Ocean City open container law now a misdemeanor offense

Signs near the beach declare that alcohol is prohibited. Photo: Jim Joslyn

OCEAN CITY, Md. (AP/ABC7) - Having an open container of alcohol in public in Ocean City is now an offense that can lead to an arrest.

On Monday, the Ocean City Town Council unanimously passed an ordinance Monday that changes the punishment for having an open alcohol container in public from a municipal infraction to a misdemeanor offense. The new ordinance took effect immediately.

It's an escalation of the law that is primed to pit police against partiers; a law that officials said no one took seriously before.

"People thought it was OK to drink in public; that all they would get was a ticket," Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said. "That changes the mentality of the individual."

DiPino says the ordinance gives police officers the ability, but not the mandate, to arrest people drinking outside. The decision, which the chief pushed for personally reverts Ocean City's law to what it was in 2008.

The chief said that the move was necessary after an uptick in alcohol violations in the town, which she says could threaten public safety. Vacationers, though, say that it could hurt the atmosphere and ambiance of the seaside spot.

"They're bringing the money and that's that it's about," visitor David McGee said. "It's about having fun."

Despite the escalation in the law, police say they'll use discretion and only apply the law when necessary.