Baltimore County Council approves Hookah lounge restrictions

TOWSON, Md. - Hookah lounges in Baltimore County will soon have to close by midnight thanks to legislation passed by the County Council Monday night.

The legislation that passed, supported by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and police Chief Jim Johnson, does not go as far as the administration had hoped, but forces the lounges to close earlier than they do now.

Concerned over crime and rowdiness that sometimes stretched until 4 a.m., Kamenetz had proposed that hookah lounges close at 8 p.m. on weeknights and 9 p.m. on weekends.

The push to regulate hookah lounges in Baltimore County had been building for months.

In October, the County Council voted unanimously to develop reccomendations to regulate the approximately 30 such businesses in the county.

Among incidents of concern is a Feb. 2 shooting at the Fire and Ice Hookah Lounge in Randallstown . The shooting on the 3500 block of Brenbrook Drive injured three people, who were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

In August 2013, a 26-year-old Baltimore man was charged with attempted murder in connection with a double shooting at the 800 block of Guilford Ave. In that case, city police allege Antoine Jordan shot two security guards at the Casablanca Hookah Bar after they denied entrance to the club to a group of men who could not provide identification.

Baltimore County police Chief Jim Johnson said since Jan. 1, his department has responded to 39 calls involving hookah and vapor lounges in communities ranging from Towson and Woodlawn to Wilkins and Randallstown. This has led to 37 arrests, Johnson said.

However, many hookah lounge owners say they have been unfairly targeted due to the actions of a few poorly-run businesses and that most lounges are quiet establishments that have not had any issues with police.

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