Lancaster – A more than two hour debate regarding medical marijuana-related businesses operating within the city limits brought out emotional testimony on both sides of the issue Monday.
City Council hosted a public hearing Monday night on a local ordinance to ban marijuana businesses from opening within the city. Council member David Uhl said it’s a proactive measure to ban businesses before the state has created regulations that may not be a good fit for the city.
A number of Ohio municipalities are taking similar steps to ban or pass moratoriums since House Bill 523 went into effect Sept. 8, which allows businesses to cultivate, process and sell the drug for medical use under certain regulations. However, the bill only created a framework, and the rest of the details – including how to become a registered and licensed dispensary and how much it will cost – still are being determined.
Once state regulations are in place, Uhl said the council can review the ban and determine whether to keep the ordinance as is or change it.
State agencies tasked with creating regulations will have two years to implement the regulations before marijuana can be sold in the state. Until then, medical marijuana can be legally possessed with a certified doctor’s recommendation, but not purchased in the state.
One restriction is already outlined that prohibits marijuana businesses from being located within 500 feet of schools, churches, public libraries, playgrounds and parks.
Two residents spoke in support of the ban, Steve Rauch and James Dehring Jr., who said the council should see the state’s regulations before allowing marijuana businesses in the city.
“It’s like opening a chain saw from a hardware store and you have a quarter of the instructions present and the rest are missing,” Dehring said.
There were eight people who spoke out against the ban, including Travis Markwood, president of the Lancaster Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber’s legislative action committee and board of directors issued a letter to council members to amend the proposed legislation to enact a one-year moratorium on the issuance of permits for medical marijuana-related business instead of a ban.
“At this one year point city council could review the progress of the state in regards to the final release of the policy giving them an opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of medical marijuana dispensaries in Lancaster and decide to extend the moratorium or develop legislation,” according to the letter.
Other residents, including a woman who had severe glaucoma and multiple sclerosis and another resident who described chronic back pain, pleaded for easy accessibility of the drug.
“I’m willing to try it to get off those pain meds,” resident George Burnside said. “I don’t want to feel nothing, I want to feel out of pain.”
Several law enforcement agency leaders spoke on the issue, including Lancaster Police Chief Don McDaniel, asking the council to ban the businesses from the city limits, citing multiple safety concerns.
The council will vote on the ordinance on at its next meeting, set for Sept. 26.