In the seat of Warren County — known as one of the most conservative counties in Ohio — Lebanon City Council is split about declaring a moratorium on medical marijuana cultivation, processing or distribution.
Recreational marijuana, legalized in eight states and Washington D.C., is still illegal in Ohio.
However, medical marijuana is to become legal in the state once locations for cultivation, processing and distribution have been unveiled by the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.
Medical marijuana initiatives have taken hold or are in process in other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Some suspect this is a step toward legalization of recreational use, already the law in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada, as well as the nation’s Capitol.
“This is just the beginning. It’s going to happen. It’s going to get legalized,” Lebanon Councilman Jeff Aylor said on June 13 after the first reading of a resolution declaring a moratorium within city limits.
Around the area, communities are taking a wide range of stances.
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So far, the area trend far has favored moratorium, if not prohibition.
For example, north of Lebanon, Springboro recently extended its moratorium, while moving toward prohibition.
In Clearcreek Twp., the unincorporated area between Lebanon and Springboro, the zoning commission is holding a public hearing on July 6 on a possible ban through the section of the state health code added for the medical marijuana program.
During a preliminary discussion in May, Ed Wade, who heads the Clearcreek Twp. Board of Trustees, urged staff to consult with Springboro as it had “a similar idea to what we have.”
The proposed zoning changes include tougher rules on sexually oriented businesses and agritourism.
If the township zoning commission agrees on a recommendation to the trustees, a vote should be held in August on banning medical marijuana in Clearcreek Twp.
This follows other Warren County townships that prohibited medical marijuana after county officials said they were unable to block its cultivation in unincorporated areas under their jurisdiction.
But Carlisle and Yellow Springs have responded to the coming of medical marijuana by allowing for a business to set up on municipal property within their limits, once the state regulations take effect.
And on Wednesday, Lebanon City Council is scheduled to continue a debate that began more than a month ago and has been extended over several hours without a consensus being reached.
The council is expected to vote on July 11 on a proposed moratorium on medical marijuana businesses setting up within city limits.
The vote comes as the state is expected to unveil its response. State law allows for the cultivation, processing or distribution — with a doctor’s note — of forms of the marijuana.
Federally, marijuana is still classified by the Food & Drug Administration as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
“Shouldn’t it give us pause?” Lebanon Councilman Jim Dearie said during the June 13 meeting.
Federal law classifies it with drugs having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, but up to 24 small- or large- or small-scale grow sites are to be permitted in Ohio under the new state law.
“We shouldn’t move forward until they have figured this out,” Aylor added.
Some of the debate in Lebanon centered around research finding that marijuana is viewed in some circles as offering a wide range of potential therapeutic benefits.
“We have an opportunity as a strong community to encourage and take advantage of this new therapeutic option,” said Ryan Tassef, a resident opposed to the moratorium.
The council also questioned the state law allowing medical marijuana businesses to be established, but giving local governments the option to declare moratoriums or prohibitions.
“Shame on you for giving communities the option of opting out,” Mayor Amy Brewer said, questioning if the council should “pick and choose what businesses come to our town.”
Councilman Mark Messer read from pages of research that downplay any connection between marijuana use and crime, including one study indicating violent crime waned in areas where the drug was legal. Post traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis were among the serious medical conditions marijuana was being used to treat, Messer said.
“It’s an obvious win for the state,” said Messer, reading of million-dollar windfalls in Michigan and Arizona from fees or sales. “Jobs in this sector are scheduled to outpace manufacturing by 2020.”
Councilman Jim Norris expressed skepticism about Messer’s research and favored opposition to medical marijuana being grown, processed or distributed in Lebanon.
“I think Mr. Messer and certain others have roamed up a certain column,” Norris said, pointing to reports of dispensaries in Detroit shut down in a sting operation.
Norris said a local doctor he’d queried on the subject said there were other proven medications already available and opposed medical marijuana.
“I believe the council is responsible for representing community values,” Norris added, reading a list of area communities with bans.
Brewer said residents would travel to communities with dispensaries. She said her contacts opposed a moratorium.
Comparisons were made with adult entertainment businesses.
“It’s completely different from the dude that wants to get the pornography,” Councilwoman Wendy Monroe said.
Aylor predicted a 4-3 vote. It was unclear whether he expected the moratorium to be approved.
“I bet our community’s about the same,” he said.
Brewer urged the community to continue to share ideas on the issue.
“July 11th will be the vote. There will be more time to talk,” she said.
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