ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) – Hookah smokers in Baltimore County, Maryland, will have to continue to get their puffs in before midnight following a recent decision by a Maryland appeals court that a county ordinance setting a curfew for hookah lounges is constitutional.
In its unanimous 14-page decision issued Nov. 28 in Baddock et al. v Baltimore County, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that the ordinance requiring hookah lounges to close at midnight is a "valid exercise of Baltimore County's police power."
The decision also said that the curfew "was rationally related to public safety concerns, as well as to public health concerns about exposure to tobacco smoke, and therefore did not violate due process."
The decision also recalled the work of 19th century English writer Lewis Carroll.
"In 'Alice in Wonderland,' the blue caterpillar appeared content to smoke a hookah by day," Senior Judge Robert A. Zarnoch wrote in the court's opinion.
"Here, we primarily consider whether legislation requiring hookah lounges to close at midnight violates due process and equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Finding no constitutional or other legal infirmity, we uphold the restriction as a valid exercise of Baltimore County’s police power."
Judge Timothy E. Meredith and Judge Stuart R. Berger concurred in the decision.
Baltimore County does not require other businesses offering "late-night diversions" to observe a midnight curfew, but that doesn't create an arbitrary distinction that would create an equal protection violation, the court decision said.
"Furthermore, we reiterate that a concern for the public safety does not require Baltimore County to 'strike at all evils ... in the same way' by, for instance, requiring all sites that offer late-night entertainment to close at midnight," the decision said.
"Indeed, requiring hookah lounges to close at midnight could very well free up police resources to address safety concerns that arise at the 2 a.m. hour when bars close. The county's restriction rationally advances the legitimate government objective of protecting the citizenry and we do not discern an equal protection violation."