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Myrtle Beach Boulevard Ban Approved

Mayor, city council approve controversial restrictions on commerce …

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Politicians in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina have approved a sweeping ban on legal cannabis products (i.e. cannabidiol) within the heart of the city’s downtown shopping district.

The so-called “Boulevard Ban” – which this news site addressed extensively in this post – was approved earlier this week by a 5-2 vote.  Mayor Brenda Bethune voted in favor of the ban, as did city council members Mike Chesnut, Mary Jeffcoat, Phil Render and Jackie Vereen.  Council members Mike Lowder and Gregg Smith opposed the ban (correctly, in our view).

Barring a successful legal challenge, the “Boulevard Ban” would take effect on January 1, 2019 and impact businesses located between Sixth Avenue South and Sixteenth Avenue North – a.k.a. the “strip” in the heart of downtown Myrtle Beach.

In addition to outlawing cannabidiol (a.k.a. CBD oil) – which was legalized by the state in 2014 – the new ordinance would ban the sale (or use) of e-cigarettes and alternative nicotine sources (including vapor products) as well as smoking paraphernalia and “sexually oriented merchandise.”

In a surprise last-minute twist, a ban on the sale of cigarettes (and cigarette smoking) within the so-called “overlay district” was removed from the ordinance.

According to our sources, “they (couldn’t) pass it with the tobacco ban.”

A compromise amendment imposed a “ten percent limit” on cigarettes in stores within the affected area – although it is not immediately clear whether the standard is to be applied to inventory, square footage, gross sales or net revenue.

“Nobody knows,” one local business owner told us.  “The ten percent rule has literally not been codified.  They hastily came up with it verbally to preserve the ordinance.”

As we noted in our original treatment of this issue, city leaders have received plenty of criticism over the way this ordinance has been rammed through.

Critics claim city council bypassed a key procedural step in its rush to enact this measure.  Specifically, they pointed to the rebuke of a much milder ban by Myrtle Beach’s city planning committee last year as proof that this new, broader measure was being voted on for the first time.

Are they correct?

According to our sources, nearly three-fourths of the ordinance that cleared the council on “second reading” this week differed from the original version that was rejected in 2017.  That would certainly support the argument that there was no true second reading of the ordinance, as required by law.

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There are also questions as to Bethune’s motivation in pushing the ordinance.  The mayor is the owner of Better Brands, an Horry County alcohol distributor for Anheuser-Busch.

In other words she is deeply conflicted on the issue, and probably should have recused herself from any involvement whatsoever.

Called out on this conflict by Mande Wilkes – a former columnist for this news site and one of the Grand Strand’s leading voices for reform – Bethune claimed she never endorsed a ban on CBD oil (even though she was quoted as adopting precisely that position by reporters at The Sun News, the paper of record in Myrtle Beach).

“This may be hard for you to believe, but sometimes the press makes mistakes,” Bethune wrote in a social media post attempting to explain herself to Wilkes.

The Sun News has stood by its reporting of Bethune’s comments.

While the CBD oil issue has drawn plenty of heat, advocates for the decriminalization of cannabis for medical purposes say they do not believe it was the driving force behind the controversial ordinance.

“The issue wasn’t CBD,” medical cannabis advocate Jill Swing told us. “The issue was that there were lots of retailers selling products that would not be considered ‘family friendly’ and they are trying to create a family-friendly environment on the strip to help improve public image. CBD just got caught in the crossfire, from what I can tell.  In the end, I think it helps legitimate CBD products that really should be in those environments anyway.”

“These products belong in health and wellness stores, not head shops/ pot shops,” Swing added.

We agree … well, head shops anyway.  Pot shops don’t exist in South Carolina because pot is illegal.

So we won’t conflate that issue …

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(Via: iStock)

While we are longtime advocates for decriminalization of marijuana and other drugs (for medical and recreational purposes), this news site has consistently argued that “in far too many cases these tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-based products are being marketed exclusively to children.”

This is especially true in the marketing of “edibles.”

Accordingly, we support the right of local and state law enforcement agencies to test edibles to determine if they are in compliance with applicable laws.  We also support harsh penalties for vendors who sell such products to underage consumers.

Local vendors tell us they support such reasonable oversight, too … one reason why are shocked at the heavy-handed approach city leaders are adopting.

They also fear the economic consequences associated with the new ordinance.  As we noted earlier this week, nearly 2,000 workers could be out of a job when the “Boulevard Ban” takes effect – with some stores seeing up to 70 percent of their revenue going up in smoke (bad pun, sorry).

Allegations of antisemitism have also been raised in connection with the proposed ordinance.

“EVERY affected business is Jewish-owned,” a source familiar with the situation told us earlier this week.

This news site opposes the ban.

“Ultimately, restricting the sale of legal items from one consenting adult to another is wrong … especially when there are far less intrusive ways to address the underlying problem,” we wrote earlier this week.

Myrtle Beach obviously needs to clean up its act (negative connotations associated with the “Dirty Myrtle” are among the reasons tourism is struggling in South Carolina) – but this ordinance strikes us as overkill.

We look forward to seeing how (and where) it is challenged in court …

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