Volume XI, Issue 14 ~ April 3-9, 2003

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Dock of the Bay

Maryland Grapples with a Weedy Issue
Marijuana’s still illegal, but it’s a lot less illegal if the toker’s sick

Baltimore County Democrat Del. Dan Morhaim, top left, and Frederick County Republican Sen. David Brinkley, top right, co-sponsored the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act, which would nearly decriminalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, as supported by the proposal’s namesake, decorated Army officer-turned-medi-pot-advocate Darrell Putman, right, who died of cancer in 1999.
The fourth time may prove to be the charm for state lawmakers and patients battling to protect Marylanders who use marijuana therapeutically.

Last week, senators overwhelmingly approved the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act, which enacts a legal distinction between the medicinal and the recreational use of marijuana. The Maryland House of Delegates had already passed the bill by a 73 to 62 vote.

Under the proposal, named for decorated Army officer-turned-medi-pot-advocate Darrell Putman (who died of cancer in 1999), patients who demonstrate at trial that their marijuana use is for a legitimate medical need would face a maximum penalty of a $100 fine and no jail time.

“There’s a subset of patients for which conventional therapy has not worked and for whom smoking marijuana really helps,” explains Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who co-sponsored the bill in the House. A practicing physician for more than 25 years, Morhaim says he’s had patients suffering from diseases such as AIDS and terminal cancer tell him that they’ve experienced symptomatic relief using marijuana. For patients unresponsive to standard medications, marijuana is simply “another tool in the toolbox,” he says.

For Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Tucker of Takoma Park, best known as an attorney in the case of nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood, it’s a tool with proven results. Tucker admitted using the drug therapeutically in 1999 after police found marijuana growing in her home. Since Maryland law made no exception for the medical use of marijuana, Tucker — who used pot to treat the daily migraines and spasms she suffered from as a result of fibromyalgia — eventually pleaded guilty to attempted propagation of marijuana.

Under the proposed law, patients like Tucker would be able to argue their medical use in court. “I hope that our governor signs this legislation so that medical marijuana users will have the right to prove to a judge that his or her illness can be helped by marijuana,” says Tucker. Still, she believes that the proposal is only “a baby step forward in restoring our citizens’ right to use this valuable herbal medicine.”

It’s a baby step that began as no more than a crawl four years ago when a small coalition of lawmakers, led by former Del. Donald Murphy of Catonsville, introduced a broader version of the bill. Last year, delegates passed legislation identical to this year’s measure, but it was defeated by one vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. This year’s measure passed that committee 6 to 5, a feat made possible partly by the defeat of Sen. Tim Ferguson — who cast last year’s deciding vote against the bill after having previously agreed to shepherd it through the committee. In part because of his flip-flop on the medical pot issue, Ferguson lost last fall’s primary to Sen. David Brinkley. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican who was diagnosed with cancer in 1989, is a longtime supporter of medicinal marijuana reform and a co-sponsor of this year’s Senate bill.

Brinkley says he backs the law change from “a patient’s perspective,” adding that the limited use of medicinal marijuana under a doctor’s supervision “just makes sense.

“When you have seriously ill patients forced to make decisions about their health treatment, do we want our drug laws to be particularly harsh if they or their doctor thinks this substance can help them?” he asks.

Brinkley last week argued on the Senate floor that he’d witnessed “a lot of sick people” benefit from medicinal marijuana, and that these patients “aren’t the people we want to prosecute.”

Other senate proponents told similarly personal tales, including Prince George’s County Democrat Nathaniel Exum, who recounted how his 25-year-old daughter died from cancer in 1993. “If we could have gotten her marijuana, we would have done that for her,” he said.

Though the bill is not out of the woods yet, early indications are that Gov. Robert Ehrlich will back the bill, despite pressure from Bush administration ‘drug czar’ John Walters, who has publically criticized the measure as “irresponsible” and “immoral.”

In January, the governor publicly stated his support for the medical use of marijuana, adding that the issue holds “personal” significance to him. “We saw a very, very strong person taken down inch by inch” by cancer, Ehrlich said concerning a relative whom he declined to identify. As a congressman, Ehrlich backed legislation that sought to allow physicians to legally prescribe medicinal marijuana. He’s yet to take a specific position on the Darrell Putman bill, but he has indicated that he’s leaning toward signing it.

— Paul Scott Armentano

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Fill an Empty Bowl — and Benefit
Calvert Ecumenical Council Sells Soup for Homeless Sake

photo by Linda Foran
Windy Hill Middle School students Tiffany Sanders, Alex Sita, Sarah Xinis and Lauren Schwencer display the bowls they picked at last year’s Empty Bowl Supper.
Your bowl will runneth over if you come to Calvert County’s Empty Bowl Supper.

