Plain City leaders aren’t willing to wait until all of the details of Ohio’s legalization of medical marijuana have been worked out.
They want to ban the cultivation and sale of the herb within village limits now, before a single license is issued in the state.
Council met with the mayor, village attorney and police chief in a special work session Jan. 30 to discuss the topic after the village received an email from a Hilliard man interested in starting his own cultivation facility.
Joe Mottola runs Hydro Innovations in Hilliard with his wife, Kelly. He said the couple has been “putting out feelers” to various Central Ohio municipalities to get an idea if there will be any rules on building a facility.
“Hilliard hasn’t put in rules,” he said. “Prairie Township and Grove City said hell no, but Brown Township was all for it.”
Village solicitor Paul-Michael LaFayette encouraged council to make a decision quickly on the matter, as he believes license applications could be available as soon as March.
State lawmakers passed a bill last May to legalize medical marijuana for those with a doctor’s referral. Twenty-one health conditions are eligible for the referral, including cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
Council was somewhat split on the issue when they gathered for the meeting. Members John Rucker, Colleen Davis and Kerri Ferguson were decidedly against having any type of facility in the village.
But member Leslie Perkins argued there is a need for the medicine, and member Jim Moore said he knows others who could be helped by medical marijuana. Member Nick Kennedy wanted more information on how the village could benefit financially.
As a result of the essential tie, Mayor Darrin Lane made the final call to ask the village attorney to draw up legislation on an all-around ban. Although he personally doesn’t have an issue with medical marijuana, he thinks the majority of his constituents would.
“We need to put our personal feelings aside and vote the way our residents would want,” he said, referring to Plain City as a “Bible-based, conservative community.”
Because any sales tax generated by a dispensary would benefit the county, the village has little to gain with any income tax that could be generated, he added.
“It’s not worth it,” Lane said.
West Jefferson Mayor Ray Martin agrees. He said the village was also contacted by Mottola. Martin said he would be against such a business coming into the village.
“Such a business would by nature have marijuana and lots of cash on hand, and therefore be a lure for criminals,” he said.
Martin said he expects the issue to be brought up at a council meeting next month. London and Mount Sterling are not considering any legislation at this time.
Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for Marijuana Policy Project, said Plain City is jumping the gun and operating “out of fear.”
The same thing happened in Oregon, Washington and Colorado when medical marijuana was legalized, he said.
“Rural communities say, ‘We’re just not comfortable with this so in an abundance of caution we’re going to close our doors,’” Lindsey said. “A few communities take a look around and think, ‘Boy, this would be good for us considering what’s going on with our economy,’ and they encourage these types of businesses.”
That attitude is a problem for a number of reasons, Lindsey argued. Mostly, because it’s not in touch with what Ohioans actually want, he said. He pointed to a 2016 Quinnipiac Poll that says 90 percent of Ohioans support medical marijuana for adults.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy has recommended that 40 dispensaries be scattered around the state to sell medical marijuana to qualifying patients. That number is far fewer than the 1,150 dispensaries proposed in a medical marijuana ballot issue defeated by Ohio voters in 2015.
Ohioans for Medical Marijuana estimate there will be 188,000 medical marijuana patients in Ohio — which comes out to about 4,700 patients per dispensary.
If many rural communities put forth a ban, that will force the dispensaries to be located within the same geographical area, which leaves rural patients “out in the cold,” Lindsey said.
“When cities close their doors, now you’ve got a real problem,” he said. “If you’re an elderly person whose sick in a small town, how long do you have to drive to your pharmacy? A few minutes. But a medical marijuana dispensary? It might be very far away.”
Lindsey said it would likely be several more months before licenses begin to be issued.
“We’d prefer they at least wait for the rules to come out and decide if they would provide limited access,” he said. “Why the rush to judgment?”
LaFayette, Plain City’s attorney, disagrees.
“As soon as those rules go into place, there’s no time to do that. We can’t unring that bell,” he said. “Someone could set up shop and say, I’m a dispensary, deal with it. There’s not much we could do about it.”
Andrea Chaffin can be reached at 740-852-1616 or on Twitter @Andee_Writes.