Ocean City Police have issued more than 7 times the number of marijuana citations in May and June as they did those same months in 2019, and some local officials are getting concerned. Last May police officers in Maryland’s only beachfront town wrote a measly 8 civil citations for marijuana possession less than 10 grams, and the number jumped slightly to 41 last June. This May, Ocean City Police officers wrote 108 pot citations in May and 241 in June. Marijuana has only been decriminalized for a couple years in Maryland and officers may not have thought it was worth their while to write the citations initially, but still the jump is far too significant to blame it on officers looking the other way.
City officials may attribute the jump to more and more citizens receiving their medical cannabis cards, but this likely is not the full story. While we will never quite know the percentages of people who only started using marijuana when it became legal in Maryland, we suspect that most medical cannabis card holders used marijuana long before they were able to legally purchase it. The drastic increase in marijuana citations is likely a result of beachgoers becoming more cavalier about public marijuana use. OCMD tourists have traditionally been careless/ignorant when it comes to the town’s open container laws (open container of alcohol is punishable by jailtime in Ocean City), and now the word is out that you cannot be arrested for smoking pot in public. Many tourists are in vacation mode and just not genuinely concerned about receiving a civil citation. Also, based on last year’s statistics the word may be out that the police have looked the other way when it comes to lighting up around the boardwalk. The high citation numbers this year may go a long way to changing that narrative, and we could less public consumption and fewer citations being issued to finish off the summer. Town officials certainly hope this is the case, as they are always trying to preserve the family fun atmosphere around the boardwalk.
In addition to marijuana citations, OCPD has also been busier charging offenders with drug and weapons crimes. Ocean City officers arrested 40 people each on drug and weapons charges in June of 2019, but this June those numbers jumped to 62 for drug crimes and 73 for weapons crimes. Overall arrests also increased from 552 to 600 this June compared to last. It is interesting to note that Ocean City police officers only issued 25 criminal citations. Maryland allows its sworn law enforcement officers to issue criminal citations in leu of making an arrest, which is beneficial to both the suspect and the criminal justice system. An arrest triggers a host of events including the time-consuming booking process. Defendants must then see a District Court Commissioner, who determines the conditions of their bail or release on recognizance. In addition to being held for a minimum of several hours, suspects who are arrested and booked will have a permanent arrest record that will become part of the FBI database. These records are not eligible for expungement even if the case is dismissed, which is a huge and avoidable injustice. The only legitimate reasons to arrest a suspect in leu of issuing a criminal citation would be serious concerns about public safety and the suspect’s ability to return to court. Many Ocean City Police officers justify an arrest over a criminal citation based on the fact that the defendant does not live locally, and is thus less likely to return to court. Realistically almost everyone who is charged with a crime in Ocean City during the summer is not an Ocean City resident, so this should not on its own support a decision to arrest. We can only hope that police begin to think twice about arresting a suspect when they could just write a criminal citation.