As the medical-marijuana industry prepares to take root in Ohio, Delaware County communities must decide if they want to weed it out or let it grow.

A law that took effect last year approved the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical purposes in Ohio. The law also allows municipalities to pass moratoriums or outright bans on businesses that grow or dispense marijuana.

With June deadlines for potential cultivators to apply for licenses, Delaware officials said calls are coming in from businesses looking to come to the city.

Members of Delaware City Council earlier in May encouraged the city's administration to look into what steps the city would need to take to bring in medical marijuana-related businesses.

Dave Efland, the city's planning and community development director, said the city's zoning code currently does not allow agricultural activity in the industrial zones where cultivators want to set up shop. He said the city can change its code if it intends to allow such facilities.

Councilwoman Lisa Keller said she does not think allowing marijuana-related firms in Delaware would turn the city into "some sort of drug ring."

"This is medicinal use and there are people suffering," she said. "I don't see what the big hubbub is."

Vice Mayor Kent Shafer said he wants the city to determine what steps it should take to make sure cultivation sites are not easy targets for criminals.

"Really, my biggest concern is that there is appropriate security at these facilities," he said. "It's going to be an issue, and if the state doesn't want to regulate that, we might want to add (requirements)."

Keller said she feared council could put itself on a "slippery slope" if it starts turning away businesses engaged in legal activity.

"I don't think that the city of Delaware is in a position to turn away industry," she said.

Keller said she reserves the right to judge proposals from individual businesses that come before council in the future on their own merits.

City Manager Tom Homan said the next step for the city will be to determine whether dispensaries would be welcome in the city. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy is expected to finalize application and licensing rules for such businesses by Sept. 8.

In Powell, city officials seem much more likely to ban any commercial activity related to marijuana.

Powell Law Director Gene Hollins said the city has received an inquiry from a doctor interested in setting up a medical-marijuana dispensary in town.

Councilman Tom Counts said he does not think city residents want marijuana-related businesses in their community.

"I'd be very surprised if they'd want even the possibility of that type of dispensary here," he said.

Hollins said he advises municipalities who are against such businesses to ban them rather than subject them to a moratorium. He said he views full prohibition of such firms as less likely to draw a legal challenge than a temporary ban because businesses could argue the length of a potential moratorium is unreasonable.

Councilman Jim Hrivnak said he supported prohibiting marijuana firms, noting a future council could always repeal it if the community decides to embrace those businesses.

"If things change, we can change," he said.

Powell City Council's Operations Committee on May 16 asked city staff to prepare an ordinance to prohibit businesses that grow or sell medical marijuana from coming to town.

Powell officials noted the city cannot prevent residents from legally obtaining medical marijuana outside of city limits or using it within city limits.

While Delaware and Powell appear to be headed in different directions regarding medical marijuana, Sunbury has not yet chosen a side.

Village Administrator Allen Rothermel said the topic is "on our village attorney's list" for study, but no decisions have been made.

ThisWeek reporter Andrew King contributed to this story.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

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