Montgomery County Enacts Legislation to Restrict Hours for Hookah Lounges and Vape Shops to Support Public Safety

The Montgomery County Council voted to enact Expedited Bill 3-24, Late Night Establishments – Hours of Operation, which will force hookah lounges and vape shops to operate during the same hours as businesses that serve alcohol. The aim of the bill is to reduce late night crime in Montgomery County’s central business districts. According to the bill, “these establishments may only allow patrons to smoke, vape or use hookah pipes on Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.; on Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m.; and on Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. or from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m., if the following day is a federal holiday.”

Per the news release: The Montgomery County Council voted to enact Expedited Bill 3-24, Late Night Establishments – Hours of Operation, which would define a hookah lounge, set restrictions on the operating hours for certain late-night establishments and establish penalties for a violation.

The legislation, led by Council Vice President Kate Stewart and Councilmembers Gabe Albornoz and Evan Glass, will align the hours of operation for hookah lounges, smoke shops and vape shops to mirror those of establishments that serve alcohol.

“Today we are advancing policy to improve both public safety and public health for our community,” Council Vice President Stewart said. “Over the course of the last year, we have met with residents and small business owners, especially those in close proximity to lounges that are operating between midnight and 7 a.m. This bill creates parity with other late-night establishments, such as bars and those serving alcohol, with a set a closing time.”

“This is a challenge that is not going away,” Councilmember Albornoz said. “We don’t have the infrastructure in place to be able to carry out these types of activities and they are creating more problems than they are solving. Councilmember Stewart and her staff spent countless hours engaging numerous stakeholders who want to see their businesses thrive and their neighborhoods remain safe. Unlike late night public safety bills introduced in neighboring jurisdictions with much stricter requirements on hookah lounges, Bill 3-24 allows the lounges’ late-night operations to continue with minimal interruption. I am pleased to be a lead sponsor of Bill 3-24 along with Council Vice President Stewart and Councilmember Glass.”

“Montgomery County’s downtown areas have seen nightlife flourish over the past decade, and it is our responsibility to ensure that patrons and visitors are able to safely enjoy it,” said Councilmember Glass. “By aligning the hours of late-night businesses throughout the County, we will be able to decrease the number of emergency service calls, reduce the burden on our police officers and increase community safety.”

Expedited Bill 3-24 is the latest measure aimed at improving late night public safety in central business districts. Additional efforts include increased police presence, added security cameras and lighting, and the new Drone as First Responder (DFR) Program.

The bill sets certain days and time for the hours of operation for hookah lounges, tobacco shops and vape shops. As outlined by the bill, these establishments may only allow patrons to smoke, vape or use hookah pipes on Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.; on Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m.; and on Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. or from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m., if the following day is a federal holiday.

An owner that operates after the permitted hours would be subject to Class A penalty – $500 for the initial offense and $750 for a repeated offense. Each day the violation occurs is considered a separate offense. This expedited legislation will take effect once County Executive Elrich signs the bill.

Councilmembers Dawn Luedtke, Sidney Katz, Natali Fani-González, Marilyn Balcombe and Council President Andrew Friedson are cosponsors. View the full staff report.

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