LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- As Ohio’s new medical marijuana program rolls out, communities across the state are staking steps to temporarily block or ban altogether pot-related businesses from opening.
A new law legalizing medical marijuana goes into effect Thursday, a move that some industry watchers say could pave the road to a more than $400 million industry in Ohio.
While the law allows local governments to restrict where marijuana-related businesses can be located or ban them entirely from operating, rules governing just how many businesses will be allowed to grow, process, test and sell the drug are months away from being written.
The uncertainty about what’s coming is prompting a growing number of communities to take pause as they consider the potential impacts, said Blake Daniels, a spokesman for the Ohio Municipal League.
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“Local governments have really taken a big hit in recent years -- and we hear a lot of chatter from communities that would rather delay these decisions than face some enormous, unforeseen problem,” Daniels said.
Officials in Liberty Township this summer approved a one-year ban that would keep any marijuana-related business from opening in the community of nearly 40,000.
“This gives us time to look at our zoning code to see what makes sense and allows us more time to hear from residents and businesses on the issue,” Township Trustee Christine Matacic said at the time.
Colerain Township officials approved a similar temporary, joining several central Ohio communities with moratoriums in place including Beavercreek, Piqua and Troy.
“We’re not taking a hard position on this,” said Colerain Township Trustee Michael Inderhees. “We’re certainly interested in any potential tax revenue that could come as a result of these new businesses, but we really want to hear from residents.”
A look at the law
Under the law, patients who have written recommendations from their doctor and have one of more than 20 qualifying conditions will be eligible to use medical marijuana.
Ohio's Department of Commerce will be in charge of deciding just how many business licenses are issued across the state for cultivators, processors and testing labs.
The state’s pharmacy board will oversee licensing for medical marijuana dispensaries where patches, oils and tinctures can be sold. Those decisions are expected to be made next spring and fall.
The law also bans marijuana businesses from being within 500 feet of schools, playgrounds, public libraries and churches.
As more communities consider the issue, Daniels says the Municipal Leagues has been inundated with questions from community legal teams.
“There are a lot of layers to this,” he said. “Just one thing to consider is that theses are largely all-cash businesses – that makes accounting for tax purposes hard, and it brings a lot of security concerns into communities.”
Patient advocates concerned
But some say community leaders are acting too quickly.
“We don’t even know all the elements of the program yet, and we think that it’s really a rush to judgment to put these moratoriums in place,” said Aaron Marshall, spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, the group that championed a medical marijuana ballot effort earlier this before the legislature took up the issue.
While communities “clearly have the right to pass local ordinances and do their due diligence,” Marshall said any laws that limit access to medical marijuana by patients is problematic.
“We just want everyone to take a deep breath, and let the regulation and rules take shape,” he said. “Just remember that these patients are moms, dads, grandparents and children who have serious medical conditions, and this law is meant for them.”