June 30, 2023

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

This has been a bad week at the Supreme Court. Three different decisions have attacked the fundamental principles of justice, fairness and equity. It is breathtaking how quickly the extremist majority on the Court is taking away rights we often didn’t realize were in jeopardy.

The decision prohibiting using race as a consideration of college admission destroys an important part of efforts to erase long-term inequalities that stem from a legacy of racism in our country. Undoing this discrimination, which was consciously and deliberately imposed on the Black population, required and still requires deliberate action and that was the point of affirmative action.

We know that from this country’s inception Black people growing up in this country have not had equal access to education, job opportunities, homeownership and more. In my own lifetime, I have certainly witnessed the unfair treatment and consequences. It is outrageous for the Supreme Court to pretend that all the inequality and its effects have all been solved.

A second decision has reinforced and supported discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, a disturbing and ironic occurrence on the last day of our celebrating June as Pride month. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “The immediate, symbolic effect of the decision is to mark gays and lesbians for second-class status.”

A third ruling has left millions of young adults who have survived the pandemic and inflation facing unnecessary financial hardship from enormous student loans.

These decisions by the Supreme Court do not reflect the sentiments and sensibilities of Montgomery County residents. Unfortunately, the reality is that the Court’s decisions will have ramifications on the lives of Montgomery County residents, businesses, students, and educational institutions and will be felt for generations.

We will continue to seek and provide opportunities for individuals and groups who have been historically and systemically disadvantaged. This makes all of us better. I am reminded by these terrible decisions how fortunate I am to be County Executive of a County where residents value and embrace our diversity and fight for justice and equality.

Recreational Cannabis Legalization

Starting July 1, the State law pertaining to cannabis use in the Maryland will be changing. Some existing medical marijuana dispensaries have received approval from the State to convert to sell marijuana recreationally beginning on Saturday.

We want everyone to be aware of what will be legal and what is not allowed. The rules around cannabis are specific and nuanced. It is going to take a deliberate effort for everyone to understand the parameters around its use. Here is a link to a state-issued FAQ developed by the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA).

In coordination with the MCA, we are embarking on a comprehensive public education campaign that will continue for the next several months. Even though the sale and use of marijuana will be legal for adults over 21, there are still laws in place restricting smoking in public, prohibiting driving under the influence of marijuana and other activities. The quantities of marijuana an individual can purchase are limited to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis, or a total amount of edible cannabis products that does not exceed 750 mg THC. And each household may only cultivate a maximum of two plants per home, no matter how many adults live in the residence.

We are still awaiting further details from the State about the distribution process moving forward, the awarding of licenses to distribute, and how we can regulate on-site consumption licenses.

We anticipate that legalization may lead to some complaints about neighbors or people smoking in public.

So, who should you call to complain about the smell of cannabis?

If you rent you should contact your landlord, then the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Homeowners who have complaints about the smell of marijuana from neighbors, should go directly to DHCA and you can reach them via 311.

Please do not call 911 for these types of concerns. The 911 number is for emergencies.

This is new territory for us, and I want to be clear: even though adults have the right to use marijuana, there are important restrictions, including regarding children.

I do not want cannabis dispensaries to aggressively advertise and market their products. We need to prevent predatory advertising aimed at children. We do not want to go down the road of tobacco and alcohol marketing where large companies prioritized profits over the health of our communities. We do not want promotion of marijuana to follow the pattern of what happened with cigarettes and alcohol where the use of those substances was glamorized and encouraged.

I have long supported the legalization of marijuana. Prohibition of marijuana has led to racial disparities in our justice system with Black people more than three and a half times more likely to be locked up because of marijuana use than White people, even though usage rates have been similar. One of the great tragedies is that the criminal record acquired for possessing marijuana, became the basis for denying access to work and educational opportunities. In effect it created a lifetime penalty and profoundly impacted a person’s ability to find work and/or housing.

I saw firsthand that when White teens were caught with marijuana. Teachers, or even police, would confiscate it, but they were not arrested for possession, and it never went on anybody’s record. However, I was all too aware that Blacks teens were often treated differently if they were caught. This inequity in enforcing the law existed 50 years ago and still exists to this day.

I talked about this issue and several others during a live TV interview this week, which you can see here. Please remember cannabis should be used legally, responsibly and within the possession limits established by state law.

For more information on adult-use cannabis, visit the Maryland Cannabis Administration website at mmcc.maryland.gov.

Rent Stabilization Compromise

This week brought a compromise from the County Council on rent stabilization measures. Two competing measures were introduced at the same time earlier this year. I am willing to support the amended bill that came out of committee. Providing renters legal protections against rent gouging is urgently needed as we are hearing about huge rent increases throughout the County.

The compromise would limit rent hikes to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) plus 3 percent and capped at 6 percent.

