March 13, 2021
Marijuana may be legal in New Jersey now, but Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian is pushing to keep weed out of the family-oriented beach town.
Gillian introduced an ordinance on Thursday to City Council that would prohibit marijuana sales and cultivation anywhere in Ocean City. Council voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance, and next there will be a public hearing and a final vote on April 8.
The move comes just weeks after the state of New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana use for people 21 and older.
Council members opposed to New Jersey's legalization law say it will bring more people to the beaches to smoke pot and encourages underage consumption. This ordinance would replace a similar one banning marijuana in the city that passed two years ago, when politicians in Trenton were previously trying to legalize recreational marijuana.
Ocean City's original ordinance became invalid – as were similar pot-sales prohibitions in dozens of other New Jersey towns– after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the new pot bills into state law Feb. 22, the Press of Atlantic City reported.
"I have asked City Council to adopt a new ordinance to reinstate these prohibitions," Gillian wrote in his Friday update on March 5. "The new legislation gives municipalities 180 days to do so."
Ocean City's ordinance, in addition to prohibiting the sales and cultivation of pot, would also stop the sale of marijuana paraphernalia.
Ocean City is well-known for being a dry town, prohibiting the sales of alcohol within the city since the 1800s. While the shore town has no bars, liquor stores or BYOBs allowed, voter data from the last election shows that the majority of Ocean City residents were in favor of recreational marijuana legalization.
Despite this, city council is doubling down on its opposition.
"We know they're coming as the weather gets warmer, and the last thing that we want to see is people marching down the Boardwalk or gathering on the beach and just having a smoke-fest out there. Because people can't wait to do this," Councilman Jody Levchuk said, according the Press of A.C. "It's just a matter of where in New Jersey they're going to do this. Hopefully it's not Ocean City."
Council members said they are concerned about the public use of marijuana on the boardwalk or beaches at its Feb. 25 meeting. The said pot use was on the rise even before the bill was passed — and they fear it will get worse now it's officially legal.
New Jersey's law prohibits public consumption of marijuana, but the new law also prevents police from searching people just for smelling like burnt or raw marijuana. Officers have to physically see the pot before taking action.
Other aspects of the newly signed laws, like the penalties for underage users, have been widely criticized across the state. Police will issue warnings instead of citations to those under 21 caught consuming weed, and they cannot notify the minor's parents after the first offense.
Gillian said he's concerned marijuana and alcohol consumption will increase among young people now that the consequences are more relaxed.
"I guess I sound like such a nerd," Gillian said. "This makes me so passionate and so angry that I can't begin to tell you."
Republican senators in New Jersey are pushing for Murphy to amend the recently signed law to require law enforcement to notify parents after the first offense, and Murphy said he would likely support this change.
"Police shouldn't be prohibited from telling parents that their child was caught engaging in illegal or dangerous activity with drugs or alcohol," said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, who sponsored the bill.
Gillian did respond to PhillyVoice's request for comment.
Other municipal governments at the Jersey Shore are working on ordinances to stop marijuana sales in their towns, as well. Somers Point – one town inland from Ocean City – banned commercial cannabis cultivation and stores within its borders, with its mayor also citing concerns with the eased penalties for underage users.
Upper Township – which includes the beaches in Strathmere, immediately south of Ocean City – is not yet considering an ordinance banning weed, and its mayor told the Press of A.C. he has been contacted by businesses that want to set up shop there. He said he is waiting on the details of the finalized state regulations before moving forward.
The specifics of setting up a legal weed market are still in the works, and so far, buying and selling recreational marijuana isn't technically legal. State officials would have to write regulations and grant licenses to establish the new legal market — meaning residents won't likely be walking into a dispensary and purchasing weed until 2022.