It will be two years before qualifying Ohioans can buy medical marijuana from dispensaries, but some communities are putting a stop to the practice before it’s started.
A number of Ohio municipalities are taking steps to ban marijuana-related businesses since House Bill 523 passed in June, allowing businesses to cultivate, process and sell the drug for medical use under certain regulations.
Those regulations, however, have yet to be set and won’t be instituted for another two years. House Bill 523 only created a framework, the rest of the details — including how to become a registered and licensed dispensary and how much it will cost — still are being determined.
Some restrictions already are in place for retail dispensaries, which are prohibited from being located within 500 feet of schools, churches and public libraries, playgrounds and parks. Cities and townships can adopt further regulations to limit the number of dispensaries or ban them altogether.
Ohio Municipal League Executive Director Kent Scarrett said the majority of municipalities are waiting to act until the state has outlined regulations. There is no official count of how many communities have taken action to ban medical marijuana businesses.
For example, Zanesville is examining a one-year moratorium on the issuance and process of permits, giving the state time to set guidelines before deciding how to proceed with zoning.
Other cities, including Lancaster, already have started the process to ban medical marijuana-related businesses.
Lancaster city officials are having a public hearing on an ordinance that would make cultivating, processing and dispensing medical marijuana in the city limits a first-degree misdemeanor. The zoning issues will be addressed through the city planning commission, which is the route other Ohio municipalities have taken to ensure marijuana businesses do not sprout in their town.
Lancaster Law Director Randall Ullom said the ordinance could always be tweaked after the state’s regulations are rolled out.
“We can dial it back,” Ullom said. “It would be harder to dial it up.”
At least one village has taken the opposite stance, seeing medical marijuana-related businesses as an economic development opportunity.
Johnstown, a village in Licking County of about 4,600 people about 15 minutes east of Columbus, passed an ordinance on Aug. 16 permitting medical marijuana-related businesses to open within the village limits.
“It’s an economic development tool to help promote other business … to locate in the village,” Village Manager Jim Lenner said.
Scarrett said Johnstown is the only village he is aware of taking this position.
Since Johnstown announced its plans, the Licking County Prevention Partnership asked the village council and administration to rethink the ordinance, citing law enforcement’s concerns and a lack of scientific evidence to prove marijuana’s medical benefits, according to a news release from the group.
While cities and villages are considering the legislation, Scarrett said the Ohio Municipal League is providing educational materials to its membership on HB 523 and outlining what is allowable under the law.
Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program, which will be overseen by the Ohio Department of Commerce and State of Ohio Pharmacy Board, should have rules adopted by September 2017 and should be fully operational in September 2018.
“At that time, there will be an established structure for Ohioans with a qualifying medical condition to obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana, purchase medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary, and consume medical marijuana,” according to the program’s website.
More than $3 million in state funds were allocated to create and operate the Medical Marijuana Control Program in fiscal year 2017.
The program’s website — www.MedicalMarijuana.ohio.gov — was created to inform the public about the program and provide updates. Under many of the website’s “frequently asked questions” section — including questions of how to become a processor, cultivator or a testing laboratory — the answer is they are “under development” by the Department of Commerce.
Draft rules will also be available on the website for public comment prior to their adoption by Sept. 8, 2017.