By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City, a resort town that annually attracts tens of thousands of visitors during the summer vacation season, has no desire to be in the marijuana business.
City Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday that includes a blanket prohibition of the sale, manufacture and distribution of both recreational and medical marijuana in Sea Isle.
It will also ban the smoking or use of cannabis “in any public area,” including the beaches, parks and sidewalks.
Council President William Kehner made it clear in brief remarks about the ordinance: Marijuana shops or dispensaries will not be allowed under any circumstances in Sea Isle.
“I think it pretty much sums up that we have no interest in tolerating marijuana sales,” he said during Council’s teleconference meeting.
After Kehner spoke, Council voted 4-0 to formally introduce the ordinance. It is scheduled for a public hearing and final vote at Council’s meeting on May 11.
“The City of Sea Isle City considers the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, sale or distribution of medicinal and recreational marijuana and/or the paraphernalia that facilitates the use of such marijuana within the City to be detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare of the City,” the ordinance says.
This is the second time in two years that Sea Isle has approved such an ordinance. In 2019, Council preemptively banned the sale of marijuana when Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Legislature were discussing the possibility of legalizing the recreational use of pot at that time.
After two years of political debate, state lawmakers finally agreed on legislation to make marijuana legal. Murphy signed three bills on Feb. 22 legalizing recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older and to decriminalize it for people under 21. Medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey since 2010.
Sea Isle’s 2019 ordinance became invalid once New Jersey formally legalized recreational cannabis in February. However, the new state legislation gives municipalities 180 days to reinstate their prohibition of marijuana sales, prompting Sea Isle to propose a new ordinance.
Under New Jersey’s cannabis laws, marijuana use is limited to private property or inside the home. The laws ban the smoking or consumption of marijuana in public places, such as a park, beach or inside at a bar or restaurant.
New Jersey’s new Cannabis Regulatory Commission is in the process of creating the regulatory framework for the state’s recreational marijuana market. The governor has estimated it may take up to six months before pot dispensaries or shops begin selling cannabis.
Although marijuana sales would be banned in Sea Isle, cannabis could be delivered to private homes under strict licensing regulations proposed in the ordinance.
“The delivery of any type of cannabis shall be prohibited within the City except by a state-approved dispensary delivery service and by employees of (that) dispensary delivery service provided all of the City licensing requirements are met,” according to the ordinance.
Among the requirements, the delivery service could drop off the cannabis only at private homes and would have to use unmarked vehicles. Deliveries could be made only to the “intended recipient,” the ordinance states.
In other business Tuesday, Council approved an amended watershed management ordinance to help Sea Isle maintain its high standing in the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
By adopting an updated version of its watershed management plan, the city will be in position to earn extra points as part of FEMA’s Community Rating System for the NFIP.
“It will help us in getting our CRS credits. That’s really what the driving force of this report is,” City Solicitor Paul Baldini told Council.
Baldini explained there aren’t any changes in the updated watershed management plan that would have an impact on Sea Isle homeowners “in any individual sense.”
“It’s really more of a roadmap that lays out how we’re going to proceed as we go forward. It addresses a multitude of issues, including sea level rise, among others,” he said.
Sea Isle is among only a few cities and towns in the country to have obtained a “Class 3” community rating within FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, entitling local property owners to a 35 percent discount on their flood insurance policies.
Ultimately, Sea Isle hopes to accumulate enough points to move up to “Class 2” status in the ratings system, which would provide local homeowners with even steeper discounts for their flood insurance policies.
Once in danger of being thrown out of the National Flood Insurance Program in 1993, Sea Isle has undergone a dramatic transformation since then and is now ranked as one of the nation’s leading communities in flood prevention.
Over the years, Sea Isle has implemented a series of major flood-mitigation projects, such as restoring the beaches and dunes, building bulkheads along the bayfront, reconstructing the roads, upgrading the drainage systems and erecting berms, levees and rock walls. It built its first stormwater pumping station in 2019 and has plans for more of them scattered around town.