The below replaces an earlier version.
CAPE MAY – Cape May is exploring how best to react to the recent legalization of recreational cannabis.
In the meantime, Cape May City Council took immediate action to prohibit marijuana smoking in public areas, like the beach, Promenade and Washington Street Mall.
“The line is drawn at the private property line,” said City Solicitor Christopher Gillin-Schwartz, pointing to the limits on what the city can regulate.
The ordinance prohibits individuals from smoking or otherwise using or consuming “in or on any public space.” It defines public space as including outdoor dining areas, parks, public right of way, recreation areas, including beaches, Promenade or the area of any scheduled public event.
In short, if one is not on private property, they can’t light up.
The ordinance defines marijuana broadly to include all parts of the cannabis plant and all preparations made from it.
The city is charging its police department with the enforcement of the ordinance, which caused Chief Dekon Fashaw some concern.
State statutes limit what municipal police officers can and cannot do concerning potential marijuana violations. Those state prohibitions are backed by potential penalties against officers who ignore them.
Gillin-Schwartz assured Fashaw that it was within the the municipality’s authority to set and enforce local restrictions. The exchange surfaced the ambiguities surrounding enforcement in this new world of legalized and decriminalized marijuana use.
The ordinance provides penalties for violation, including fines of $100 to $250 for a first offense and $500 to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
Like other municipalities, Cape May is moving to consider restrictions on the sale and manufacture of cannabis permitted under the new state laws.
Municipalities have 180 days from the signing of the legislation to enact ordinances that restrict the cannabis industry’s presence within municipal limits. No town can restrict the possession or use of cannabis on private property.
Councilman Chris Bezaire emphasized that the council would be taking further action regarding any presence of the cannabis industry in the city.
“We have 180 days to consider and to act,” he said.
He added that council took action because it realized the smoking of marijuana in public areas was the most immediate concern in need of attention.
The ordinance seeks to affirm “the family-friendly atmosphere of public areas in the City of Cape May.” Bezaire promised more would follow.
The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and vote on adoption April 6. If approved, the restrictions would take effect May 4.
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