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Some Ohio cities wary of future medical-marijuana businesses


September 20, 2016

LANCASTER — Medical marijuana has come to Ohio, but not every community is sure it wants the business.

Lancaster is the latest of nearly a dozen Ohio municipalities to introduce or approve ordinances to either ban or place a moratorium on medical-marijuana businesses, including cultivators, processors and retail dispensaries.

Upper Arlington wants to know what its options are. City Attorney Jeanine Hummer said the city council has asked her to provide information about what the city is legally able to do, including adopting a ban or a moratorium. No legislation has been introduced.

Johnstown, on the other hand, put out the welcome mat. The Licking County village has approved a resolution that encourages medical-marijuana businesses as long as they comply with state and local laws and zoning. The owner of a local plant-oil-extractions business that is focused on the out-of-state marijuana industry wants to convert part of the Johnstown Business Park into a medical-marijuana campus now that the Ohio law has taken effect.

The law, which took effect Sept. 8, allows patients to use doctor-recommended medical marijuana, and it provides for the plant’s regulated cultivation, processing and sale. The law prohibits operations within 500 feet of a school, library, church, playground or park. It also allows municipalities to enact regulations banning or limiting medical-marijuana operations.

Communities are still reacting to it and wondering how it will affect them.

Among the communities that have moved to adopt bans or moratoriums, their reasons vary. Some don’t agree philosophically with the new state law and don’t think that local pot dispensaries would conform to the community’s values, said Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League.

Some communities want to wait until the state has worked out the rules and other details of carrying out the new law. Medical marijuana is not expected to be available for 18 months to two years pending those rules. Four state entities — the Ohio Department of Commerce, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the State Medical Board and an appointed advisory committee — will oversee different parts of the medical-marijuana system.

Lakewood, Rocky River, North Canton, Dover and New Philadelphia in northeastern Ohio have initiated or approved bans or moratoriums, as have Beavercreek, Troy, Piqua and Lima in western Ohio.

The Lancaster City Council is considering a ban, as suggested by the police chief and the commander of the multicounty Major Crimes Unit. They cited safety concerns, including impaired driving by marijuana users.

But the legislation could be changed to a one-year moratorium, as suggested by the Lancaster-Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce.

“There are too many question marks at this juncture,” said city Law Director Randall Ullom. “A ban is probably the safest position for Lancaster to take at this juncture. A revisiting can take place at a later date.”

Steve Rauch, pastor of Pleasant Chapel Church of God, told the city council at a public hearing on Sept. 12 that he fears that more marijuana use would lead more people into cocaine and heroin. He asked council members to ban dispensaries in Lancaster.

Most of those who spoke, however, told council members that they want dispensaries open as soon as possible. Resident Stacy Donaldson, wearing dark glasses for her glaucoma and leaning on a cane for her multiple scleroris, said “two or three hits of marijuana” helps relieve her pain.

“I don’t look for pity,” she said, “but unless you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes with (pain), you have no clue.”

The city council is expected to vote on the proposed ban this month.