First, you’ll savor as many bowls of good soup as you can hold, from cream of crab to chili to turkey stew to vegetarian vegetable. Not to mention Mama Lucia’s good bread plus sheet cakes served up from Jeneva’s Cakes and chocolate pies from CD Cafe.

Last year over 200 bowls were served. This year the organizers are expecting soup eaters to reach 400.

Second, you’ll be donating money to two organizations that care for the homeless. Of the money raised, 85 percent goes to the programs Project ECHO and the Calvert County Interfaith Development Coalition to feed and aid the homeless through maintaining homes, bringing in tutors and teaching driving and learning parenting classes. Social workers oversee the range of support services.

“The Empty Bowl Supper is a chance for people to fill the plates of others,” said Linda Foran, a director of Calvert County Interfaith Development Coalition and Project ECHO, the Ecumenical Council for the Homeless.

This supper also makes the point that small and rural as it is, Calvert County does indeed have homeless people. “When I joined the two boards of director, it was a surprise that there was a problem. You don’t see people sleeping on grates,” said Linda Foran.

Project ECHO gives emergency shelter to those in need in its 25-bed house in Prince Frederick. But its larger purpose is to help people get back on their feet. Hundreds of volunteers help people move out of the emergency shelter, which has a maximum residency of 90 days, into “transitional housing,” with reduced rent and training in self-sufficiency. The formerly homeless are taught life skills such as goal setting, budgeting, bill paying and home management and maintenance.

As if having a hand in all that weren’t enough, suppers get to take home the bowl.

The ‘empty’ bowls are all made of ceramic clay, stoneware and earthenware. On average, they’re the same size as a typical cereal bowl, but among these bowls there is no average. Each is unique. Shapes and colors are as various as imagination, and some even have handles. All bowls are handmade by local potters — Pottery Plus, Barefoot Potters and Shepherd’s Hands Potters — and students from Calvert and Northern high schools, Northern and Windy Hill middle schools and the Calverton School.

“Everybody has got to give back something to the community, and this is my way to do that,” said Sherry Spickes, counselor at Northern High School. “Making pottery is also something that I love to do,” added Spickes, who created 50 bowls in her spare time.

Over 15 caterers, restaurants and local businesses contribute to the supper, while Kaine Communities and the Southern Maryland Islamic Center sponsor the event.

Fill your bowl 5 to 8pm Saturday, April 5, at the fourth annual Empty Bowl Supper at St. John Vianney Church Hall, Prince Frederick: 410/286-0396.

— James Clemenko

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Does Galesville Need Another Bar?
No, says West River Improvement Association

They grilled him as well done as if he’d been a cabinet secretary — says Lynn Buhl — under fire by the Maryland Senate. To the West River Improvement Association, just as big a deal as a gubernatorial appointment was businessman and aspiring restaurateur Charles ‘Nick’ Bassford’s application to hold a third liquor license in the Southern Anne Arundel County village of Galesville.

Galesville, which claims 363 residents and twice that number of boats, already supports three liquor licenses. Pirates Cove, which extends outdoors with Big Mary’s Dock Bar in summer, is the only one of the three licensed establishments not under Bassford’s control. Through limited partnerships, he holds the liquor licenses at Topside Inn, which includes a package store, and Steamboat Landing.

photo by Deborah Bell
Woodfields, a historic fish house turned ice house, will soon become a crabhouse and Galesville’s newest restaurant — with or without a liquor license.
Those three restaurants form a triangle at Galesville’s face on the West River. They also equate to one liquor license for every 95 Galesville citizens 18 or older. A fourth liquor license would lower the ratio to one license for every 72 adults.

The county-wide comparison is one license for every 664 Anne Arundel citizens 18 or older.

“In new liquor licenses, community need is a factor the commissioners consider,” according to county liquor control board clerk Tom Eckert. Population studies are often presented in support or rebuttal of applications.

Three is enough for Galesville, citizens argued when, a week before his hearing at the liquor control board, Bassford presented his case at the board meeting of the West River Improvement Association.

Rather than the usual “three or four” spectators, association president Peter Olsen welcomed a standing-room-only crowd to the Galesville Community Hall.

Acknowledging that he was nervous coming before so big a crowd, Bassford, of Davidsonville, drew on his rural heritage. “I’m a farmer at heart,” he said. “I live on the same farm I was born on.”

