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Munroe Falls -- With the state now allowing for the growing and dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes, the city has taken a step to protect itself against having to approve a marijuana business within its boundaries before statewide regulations are in place.
City Council approved 6-1 on Sept. 6 a resolution imposing a six-month moratorium for granting zoning certificates or zoning use certificates that would allow for cultivating, processing or retail sale of medical marijuana.
Hudson City Council also recently approved a similar measure; Tallmadge City Council will have a public hearing later this month on its legislation. Stow Law Director Amber Zibritosky told the Stow Sentry Sept. 8 that the city is considering legislation.
"The Law Department is hoping to present legislation enacting a zoning moratorium for medical marijuana dispensaries during the second Council meeting in September," she said. "The purpose would be to prevent the dispensaries from apply for zoning approval for a defined period of time until both the city administration and City Council can look into the issue more in-depth and determine how they would like to permanently zone such businesses."
Munroe Falls Law Director Tom Kostoff said the purpose of the resolution is not to circumvent the state law, which was to take effect Sept. 8, but to avoid a situation where the city may have to grant approvals for a medical marijuana business while it is still in the dark on how the state plans to regulate it.
"I think the legislation makes a lot of sense," said Kostoff, adding later that approving such a business when the law is a "statute with no guidelines" would put "the city in a very tenuous position."
Mayor James Armstrong said he agrees.
"We don't know what the state's going to do," he said.
Council President Gary Toth and Councilors Steve Stahl and Jenny Markovich also said they believe it is imperative the city take action before the law took effect.
"My concern is someone puts their foot in the door and opens up for business," said Toth.
"I think it's a step to take tonight," said Markovich.
Stahl said he can see the possibility that the day after the law takes effect, someone might apply for a zoning certificate.
"We have nothing prohibiting it," he said.
The Ohio General Assembly approved the Ohio House Bill 523 allowing for medical marijuana cultivation, sales and use, with an Ohio-licensed physician's prescription, in June. Gov. John Kasich then signed it into law.
According to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program website, there is still work to be done.
"While the legislation set a basic framework for the program, it left the task of establishing specific rules and guidelines for the cultivation, processing, testing, dispensing and medical use of marijuana to different state agencies," says the website.
It further states that, "The Ohio Department of Commerce and the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy are required by law to take all actions necessary to ensure that Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program is fully operational no later than 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."
Councilor Chris Ritzinger voted against the resolution. He said he is not against a moratorium, but it appears it will take longer than six months for the state to develop regulations so the six-month provision does not make sense.
"I think it's a waste of time," he said, adding he believes it would be better for the moratorium period to end 90 days after the state regulations are in place.
Kostoff said Council could decide later to extend the moratorium.
"I put the time on it because we need to put a time on it," he said. "We don't want to give an indefinite period of time."
Armstrong and Stahl said they would be open to later amending the resolution to change the six-month time to Ritzinger's proposal. Armstrong said he understands Ritzinger's position, but amending the resolution that night would delay its passage since under the city's charter, legislation cannot be amended and voted on during the same meeting. This, he said, could open the way for anyone who wants to start a marijuana business in the city in the immediate future to do so.
"They're probably chomping at the bit and checking communities that have not passed anything," he said.
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