Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – June 2, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – June 2, 2023

The Worcester County Commissioners’ decision to not give away the synthetic ice rink – purchased for about $70,000 in 2019 – turned out to be the right call. Once it was clear the majority of officials wanted to do away with the rink, there was some consternation among the commissioners whether the county should donate the rink to a nonprofit or another town to use at events or try to get some money for it.

The commissioners first agreed in a 4-3 vote to solicit bids for the rink. When zero interest was received, the commissioners opted to place it on the website to try and recoup some of the funding allocated for its acquisition. The rink was listed on the auction list for about three weeks and received 114 total bids. The winning bid ended up being $31,000. It was an impressive amount of interest.

While there remains some debate over whether the county should have kept it and continued to offer at its own events, it’s clear selling it through the website was a good financial move for the taxpayers once getting rid of it was decided upon.

The Ocean City Mayor and Council was united this week in picking up the sports complex process, which was abandoned by the Worcester County Commissioners last fall. The commissioners’ decision came after 52% of county voters (9,424 to 8,572) in a referendum said they did not want the county to bond the costs associated with a sports complex. The new commission majority clearly wanted nothing to do with public funds being spent on a sports complex.

While the long-term outcome of this week’s action by the council remains unknown, the immediate result will be the creation of a committee, or task force, to evaluate location, scope and funding for a sports complex in northern Worcester County. Councilman John Gehrig, a vocal supporter of a sports complex for years as an economic development engine, said “I do think we should take the lead here and form this committee or task force. I do think other locations should be on the table, we should be open minded. I think, while we respect what the county commissioners decided to do, I like them to also know they are invited to participate, as well as other elected officials and representatives throughout the county, and make this a true team effort.”

Mayor Rick Meehan will now be charged with creating the committee that oversees the further evaluation of the sports complex moving ahead. For many, especially those living along Flower Street in Berlin, the location east of Stephen Decatur High School was a major issue. City Manager Terry McGean touched on the site discourse this week, saying, “Although the study was based on the identified Decatur location, the Maryland Stadium Authority has noted that the study’s economic impact results would still apply for a location in similar, close proximity to Ocean City. And by that, they mean approximately a 15- to-20-minute drive time.”

It’s going to be interesting to follow how governments across Maryland pivot and react to the July 1 date when recreational sales of marijuana can begin.

Following overwhelming voter support in a 2022 statewide referendum, the Maryland General Assembly spent the last legislative session creating the regulations to allow individuals 21 years and older to purchase cannabis products legally from licensed dispensaries that convert their licenses. Additionally, effective July 1, possession for personal use amount is allowed, specifically “up to
1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis, or a total amount of cannabis products that does not exceed 750 mg THC.” The new law also increases the amount of cannabis a persona may possess and receive a civil fine from 10 grams to 2.5 ounces. What the law did not do was make smoking cannabis legal in public places or in motor vehicles.

While the essential legalization of marijuana moves forward, the issue for local governments is whether to allow pot smoking in businesses. In Ocean City, two code amendments were introduced this week to specifically tackle on-site cannabis consumption. The state legislation allows municipalities to pass specific amendments to its code to prevent on-site marijuana use and Ocean City wants to go that direction. If a licensed dispensary were to open in Ocean City, leaders want to ensure there is no ability to allow for marijuana to be smoked legally in the business. The amendment reads, “Ocean City finds that in order to promote and protect the public’s health, safety and welfare, a prohibition of the operation of on-site consumption establishments and the prohibition to the issuance of any license that would permit on-site consumption of Cannabis is just and proper. Ocean City finds that it is within its right, as a political subdivision, to prohibit the operation and licensing of on-site consumption establishments.”

Ocean City has decided it does not want cannabis lounges essentially. It’s not likely to happen immediately because there are no dispensaries located on the island currently. In Worcester County, there is currently one grow operation, one processing operation and two dispensaries. This week’s action essentially represents a proactive approach by Ocean City.

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.