Concerns over marijuana smoke often wafting over the Boardwalk last summer were discussed again this week, although the discussion was long on identifying the problem and short on solutions.
This is a tricky situation all around. For one thing, possession of a personal amount of marijuana is essentially decriminalized in Maryland and users have become more and more emboldened about lighting up in public areas. In addition, medical marijuana in all its forms is legal in Maryland. It’s not a bad thing because of its many medicinal benefits, and more and more people are acquiring their medical marijuana permit cards from physicians. As a result, on some night, it was difficult to tell the difference between the Boardwalk from Haight-Ashbury on some days.
The issue has been discussed multiple times this year, and Ocean City Councilman John Gehrig broached the topic during a larger discussion of expanding the police force Tuesday.
“I don’t care if it’s CBD or medical marijuana, there is no reason to smoke medical marijuana,” Gehrig said. “If somebody is stressed out and needs some marijuana, they can eat a gummy bear or something. … “We need to get rid of the smoke. It’s affecting what we’re trying to do here. We have to enforce what we have and we have to work with the state on something. I know how hard it is, but if it smells like marijuana, it’s marijuana in the public’s eyes.”
That public perception is what concerns Gehrig the most.
“We need to beat that somehow because it’s bad,” he said. “I don’t take my kids anywhere where we have to walk through marijuana. Somehow, we have to enforce it. We need a task force on marijuana because that went to a new level this year. This can destroy our family image. We have to start working on a plan for how we are going to attack pot.”
During the police commission meeting in July, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said it wasn’t as easy as simply writing a citation. He noted the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana was decriminalized in Maryland and that it was difficult to differentiate marijuana from CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant.
“We have seen an increase in marijuana and marijuana activity on the Boardwalk,” he said at the time. “What can get confusing at times is the CBD plant, which is cannabis sativa. It’s sold within stores throughout Ocean City. So, it’s accessible to the public, and the smell of CBD plant is the same or consistent as traditional burning of marijuana.”
During the same police commission meeting in July, Captain Elton Harmon said smoking weed on the Boardwalk is only part of the problem.
“We’re also seeing an increase in people who have medical marijuana cards, and all up and down the Boardwalk and the balconies we have people who are smoking marijuana with that as well,” he said. “When the legislation changed and opened this up, it’s made it more prevalent in public. We are seeing it all over because of that, between the CBD and legal medical marijuana. Then, we have a lot of visitors who are coming here from other jurisdictions where it’s not enforced, …”
All indications are this might just be one of those instances when Ocean City can warn and talk tough, but there is little that can be done practically from an enforcement standpoint.
During a break from office work last Friday, I took a walk around Heron Park in Berlin and came across a large group of people birdwatching. I enjoy walking and running the property and look forward to a true path being provided on the property. It will take money to create a reasonable pathway, and the town already has a $200,000 in annual debt payments on it.
It’s obvious there is an appeal to the property for green space fans, but the Town of Berlin must break this parcel up. During his campaign, Berlin Councilman Jay Knerr openly advocated for demolishing the decrepit buildings on Old Ocean City Boulevard (a $500,000 grant is being sought currently) and subdividing the property. He is right.
“We need to get those grant monies, tear down the building, and then market that property, that section where the building is, for sale,” Knerr said. “We could market it in such a way that we get a desirable building, something that we want to see happen in the town. The other large section of land sits behind the Croppers auto repair place, there’s a huge tract of land back there right before the ponds. To me that could be used as an entertainment venue.”
I like the concept of taking those dollars from a sale and keeping them in the park to provide for a pump track for skaters and bikers – as candidate Tony Weeg suggested – and making a path around the ponds on the property. Some other mild uses could easily improve the area.
It’s easy in hindsight to opine the property should not have been purchased by the town six years ago. Last year’s chemical spill, the subsequent seven-month closure and $300,000 cleanup operation certainly dampened my optimism. However, back in 2014 there was no mountable outcry from the public about buying the property. The Berlin Parks Commission was supportive of the buy and numerous citizens came out in favor of it. It’s true the town purchasing the property kept the land from falling in the wrong hands, but I think a strategic approach from the town to selling some parts along the road would help ease the financial strain.