute and resources, public programming, a web series called “White House History Live,” and research initiatives.
The association is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1961 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
The popular Christmas ornaments date to 1981. That first ornament depicted a flying angel. The next year, the ornament honored George Washington; subsequent ornaments have honored each president in order.
By DESTINY HERBERS
Capital News Service
Wind: 7mph SSE
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