Johnstown, Ohio – As communities across the state ban medical marijuana businesses months before licenses will be awarded, one central Ohio community is openly support the businesses that locate there.
Johnstown Village Council passed a resolution Tuesday stating the village won’t get in the way of legal marijuana businesses licensed by the state so long as they abide by state rules and local zoning laws. The resolution passed 6-1 with little public opposition.
Ohio’s medical marijuana law allows cities and townships to prohibit or limit the number of medical marijuana cultivators, processors, testing labs and retail dispensaries. Applications for those licenses won’t be available until sometime next year, but already a dozen communities have temporarily banned marijuana businesses.
Local leaders there say they need more time to decide whether to regulate the industry beyond the state rules. At least two communities have outright banned marijuana businesses.
So why has this small, politically conservative town gone the opposite direction of its peers? Here’s what village leaders had to say.
Already home to a marijuana business
Johnstown, population 4,763, is already home to one of the biggest names in the marijuana industry, Apeks Supercritical. Apeks makes extraction systems powered by carbon dioxide, a safe way to extract active compounds from marijuana into oils that can be infused in lotions, edibles and other products.
Owner Andy Joseph initially marketed his equipment to extract flavors from food and scents from lavender and other plants. But after he discovered marijuana businesses were using the equipment in California, he embraced the industry. Last year, Apeks was named the 24th fastest growing company in the country on an Inc. Magazine list after posting 8,249 percent growth in three years.
“If wasn’t for that specific component, that we had a specific tie – I don’t think we’d be in this situation where we would be passing anything,” Mayor Sean Staneart said.
Economic development opportunities
Joseph started the company in a pole barn in his backyard and last year expanded to a 17,000-square-foot building in the Johnstown Business Park. Joseph wants to turn the business park into a hub for medical marijuana businesses. Marijuana could be grown in greenhouses, processed with his equipment, tested and used for marijuana research without leaving the site.
By his estimates, such an operation could grow half of the state’s medical marijuana and employ hundreds of blue-collar Ohio workers. Like the L Brands beauty park, where Bath and Body Works products, bottles and packaging are made on the same campus, Joseph said the marijuana hub would eliminate transportation costs and ease security concerns.
The idea excites village leaders, since fewer than 10 businesses occupy the roughly 300-acre park. Village manager Jim Lenner said the village would likely place a special tax on the medical marijuana campus to cover extra security and utility use.
At Tuesday’s meeting, a few people spoke in favor of the resolution and two people voiced opposition.
Resident Lana Amos questioned whether voters would be able to weigh in on local restrictions on marijuana businesses. Ohio’s law specifies that local legislative bodies will make those decisions.
New resident Phillip Scherer warned council members that other businesses might not want to locate or expand in Johnstown if it becomes a medical marijuana hub.
“The economic benefits that the casinos promised never materialized and I doubt the economic benefits with medical marijuana will never materialize,” Scherer said.
Several village council members they doubted the medical benefits of marijuana but have since changed their minds. The council began studying the issue early last year ahead of Issue 3, a recreational marijuana measure that failed in the November 2015 election.
Joseph brought in doctors, legislators and industry experts to meet with the council. Council members closely followed the legislature’s work on House Bill 523. The law allows people with about 20 qualifying medical conditions to buy and use marijuana if a physician recommends it.
“I was hesitant about medical marijuana but being educated by these individuals changed a lot of the viewpoints I previously had,” Staneart said.
Lenner said he’s happy to talk with leaders in other cities about what’s he’s learned.
“We were lucky enough to have Andy,” Lenner said. “We didn’t seek this out. It sought us out and it’s been a good fit.”
News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Why One Ohio Community Is Welcoming Medical Marijuana Businesses When Others Are Banning Them
Author: Jackie Borchardt
Photo Credit: Gillian Flaccus