Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 7, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 7, 2023

Over the last few weeks, the Ocean City Police Department has carried out a commendable education campaign as a result of the Cannabis Reform Act taking effect July 1. Topics covered during the social media campaign touched on growing cannabis at home, driving under the influence, selling it, smoking in public and the amount a person can legally carry without a worry. There were some funny moments in the campaign, including a “puff puff pass” graphic on the topic of legally sharing cannabis with people over the age of 21 as well as a doctored image of a stoned Cheech and Chong on an image associated with the “can I drive under the influence of cannabis?” question.

There are numerous interesting aspects from the reform bill, but one I am going to be following is the impact on law enforcement and vehicle searches. Numerous weapons and other drugs are routinely recovered by police during traffic stops when officers notice the smell of burning marijuana. In just the last month, before July 1, there were more than 10 instances when burning marijuana led to police searching a vehicle and recovering drugs, guns and other weapons and in some cases, individuals wanted in other states.

OCPD Deputy Communications Manager Ashley Miller touched on the subject this week, saying, “Another change is Maryland House Bill 1071 prohibits a law enforcement officer from initiating a stop or search of a person, motor vehicle, or vessel based solely on the specified types of cannabis-related evidence. In addition, it prohibits a law enforcement officer from searching specified areas of a motor vehicle or vessel during an investigation of a person solely for driving a motor vehicle or vessel while impaired by or under the influence of cannabis.”

As I was driving back to the office on Tuesday after taking pictures at the hot dog eating contest at Fish Tales – the winner put back 11 in 10 minutes, for what it’s worth — the scene north of the Route 50 Bridge caught my eye. Thousands of people and hundreds of boats were enjoying the beautiful day on the sandbars during an exceptionally low tide afternoon on a hot and dry holiday.

Though common to see people on the sandbars during the summer, I have never seen it so crowded. I have some perspective on this, having lived for many summers along the bay on Edgewater Avenue. Photos from the day are on the newspaper’s Facebook page as well as on page 74 in the print edition.

It was interesting to observe the scene from the Route 50 Bridge but especially so from the marsh north of Hooper’s. As I walked back to grab some photos, there was a huge police presence in the form of Maryland State Police and Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Several people were being arrested while others were being warned by officers on boats to get back to shore. Basic observations revealed underage drinking was rampant and authorities were looking to crack down on people wading from shore out to the sand bar. At least one woman was in handcuffs and dealing with an abrasion on her leg. On this particular day, the scene was chaotic for marine authorities.

What a year it has been for Knupp family members, as they and members of the community gather next week to mark the one-year anniversary of 14-year-old Gavin’s death. In many ways, it seems like the incident was longer than one year ago because of the length of the investigation and the long wait for charges in the case.

On the legal front, things are going to get interesting soon. As expected, the defense for the motorist behind the wheel in the fatal crash has requested a change of venue due to pre-trial publicity preventing a fair trial, pointing to media reports but largely the threads on the Do It For Gavin-Justice For Gavin Facebook page. The state has argued against the change of venue. A motions hearing is planned for Aug. 18 when a retired judge from Dorchester County is expected to weigh in on the request and determine whether the jury trial set for Sept. 11-14 will continue in Snow Hill.

While I hope the case is not kicked to another county, there is precedent for high-profile cases in Worcester County being moved. For example, the trials of convicted murderers Benjamin and Erika Sifrit were relocated after the brutal 2022 slayings of two tourists in a north Ocean City condominium unit.

Though high-profile trials are often relocated from the origin of the incidents, there are also recent examples when judges have been less inclined to move trials out of their home counties. It seems some judges are not moved by social media activity as a reason to move a trial. In the Knupp case, while there has been a solid amount of standard journalism articles, much of the vitriol and passion has come from the Facebook page and the most umbrage is from the northern end of the county. Traditional news media coverage has not been overly intense because for months there was nothing to report on the matter. It’s the social media comments that have been beyond the norm, but the passion comes with understanding. A young local teen died, and it took months for charges to be filed against another local A certain amount of angst is understandable.

In this case, a change of venue request was expected, and it could truly go either way in my opinion.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.