OC Smoking Ban Could Be Expanded To Include Pot

OCEAN CITY — The proliferation of medical marijuana along with decriminalization of possession of weed for personal consumption has resort officials scratching their heads on just how it fits into the town’s smoking ordinance, but there appears to be a solution.

At a recent Ocean City Police Commission meeting, it was brought up the town’s no smoking ordinance as written had some gaps in it with regard to smoking marijuana and vaping in certain public areas including the beach and Boardwalk except in designated areas. City Manager Doug Miller was tasked with exploring ways to address the gaps involving marijuana and vaping.

With assistance from staff, Miller explored the ordinances of other jurisdictions around the country to determine how they are handling the same issue.

“We have two issues we want to address with regards to smoking on the beach and Boardwalk that we want to address,” Miller said. “The first is many times when we cite somebody for vaping, they say they aren’t smoking, they are vaping and there is a difference currently in terms of enforcement.”

The second, and perhaps larger, issue is how best to handle the otherwise legal smoking of marijuana in public places such as the beach and Boardwalk.

“More recently, the police commission had a concern about the decriminalization of marijuana and that a person smoking tobacco can be fined more than a person smoking marijuana. The police commission asked that we expedite our current regulations, which we have,” Miller said.

Miller explained staff had found an ordinance from San Mateo, Calif. That expands a no smoking ordinance to include vaping and cannabis. If approved, cannabis and vaping would be added to the title of the town’s ordinance and definitions would be included in the definitions section.

Councilman Matt James said simply adding cannabis and vaping to the existing ordinance might not cover the entire gamut of what could be smoked or not smoked.

“I brought this up the last time we discussed this,” he said. “I still think it would be easier if we said no smoking of anything. If they can’t smoke anything, they can’t smoke anything. Something new is going to come up and we’ll have to change it again. It might be some kind of chemically-engineered substance.”

James appears to have a good point. In 2010, synthetic marijuana products such as Salvia and K2, for example, were readily available in many Boardwalk stores. Town officials ultimately passed ordinances banning Salvia and similar synthetic hallucinogenic substances when the proliferated in the resort area. However, Miller pointed to a section in the proposed ordinance change that appears to cover the smoking of any substances in areas where smoking is prohibited.

“It is the intent of the Mayor and Council to protect the public from involuntary exposure to environmental tobacco, nicotine or cannabis smoke and vapor in certain areas open to the public,” the amended ordinance reads.

Nonetheless, James could not be dissuaded from his argument.

“Why not just say smoking?” he said. “If they are smoking a pencil, that’s still smoking. Right now, if they are smoking something not listed, they are all clear and good to go. A blanket ‘no smoking’ coves everything they want to do. Does that make sense to everybody else?”

After some debate, the council voted unanimously, with Councilman John Gehrig absent, to bring the proposed ordinance change back to the full council for a first-reading vote on Monday.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.