By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City, a seashore town that prohibits the sale of alcohol as part of its family-friendly reputation, may look to ban the sale of another drug – marijuana.
As New Jersey considers the possibility of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana under newly inaugurated Gov. Phil Murphy, Ocean City officials say they don’t want pot sales in the place that touts itself as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”
Mayor Jay Gillian told members of City Council at their meeting Thursday night that he is adamantly opposed to marijuana sales and has directed Ocean City’s solicitor to look into ways to possibly ban the activity.
“I think this is going to be very dangerous,” Gillian said of the possibility of the state legalizing the drug.
Gillian said he plans to bring “something forward soon” to possibly ban marijuana sales in Ocean City, but stopped short of providing details. He indicated that if the city can ban alcohol sales, then it should be able to prohibit the sale of marijuana, too.
Founded in 1879 as a Christian resort by a group of Methodist ministers, Ocean City has always been a “dry” town. The ban on alcohol sales is a centerpiece of the city’s image as a safe, family-style summer vacation retreat.
Council members joined Gillian in expressing concerns that the city’s family image could be harmed if marijuana is legalized and people simply begin smoking pot in popular tourist areas of town, such as the Boardwalk.
“They can’t be smoking on the Boardwalk?” Councilwoman Karen Bergman asked, sounding alarmed.
“Not if you legislate against it,” replied Dorothy McCrosson, the city’s solicitor.
McCrosson said every version she has reviewed of proposed state legislation to legalize recreational marijuana would allow local municipalities to opt out of pot sales. In the process, they would not be able to share in the tax revenue generated by those sales.
Gillian and some Council members said they have no interest in benefiting from a “sin tax” on the drug.
“It’s fool’s gold,” Councilman Bob Barr said.
Barr went on to criticize the proposed legalization of marijuana as “stupid.” He argued that there are far more pressing issues for the governor and Legislature to focus on in the new year.
“I think the whole marijuana thing is silly,” he said.
Barr added that he would “support anything” to prevent marijuana sales in Ocean City.
“I just don’t think we should have any part of that,” he said.
Gillian and Barr warned of the possible health dangers if marijuana becomes legal in New Jersey.
Barr called marijuana a gateway drug that can lead to the abuse of more powerful substances. The mayor predicted that legalized marijuana would result in “heart-breaking” consequences.
Councilman Michael DeVlieger cited a letter written by the substance abuse prevention and treatment agency Cape Assist questioning the governor’s marijuana proposal.
The Jan. 11 letter warns that pot use among children and adults has potential “serious implications for the health, safety and welfare of the county and its residents.”
Cape Assist, which has substance abuse prevention and treatment programs throughout Cape May County, is calling on local communities to consider imposing regulations or restrictions on marijuana sales.
“By considering the issue and possibly taking action in your community, you can ensure that if recreational marijuana does become legal, this new law is implemented in a way that does not compromise the values of our community,” the letter says.
Murphy, a Democrat, made marijuana legalization part of his campaign platform. He pledged to sign a marijuana bill within the first 100 days of his Jan. 16 inauguration.
Although Ocean City is considering the possibility of banning marijuana sales, other Jersey Shore towns have already taken action. Point Pleasant Beach and Berkeley Township, both in Ocean County, have approved ordinances to prohibit pot sales.
Gillian said it will ultimately be up to Ocean City’s taxpayers to decide whether they would support a ban on marijuana sales, if he and City Council propose outlawing the activity at the local level.
Up to this point, eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Murphy and other marijuana advocates say the drug’s legalization in New Jersey would end the injustice of blacks being arrested for possession of pot at higher rates than whites.