NORTH ROYALTON – City council discussed medical marijuana for the first time since enacting a six-month moratorium to better research the issue after the drug was legalized in September through the state via House Bill 523.
Several city leaders watched a lengthy webinar to prepare and learn more about the new law before discussing it in the Review and Oversight Committee last month.
H.B. 523, passed earlier this year by both the House and the Senate, creates the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program allowing Ohioans with certain medical conditions to obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana, purchase it from a licensed dispensary and consume it.
The legislation provided the basic framework for the program, however, the creation and implementation of specific rules and guidelines regarding the cultivation, processing, testing, dispensing and medical use of the drug will be the task of various state agencies.
The program is expected to be in place no later than September 2018.
North Royalton leaders are somewhat split on this issue.
Some say it’s too early to make any decisions with it still in its infancy, others believe the city should ban the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana now.
Law Director Tom Kelly told council the state has yet to organize itself sufficiently to allow local governments to know how this will work, and medical marijuana comes with complications too.
“It could be a year or more before this is fleshed out,” he said. “Medical marijuana is a new, legal product so it is dramatically limited in terms of the scope of it and ability and availability. It’s still illegal on the federal level. Now that it’s legal recreationally in some states doesn’t make it legal in the eyes of the federal authorities, and how that plays out.”
Kelly said if council wanted to take a conservative step it could ban medical marijuana agriculturally and ban dispensaries to avoid any unknown complications.
“People want to know if you can put a dispensary in or grow it agriculturally in the southern part of town. It’s still too murky, still too early on in the process to have a grasp legally of where this goes,” Kelly said.
Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, a member of R&O, and Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris, R&O’s chair, both said they can’t support medical marijuana because it is in violation of the federal law. Langshaw is also fearful of feeding the drug epidemic.
“It can be ingested, you can put it in a vaporizer, but you can’t just walk up State Road with a joint in your hand to help you with your cancer,” Kasaris said. “I understand the state of Ohio said it’s lawful, but until it’s removed from the Schedule I, the same schedule as ecstasy and LSD, I can’t support it. I can’t support violating federal law, which is what we would be doing to allow it to be grown or sold.”
“My concern is more of it being a gateway drug and causing more of an issue in the city,” Langshaw added. “I’d rather see us focusing on getting a Starbucks or a Panera. I will not support legislation to allow it, and I am prepared to introduce legislation to ban the sale and cultivation in all zoning districts throughout North Royalton.”
Council President Larry Antoskiewicz said he didn’t feel comfortable banning something without having all the facts.
“We don’t have all of the facts yet. We can keep it in committee and talk about it again before the moratorium ends and see, if at that point, it’s prudent to extend the moratorium,” he said. “The whole idea of the moratorium was to garner facts, until we do have all that information, it makes no sense at all to make a decision.”
Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell said he didn’t want to jump straight to a ban either.
“We are an agricultural city, and there are people in our community that could benefit medically from this,” he said. “I’m trying to keep an open mind.”
The issue remains in committee where council can extend the moratorium if need be while awaiting the program and guidelines from the state to become more established.