By John Bleiweis
The approval of legislation that will allow a Guinness brewery and tourist attraction in Relay and concern about the state's medical marijuana licensing system were among top issues facing Catonsville and Arbutus area legislators as the 2017 Maryland General Assembly came to a close this week.
Bills approved in the final days of the legislative session will permit production breweries — including the proposed Guinness facility — to sell significantly more beer in their in-house taprooms, and some of that beer could be produced off-site. In exchange, taprooms at new breweries would have limited hours.
Diageo, the parent of Guinness, announced plans in January to build a $50 million brewery and taproom in the former Seagram's bottling plant on Route 1 near Relay. Guinness expects the facility, which would be its only U.S. brewery, to draw 250,000 visitors in its first year.
Negotiations on the bill went on for weeks among Diageo; the Brewers Association of Maryland, which represents independent brewers; the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association; and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars and liquor stores.
"It was a real balance to strike," said Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat who represents District 12, an area that includes Catonsville, Arbutus, Baltimore Highlands and Lansdowne. "We recognized the importance of bringing Diageo here and recognized the importance of keeping existing businesses viable."
Legislators credited Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, a District 12 Democrat, for bringing parties together in the days before the bill's approval.
"It's a tremendous acquisition and a win for Baltimore County and for us locally," Kasemeyer said.
The District 44-B delegation, which represents parts of Catonsville and Woodlawn, expressed disappointment about no action regarding a lack of diversity in the newly formed medical marijuana-growing license system.
Despite a state law calling for regulators to consider racial diversity when giving out the 15 preliminary licenses last year, none were awarded to minority-owned businesses.
"It's unacceptable in 2017 to have a new industry to be shut out that way," said Del. Pat Young, a Democrat.
Del. Charles Sydnor said the lack of minority participation in what he called a fledgling and lucrative industry was major. The bill was being voted on in the House when the clock struck midnight Tuesday, April 11, and the General Assembly was required by law to adjourn, he said.
"To come out of the session with everyone knowing this was a big priority and it ended the way it did, that left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths," said Sydnor, a Democrat.
Democratic Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Sydnor said it was a top priority of the Legislative Black Caucus to ensure there was more diversity among the group of growers. They both support the call for a special one-day session to address the issue.