Ocean City’s governing body gave final approval Thursday night to an ordinance that prohibits businesses that cultivate, manufacture, test or sell marijuana.
Looking to preserve its family-friendly image, the city will ban the sale of marijuana in the aftermath of New Jersey’s legalization of cannabis in February.
Approved by City Council by a 6-0 vote, the ordinance bans marijuana facilities within one-quarter mile of a school, church, recreational or sports facility, the Boardwalk and any residential area. It would effectively outlaw businesses from selling marijuana, hashish or pot paraphernalia in all parts of town.
“The Mayor and City Council believe there is no area of the city which can safely house a business selling marijuana, cannabis or hashish or the paraphernalia that facilitates use of the same,” the ordinance says.
On Feb. 22, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills to legalize pot in New Jersey for adults 21 and older and to decriminalize it for people under 21.
From the start, Ocean City’s Council has objected to marijuana’s legalization, passing an ordinance in 2019 to ban the sale of pot in a town that bills itself as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.” At that time, the governor and state Legislature were discussing the possibility of legalizing marijuana.
City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson explained that Ocean City’s 2019 ordinance became invalid once New Jersey formally legalized cannabis. However, the new state legislation gives municipalities 180 days to reinstate their prohibition of marijuana sales, prompting Ocean City to approve a new ordinance Thursday.
As a “dry” town, Ocean City has banned alcohol sales since its founding as a Christian seaside resort in 1879 by a group of Methodist ministers. The ban on alcohol sales is a centerpiece of the city’s image as a safe, family-style summer vacation retreat.
Now, the city will prohibit marijuana sales and dispensaries.
“We don’t allow any alcohol. We shouldn’t allow marijuana or cannabis,” Councilwoman Karen Bergman said.
Alluding to the legal use of marijuana in the Netherlands, Councilman Michael DeVlieger added, “I have no desire to live in Amsterdam.”
Council members have repeatedly expressed concerns that the city’s family-oriented reputation could be harmed if marijuana is sold in town and people simply begin smoking pot in popular tourist areas, such as the Boardwalk.
McCrosson noted that Council will consider a companion ordinance at its next meeting to ban the use of marijuana and hashish in public areas.
Ocean City already prohibits the smoking of cigarettes and cigars on the Boardwalk, beaches, city parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and other public facilities.
Although he voted for the ban on the sale of recreational marijuana, Councilman Jody Levchuk expressed concerns that people who need medical marijuana might be blocked from getting the drug.
“My only concern about this is limiting anybody with a prescription for debilitating diseases,” Levchuk said.
Levchuk suggested that perhaps Ocean City could allow one dispensary where people could pick up their medical marijuana. Other Council members floated the idea that possibly an exception could be made to allow the delivery of medical marijuana in Ocean City from a dispensary in another town.
After consulting with McCrosson about the parameters of New Jersey’s marijuana law, the Council members indicated they will consider the delivery of medical marijuana in follow-up discussions.