Then the 65-year-old owner of Annapolis Seafood Market and Rips described his plans to revitalize Woodfields, a historic Galesville fish house that moved into the ice business when the Bay’s bounty failed. Approved by the county and under construction, Bassford said, is a 140-seat outdoor-indoor crabhouse, accessible by Tenthouse Creek and Woodfield Road, with parking for 119 cars and a loading area for crab boats that doubles as tie-up space for customers arriving by boat. Secondary businesses include 18 rental slips and package ice and liquor sales plus an expanded seafood market.

Promising “no wet T-shirts, hosing down the girls or a whole lot of horseplay,” Bassford said his plans included steamed crabs, shore dinners, a seasonal business with 11pm closing and carry-out liquor only for customers.

Still, one or another item in the combination riled many of the two dozen questioners who grilled Bassford.

And finally, after Olsen ended Bassford’s hour under fire, the combination proved too much for the board. They voted to oppose the license.

“The board was very concerned in discussion later to find considerable inconsistencies in facts in the license application and what conveyed orally,” said Olsen.

On April 8, Bassford and his partner William Woodfield present their application for a Class B liquor license at Woodfields to the Anne Arundel County liquor control board. The community, which has rented a bus, has promised to reply.


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Winter Birds Fly Away
What January Waterfowl Survey counted, spring has rousted

March is a time of transitions. Along the Bay shore, snow and ice have given way to high tides and variable temperatures. Since the tundra swans took off the week the attack on Iraq began, air traffic out of Andrews Air Force Base 20 miles to our west is the most prominent sound over Herring Bay.

Today, there is only the slap of surf against sand and rocks.

Back in January, the annual waterfowl survey taken from the air by Maryland Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated 15,100 tundra swans in Maryland. Just before the storms of mid-March, Fairhaven numbered near 100 of the gregarious birds in the shelter of the salt marsh.

original scratchboard illustration by Gary Pendleton
Now the tundra swans are gone. Two mute swans share the marsh with six dozen scaup, small dabblers with white backs sandwiched between dark head and tail. In January, says DNR there were 66,600 scaup ducks in Maryland waters. That’s almost 100,000 less than last year. It’s likely the crust of ice and snow on shallow waters sent the ducks farther south, but the survey was hampered by more than weather.

Not only scaup but the statewide population of waterfowl dropped in 2003, when 798,000 birds were counted, down from 919,000 birds in 2002.

Though fluctuations in count are expected, this year brought new challenges for the survey. Airspace restrictions were and are in place along the Potomac and Patuxent rivers and along Aberdeen Proving Ground on the upper Western Shore of the Bay, all favorite waterfowl haunts.

Today, not waterfowl but still an eater of fish, the large-headed belted kingfisher showed up alone, as always looking like a magic creature out of mythology. A male, boldly marked in blue-gray with white, startled up out of the dry grasses on the marsh edge. Bushy-crested, he threatened both onlooker and fish with sharp beak and harsh rattling cry.

Over on the Bay, two brown-and-white osprey returned from winter travels, proving that spring has arrived. The pair rose in tandem from their nest a dozen yards out in the shallow water. Matching wing-beats, they scoured the water for their usual fish meal.

Closer in, a dozen chubby buffleheads dove for fish. DNR counted 13,100 of the black-and-white ducks with the distinctive large white-patched heads. As I watched, they lifted off, displaying white wing-patches as well. Any sounds were lost in the pound of the surf. Weather is changing, temperature dropping. Rain is predicted. Winter birds and waterfowl fly away. Spring arrives on wings of hope.

Find Maryland Midwinter Waterfowl Survey results at www.dnr.state.md.us.

—Sonia Linebaugh

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Way Downstream …

In Virginia, a Richmond pet dealer must have been hibernating during the snakehead furor in Anne Arundel County last year. A manager of the Pet Club was charged last week with possession and attempting to sell a Cobra Snakehead, the Washington Times reported …

On the Eastern Shore, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest is requesting $1.5 million in federal money to begin developing a fast-ferry service that would operate between Crisfield and Reedville, Va. The money would be spent on acquiring land, carving out a parking lot and designing the ferry terminal …

In New Jersey, the war on ‘McMansions’ is getting hot. Included in the state’s new Blueprint for Intelligent Growth is a provision allowing towns to bill developers for school additions if new subdivisions bring more students. Angry developers say they’re being demonized, the Bergen Record reports …

Our Creature Feature comes from Iraq where, it seems, more and more animals are being conscripted into hazardous duty. You’ve probably heard about the dolphins searching for land mines in harbors and the Marines’ sentinel chickens on guard for chemical and biological weapons.

Now, Morocco is offering to send coalition forces 2,000 monkeys trained in detonating land mines, UPI reports. No word on whether they’ve already sent a few to Washington to run the war.

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Last updated April 3, 2003 @ 1:57am