Lancaster – The City Council took its first steps in banning medical marijuana-related businesses from opening in the city limits during a meeting Monday night.
An ordinance that would make dispensing, cultivating, or processing medical marijuana in the city limits an illegal act had its first of three readings Monday on the council floor.
Both local law enforcement officials and the city administration are supportive of the ban, but council members are asking for the community’s input during a public hearing Sept. 12 ahead of the vote.
“It’s really the start of a discussion,” Council member David Uhl said.
Uhl said the main reason the council is being proactive to ban dispensaries is because many of the details have not been worked out on the state level.
Assistant Law Director Kyle Witt said the Ohio law allowing possession of medical marijuana will take effect Sept. 8, but it will be about two years before the legislature creates regulatory standards to produce, cultivate and sell the product. Until those standards are created, Witt said it will be legal to possess medical marijuana with a valid prescription, but illegal to buy within the state. Consumers would have to travel out of the state to purchase medical marijuana.
The law allows marijuana to be sold as edibles, patches and oils, among other forms. However, it cannot be smoked.
There are some limitations in place regarding dispensary locations, including that they must be at least 500 feet away from schools, churches, libraries, or playgrounds. The law also allows municipalities to further regulate or ban medical dispensaries altogether.
Similar to Lancaster, some cities have started the process to ban them, but others – including the village of Johnstown in Licking County – have embraced the change and will welcome the new potential businesses.
If the Lancaster City Council passes the proposed ordinance, anyone processing, cultivating, or selling medical marijuana in the city limits would face a first-degree misdemeanor.
There is a possibility that council members will choose to change the ordinance or remove the ban completely if officials agree with the state’s regulations once they are instituted, Uhl said.
“Nothing is irreversible,” Uhl said. “I would consider (this ordinance) only a starting point.”
Local law enforcement, including Lancaster Police Chief Don McDaniel and Major Crimes Unit Commander Dennis Lowe, are adamant that a ban is necessary.
Witt said there is another piece of legislation to handle the zoning issues of the ban, which will be presented to the City Planning Commission.
The public hearing will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 12. Uhl is urging residents to attend the hearing and contact their council members to share their opinions on the topic.
“Let us know how you feel about this issue,” he said.