Westerville likely will join a growing list of central Ohio municipalities that have placed a moratorium on medical-marijuana businesses within city limits.

With the passage of Ohio House Bill 523 in 2016, those with qualifying medical conditions will be allowed to use medical marijuana for treatment. The bill became effective Sept. 8.

But before its rules are solid, Westerville officials say they cannot allow retailers, cultivators and dispensaries in the city.

An ordinance introduced by the Westerville City Council May 16 would place a six-month moratorium on "the cultivation, processing or retail dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes within the city."

Attorney Thomas Schmitt said the city's legal team and police department had "a number of questions" about how the cultivating, processing and sales would work, and they were not receiving any clarification from the state.

"The process for granting the permits has not yet even been determined, as well as a variety of rules that the state will be putting in for how these entities operate in the state," Schmitt said.

According to Schmitt, Westerville's legal team believes permits could begin to be granted in July, though the lack of communication has added a level of uncertainty.

Because of the upcoming date, Westerville's ordinance would likely be passed as an emergency, allowing it to take effect immediately instead of 30 days after a vote.

The emergency clause also eliminates the ability to overturn the moratorium by referendum, which was not acceptable to Councilman Tim Davey.

"We're taking away rights of the public by doing that," he said.

But Councilman Mike Heyeck said the approaching date made the moratorium necessary, and he hoped to speed up the process before someone tries to swoop in before the temporary ban is passed.

Many central Ohio communities have taken similar approaches to the issue of medical-marijuana businesses, with some approving moratoriums and others banning it entirely. Powell recently introduced the idea of a ban, and had multiple council members disparage the idea of a moratorium.

"I think a moratorium is just that – kicking the can down the street," Powell Councilman Jim Hrivnak said.

Upper Arlington in October approved a 12-month restriction on local cultivation, processing or dispensing of medical marijuana.

Also in October, New Albany approved a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana related businesses.

Later that month, Bexley approved an 18-month moratorium. In December, Grandview Heights approved a six-month moratorium.

Schmitt was asked why the city's legislation had not been in place earlier in the year before the approaching deadlines.

He said staff members simply had nothing to work with until recently.

"The state had not even put out an application process, so we decided there was no (reason) to put a moratorium in place because there was no way to even evaluate the process," he said.

The issue will be discussed and could possibly be approved at council's next regular meeting Tuesday, June 6.

Reporter Thomas Gallick contributed to this story.

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