Columbus, Ohio – Ohio’s medical marijuana law is a month away from taking effect and awarding marijuana business licenses is even further down the road, but Lakewood and other communities across the state are already making moves to block marijuana businesses from starting in their communities.
A handful of Ohio cities have put a six-month moratorium on licensing marijuana cultivators, processors and retailers. Several others are considering similar temporary bans ahead of the new law, which takes effect Sept. 8.
But it’s not likely that any marijuana businesses will be licensed in Ohio in the next six months. The new law tasks three government agencies with setting up the regulations and licensing processes, and the first deadline is in May 2017.
Officials in these communities say they’re not necessarily planning to ban marijuana businesses but want more time to decide what if any additional laws need to be in place.
Unprepared for a new law
Ohio’s medical marijuana law allows people with about 20 qualifying medical conditions to buy and use marijuana if they have a recommendation from their doctor. The law allows retail stores to sell marijuana plant material, patches, tinctures and oils.
It also allows cities and townships to restrict or prohibit medical marijuana businesses but not use.
Lakewood, Beavercreek, Troy and Piqua recently passed six-month moratoriums on licensing businesses and Rocky River, Lancaster, Lima and Liberty Township in Southwest Ohio are working on similar temporary bans.
Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, said communities are grateful lawmakers gave local governments a say but would have preferred they involved city leaders more while drafting the bill.
“There’s a lot of unknowns when this gets rolled out,” Scarrett said. “The state made this change but this change is coming to our communities.”
Scot Crow, a Dickinson Wright attorney who has worked with legal marijuana businesses, said a moratorium is an overreaction and shows a lack of understanding of what actually will occur on the law’s effective date.
“Really Sept. 8 starts the clock ticking on when the pharmacy board and commerce department start working on regulations,” Crow said. “Beyond that, the day is going to be pretty quiet.”
Crow said cities and townships should be following what’s going on in the legislature and with the application process so they’re prepared when licenses are issued. That likely won’t happen for another year, Crow said.
What the law says
The law prohibits a cultivator, processor, retail dispensary or testing laboratory from being located within 500 feet of a school, church, public library, public playground or public park.
Municipal corporations and townships may limit or prohibit the number of medical marijuana businesses within their borders but can’t limit research done at a state university, medical center or private research facility.
Townships can also regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas of the township, but counties cannot.
What medical marijuana advocates are saying
The Ohio Department of Commerce, Board of Pharmacy and Medical Board will begin drafting rules and regulations this fall, with help from a yet-to-be named 14-member advisory panel.
Cultivator regulations and license application process details from the commerce department are due first, in May 2017. The earlier deadline was intended to give growers a head start.
In some medical marijuana states, the time from when license applications are available to when they’re awarded has spanned years. Ohio’s law requires the system to be “fully operational” by September 2018.
So seeing cities move quickly to enact temporary bans is concerning to medical marijuana advocates.
National organization Marijuana Policy Project, which pushed an Ohio medical marijuana ballot measure earlier this year, plans to help educate local governments about medical marijuana and show them best practices through its Ohio organization, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana.
Spokesman Aaron Marshall said it’s understandable that city officials want to do their due diligence, but outright bans limit patients’ access to medical marijuana.
“With so many details to be worked out in the future we’d prefer folks take a deep breath and not act on this issue right now,” Marshall said.
Only one city has outright banned all legal marijuana operations. Hamilton, in Butler County, passed its ban in February 2015 – months before that year’s recreational marijuana measure qualified for the ballot. New Philadelphia city council plans to vote on an outright ban soon.
Lakewood wants to get it right
Lakewood’s moratorium goes a step further than just banning marijuana business licenses that won’t likely be awarded anyway. It also blocks the zoning commission from issuing occupancy or change of use permits for would-be marijuana business sites during the next six months.
So someone who wants to secure a location in preparation for the license application process wouldn’t be able to do so.
In the coming months, city officials will review zoning laws and decide whether any additional restrictions need to be made, said Jennifer Swallow, chief assistant law director. The moratorium could save those business owners trouble down the road, if the city were to enact restrictions affecting already-chosen locations.
Swallow said the city will also need to update its criminal code to allow for medical marijuana.
“It’s important to make sure we take our time to look at this and how it’s going to affect the community as a whole and make sure the right regulations are in place from the beginning and to be able to plan,” Swallow said.
News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Lakewood, Other Ohio Cities Block Medical Marijuana Business Licenses
Author: Jackie Borchardt
Photo Credit: Andy Nelson