OCEAN CITY – Efforts to amend a smoking ban on the beach and Boardwalk were initiated at a resort committee meeting this week.
In an Ocean City Police Commission meeting Monday, Councilman Wayne Hartman began a discussion on amending the town’s smoking ordinance to include any substance.
Currently, smoking tobacco or vaping is banned along the beach and Boardwalk except within 15 feet of designated smoking areas.
Hartman, however, argued the ordinance should be amended to prohibit smoking any substance, not just tobacco.
“One big thing I see that may be different this year is legal medical marijuana shops nearby,” he said. “Have we put any thought into how that could impact us as a resort? What are we doing about that?”
Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro said those found smoking tobacco or vaping on the beach or Boardwalk are issued a $100 fine. If someone is found to be in possession of marijuana under 10 grams, the first offense is a fine not to exceed $100.
In a separate interview this week, Lindsay Richard, public information officer for the OCPD, said fines for possession of marijuana increase with each offense according to state law, while fines for smoking tobacco or vaping on the beach or Boardwalk can reach $500.
“Our officers have been issuing a fine of $100 for violating the smoking ordinance so right now smoking a cigarette and smoking marijuana has the same exact punishment when done on our beach or boardwalk,” she said.
Buzzuro told the commission that since the state legalized medical marijuana, officers had seen fewer violations.
“We aren’t seeing an issue with people smoking marijuana on the Boardwalk,” he said. “When we do, we address it.”
Hartman questioned if marijuana and other substances could be added to the town’s smoking ordinance and if the town could establish stiffer, or additional, citations for violators.
“Things have changed this year and 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.”
Buzzuro, however, urged the council to consult with City Solicitor Guy Ayres. He said municipalities that exceed state guidelines could be exposed to legal issues.
“There is some risk with that,” he said. “That’s a good question for Guy because there are ramifications when you deviate from what’s established by the state.”
Councilman Dennis Dare, chair of the commission, agreed.
“We can only do as a municipality what is authorized by the state,” he said.
The commission voted unanimously to discuss a possible amendment to the town’s smoking ordinance with the full council and city solicitor at a future work session.
“I think we need to review this in the very near future …,” Hartman said. “To me, the perception is different amongst people and I want to make sure when they are in Ocean City they understand our perception of it.”