Ocean City Today

Smoking ban could expand

Apr 12, 2018

(April 13, 2018) With medical cannabis dispensaries opening in northern Worcester County, Ocean City will examine the legal ramifications of expanding the Boardwalk smoking ordinance to include non-tobacco combustibles.

Councilman Wayne Hartman broached the subject during the Police Commission meeting on Monday.

“The big thing that …  may be different this year is medical marijuana shops nearby,” he said. “Have we put any thought into how that could impact us as a resort.”

Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said adhering to state guidelines are advisable in most instances

“When you deviate from what has been established by the state … there could be some legal issues,” he said.

While Ocean City issues $100 fines for smoking tobacco products or vaping on the Boardwalk, Buzzuro said a comparable infraction involving cannabis could garner a maximum fine of $100 for possession of less than 10 grams. Technically, however, it is not prohibited by the smoking ordinance.

“It’s a civil citation that’s enforceable by a fine that … doesn’t exceed $100 for the first offense,” he said. “It does rise beyond that [for subsequent offenses.]”

Councilman Dennis Dare said the smoking ordinance needs clearer delineation.

“I think a lot of it comes down to the definition,” he said. “If you go up and smoke parsley on the Boardwalk does it violate the ordinance?”

Hartman asked if decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis in Maryland warrants a reaction from Ocean City.

“Do we need to amend our smoking policy to include marijuana or do we need to have a separate ordinance for marijuana?” he said.

Buzzuro said law enforcement agencies have experienced few concerns since Maryland relaxed cannabis regulations for personal use.

“I have to say candidly for decriminalization we’re seeing minimal issues that have resulted from it,” he said. “Violations have dropped considerably, which has also allowed us to focus on other priorities.”

Law enforcement remains attentive to possession of larger amounts, or sales of cannabis, Buzzuro said.

“Those are still criminal violations which we continue to enforce,” he said. “On the bigger scale we’re still addressing the issue … but it’s more about those who are supplying.”

Despite those reassurances, Hartman said the topic should be examined prior to the deluge of summer tourists this year.

“I think we need to be proactive and think ahead to protect our family-friendly beach and Boardwalk,” he said. “If it’s true that our smoking ordinance may have a hole in it, I think we need to fix it.”

From his perspective, Buzzuro has not detected a recent rash of cannabis consumption on the Boardwalk.

“We’re not having a problem right now,” he said. “When we do, we address it.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight asked if medicinal cannabis use would be exempted from public use restrictions.

“Medical marijuana cannot be smoked in public,” Buzzuro said.

Regardless of legal permissions, Dare said the smoking ban was designed to accommodate nonsmokers.

“We made it illegal to smoke on the Boardwalk and the beach because of it being offensive to other people,” he said.

Buzzuro suggested consulting with City Solicitor Guy Ayres to ascertain what legal remedies might be available.

“When you go above what the state is, there are issues,” he said. “There are challenges in court and other legal precedents.”

Hartman made a motion, which was seconded by Knight, to seek advice from Ayres about amending the smoking ordinance. The council will revisit the discussion during a work session.

“The perception of it is different amongst some people and I want to make sure when they are in Ocean City they understand our perception of it,” he said.

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