Rent prices have continued to rise. In the Washington area, they rose 5.8 percent from a year ago while overall inflation for a comparable time was 3.1 percent. Nationally, rents have increased more than 20 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. The bill that passed gives a comfortable margin for property owners to keep up with maintenance, make needed repairs and get a return on their investment while also addressing rent gouging.

I encourage the Council to finalize this legislation and pass it as soon as possible, too many renters are counting on us to help keep them in their homes for us to delay any longer.

WSSC Amnesty Extended Through July

WSSC is extending its “Get Current” water/sewer bill amnesty program through the end of July. It was set to end in June. Please contact the water company now if you're behind on payments to avoid losing your water. You must apply to WSSC to take advantage of the “Get Current” program. Customers earning up to 150 percent of the area median income for our area could qualify for assistance.

WSSC says it has already started temporary suspensions for overdue accounts and permanent shut offs begin on July 5. The thought of residents losing their water and incurring unnecessary expenses to get it flowing again is an upsetting prospect. I do not want to see families suffer this way, especially during the summer when more people and children are at home. Visit wsscwater.com/getcurrent to learn more.

County Minimum Wage on the Rise

July 1 will also bring higher pay for many people here in Montgomery County. When I was a County Councilmember, I was proud to lead the two fights to raise the minimum wage, and it’s great to see it going into action, including annual adjustments for inflation.

Starting on the 1st of the month, large employers with staff of at least 51 people will be required to pay employees $16.70 an hour. Mid-sized employers with staff of more than 10 and up to 50 will pay be required to pay employees $15 per hour. Smaller companies will have to raise pay to $14.50 an hour on July 1.

The minimum wage for that last group of workers will rise to $15 in six months because of action by the General Assembly that raises the statewide minimum to $15 in January.

The increase in our minimum wage was a collective effort. I especially appreciate the Governor’s leadership at the State level, and I am appreciative of the coalition of labor, elected officials, business leaders and community organizations that supported it.

Welcoming New Leaders for Housing, Corrections

I want to welcome our two newest leaders to Montgomery County Government. This week, the County Council approved my nominations of Scott Bruton to lead the County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs and Ben Stevenson to lead the County’s Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.

Scott came to the County six months ago and served as Deputy Director, and then acting director of DHCA. Dr. Bruton brings a lot of real-world experience to his new role. At the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development in Washington, D.C. he was able to advocate for increases of nearly $2 billion dollars in local funding for affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs since 2016. He will be an important part of our work with tenants, developers and government leaders to help us address our affordable housing crisis.

Ben has 27 years of experience in Montgomery County’s DOCR. He helped guide the jail and reentry program through challenges presented by COVID-19 while overseeing Community Corrections and Medical and Behavioral Services. He has institutional knowledge that will help us better manage our services and we appreciate his willingness to serve.

Saying Goodbye to Chief Goldstein

Today is Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein’s final day with us. For those of you who have not heard, he will retire from MCFRS and take a new role as chief in Kelso, Wash., closer to his wife’s family.

I have thanked him for his long and dedicated service to our County. He started as a Kensington volunteer in 1987, worked his way into leadership roles and has served as our chief for the last eight years. He is helped guide us through some major challenges while also expanding, improving and innovating MCFRS. We wish him and his family the best.

Happy 4th of July

On Tuesday, we will all pause to recognize the 4th of July. Some of you will join the millions of people on the move for the holiday, while others will welcome family and friends to enjoy time here in Montgomery County.

There are many wonderful ways to mark Independence Day across the Washington region, but I want to highlight a couple of free events that we celebrate every year. The first is Mid-County Sparkles at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington on Saturday, July 1. Festivities, including live music from Ocho de Bastos and an Earth, Wind and Fire tribute band, will start around 6 p.m. with a fireworks show planned for around 9. The only parking available on-site will be for individuals with disabilities. Free parking and shuttle service will be provided starting at 5:30 p.m. from Westfield Wheaton mall.

On Tuesday, July 4, the Germantown Glory at South Germantown Recreational Park gets started at 7 p.m. A concert by Forever Tina, a tribute band honoring the late queen of rock and roll, Tina Turner, will be held before fireworks get started around 9:15 p.m. Lawn chairs, blankets and coolers are welcome at both events. There will be food vendors at both locations. Alcoholic beverages and pets are not permitted.

I would like to thank everyone at Montgomery Recreation for their work on these and other events as well as sponsors like the Maryland Soccerplex, Montgomery Parks and Westfield Wheaton. I know there will be many community celebrations over the next several days from Montgomery Village to Takoma Park to Friendship Heights bringing neighbors together.

Let’s all have fun, be safe and remember fireworks of all kinds are illegal in Montgomery County. The reason is because, every year, hundreds of children nationwide are permanently disfigured because of burns from fireworks. Snap and pop noise makers, snakes or party poppers are the only exceptions to the ban. Learn more about staying safe this holiday by visiting the MCFRS tips page.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive