Jars containing different strains of marijuana are displayed in West Salem Cannabis, a marijuana shop in Salem, Ore. (Andrew Selsky, Associated Press file)

Cleveland plan blocks medical marijuana sales in 95 percent of city

CLEVELAND, Ohio – City Council voted Monday to approve new zoning requirements that will prevent the sale of medical marijuana in about 95 percent of the city.

The legislation, approved 15-1, limits the location of marijuana dispensaries, cultivation sites, production and refining facilities and research sites.

The balancing act council members are trying to perform is to tightly regulate the businesses without driving them out to the suburbs.

If that happens, the city would be cut out of potentially thousands of dollars in tax revenues from the new industry and some residents who will use medical marijuana would be denied access to the medical products for lack of transportation.

“Medical marijuana is happening,” said Kerry McCormack, whose Ward 3 includes downtown, Ohio City and much of Tremont. “If the closest access to this for medicinal use … is in Independence, for example, I know a lot of my residents won’t be able to get there.”

What does the zoning ordinance prohibit?

Cleveland’s ordinance incorporates several restrictions that the state has already put in place, and adds some of its own.

Among them:

Medical marijuana operations cannot be opened within 500 feet of a property that is the site of a school, church, public library, public playground or public park.

The operations are allowed only on property zoned as a general retail district or one of three industrial property designations.

Property designated for local retail businesses, multi-family residential or single-family residential is off limits.

What does the state allow?

Ohio law allows people with any of 21 medical conditions to buy and use marijuana if recommended to them by a physician. The law went into effect in September 2016, but gave the state two years to draft rules and regulations for the program, license marijuana businesses and make the drug available for patients to buy from dispensaries.

Earlier this year, the Ohio Department of Commerce received 185 applications for 24 cultivator licenses statewide — 12 for small growers and 12 for large growers. It plans to award those licenses sometime in November.

City Council is voting on Monday so that the zoning regulations would be in place before the state begins accepting applications for dispensary licenses on Nov. 3.

The state has said it will award up to 18 dispensary licenses for Northeast Ohio. Up to five will be awarded in Cuyahoga County.

Processor applications will be accepted beginning Dec. 4. Applications for testing labs operated by private companies will be accepted beginning Nov. 27. In each case, applications will be accepted for two weeks.

Was there opposition to Cleveland’s ordinance?

While most members supported the legislation, Councilwoman Dona Brady had said she would oppose the regulation because she didn’t think it goes far enough.

Brady, who was a sponsor of the legislation, initially included a 1,000-foot buffer around all residential property in Cleveland. The administration recommended that provision be removed.

City Planning Director Freddy Collier, speaking at a council committee meeting Monday, said that including the buffer would all but eliminate the possibility of any medical marijuana business opening in Cleveland.

In the administration’s view, Collier said, other regulations in Brady’s legislation, coupled with the state regulations and the existing setback requirements in Cleveland’s zoning rules for businesses, would provide enough protection.

Ultimately Brady said she would agree to changing the legislation, removing the 1,000-foot buffer. But without at least a 500-foot buffer, she said she would oppose the ordinance.

Monday evening she did vote ‘no’ and removed her name as sponsor.

Information from: Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland