Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — The seaside resort built on catering to people’s vices is set to take a hard line in the sand on legal recreational marijuana sales if the price isn’t right.

Atlantic City’s governing body will introduce a resolution at Wednesday’s public meeting declaring that the World’s Playground will only authorize the sale and distribution of legal cannabis if the tax revenue is returned directly to the municipality or used by the state for property tax relief.

“Any acceptance of the authority to sell and distribute marijuana must be premised upon the condition that the revenue derived be returned directly to the City of Atlantic City or alternatively to be sent to the (state) Department of Community Affairs for the sole and express purpose of tax relief for the residents of Atlantic City,” reads a draft of the proposed resolution.

While businesses could soon legally sell recreational cannabis across the state, the list of South Jersey towns working to prevent pot shops from popping up in their area continues to grow.

Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders said earlier this month they reached an agreement on legislation to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

The deal calls for a $42 per ounce tax on the product.

If the deal becomes law, municipalities with cannabis retailers would collect 3 percent tax, those with cultivators will collect 2 percent, and those with wholesalers would get 1 percent.

However, some South Jersey city leaders still oppose recreational cannabis sales and have decided to forego the potential revenue.

“It’s just amazing that we’re more concerned about balancing a budget and creating revenue than we are any kind of an ill that could come out of this,” said Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr.

According to the New Jersey League of Municipalities, City ordinances banning marijuana could be rendered invalid by any state laws passed, the legislation provides the city 180 days to opt out.

But officials in cities such as Wildwood have still taken action to make sure it won’t be sold in their towns.

To do so, they have passed ordinances to change their zoning and land-use policies, which the league confirms municipalities still control.

On Feb. 28, officials in Ocean City, which already prohibits alcohol sales, passed an ordinance listing the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana or paraphernalia all as a “prohibited use” in its zoning and land-use code.

The ordinance did not prohibit medical marijuana.

Mayor Jay Gillian declined to comment on the recent decision.

Somers Point, Brigantine, Pleasantville and Wildwood all passed similar ordinances last year. Sea Isle City introduced an ordinance Feb. 26 that has yet to be approved.

Wildwood was one of the first cities in South Jersey to take an official stance against possible legalization. Its ordinance was in place for a year already on Thursday.

Unlike the four other cities that have taken a soft stance on medical marijuana, Wildwood’s ordinance also prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries from operating with the city,

Troiano, who said he has never smoked weed and doesn’t drink alcohol, said he has concerns about safety and regulations, specifically if legalization could lead to more people driving while intoxicated.

Former Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther said he wanted the city to get ahead of any state action back in April.

“I don’t think Brigantine is the type of community that wants or needs this type of activity in our town,” he said.

Guenther and Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle both expressed concerns about the effects of legalization, specifically for those under 21.

“We all probably recognize the detrimental effects that the legalization of recreational marijuana can have on different age groups, but primarily it can have on the youth if it destigmatizes the use of marijuana,” Guenther said in April.

The measure calls for a five-member regulatory commission, with the governor appointing three members. The other two would be picked on the advice of the Senate president and Assembly speaker.

Neighboring Atlantic City, however, has pushed to get out in front of legal marijuana in a different way. Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. had described recreational marijuana as the “new gold rush,” believing the city is uniquely positioned to capitalize on marijuana tourism.

Murphy, who campaigned in 2017 on legalizing recreational cannabis, has also cast the legislation as a social justice victory.

The leaders say the deal would set up an expedited record expungement process for people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes. They say the proposal also would bar certain marijuana offenses from being considered in certain sectors, like education, housing and job licensing.

“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system,” Murphy said.

Sweeney has said he would need Murphy’s help in getting enough votes in the Senate for legalization.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact: 609-272-7239 AAuble@pressofac.com Twitter @AublePressofAC

Staff Writer

I report breaking news and cover the local stories at the Press's digital desk. I grew up in South Jersey and graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2017 with a degree in English.

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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