Although Ohio Board of Pharmacy officials won't even be accepting formal applications for medical marijuana dispensaries until next month, 13 would-be operators already have gone through the process of confirming proper zoning for sites in Columbus, says Anthony J. Celebrezze, assistant director of the Department of Building and Zoning Services.

Another three dozen have made informal inquiries, he said, including operators of dispensaries in some of the other 29 states that have approved the use of cannabis in treating certain medical conditions.

The proposed possible locations have included North High Street in Clintonville; Morse Road, East Dublin-Granville Road and Easton in the Northland area; South High Street; and Bethel Road on the Northwest Side.

"They're all over the place," Celebrezze said.

Bethel Road would be a "prime location for that kind of business," Northwest Civic Association President Nick Cipiti said.

"The application process has been posted," said Cameron McNamee, director of policy and communications for the state pharmacy board. "The applications are not being accepted yet. We put out a sample application."

The board will open the online process of seeking to operate a dispensary in November, he added. The nonrefundable application fee is $5,000. Those whose applications are successful must pay $70,000 for a two-year license.

"When it comes to locations, there are two factors that come into play," McNamee said.

The first is the distribution of dispensaries around the state. Franklin County was allotted five.

However, the law that legalized medical marijuana specified that the dispensaries may not be within 500 feet of a school, church, playground, public park or facility that offers addiction services.

Banned in suburbs

McNamee said cities, villages and townships are permitted to pass ordinances banning the dispensaries.

"There is that local control built into the law," he said.

In Franklin County, Columbus opted not to take that step, Celebrezze said.

Many area municipalities -- including Westerville, Dublin and Upper Arlington -- have instituted moratoriums or banned dispensaries outright, but Celebrezze said the last time he checked, Reynoldsburg, Gahanna and some townships had taken no action.

Celebrezze predicted Columbus would end up with three dispensaries.

The legislation approving medical marijuana states the program must be operational by Sept. 8, 2018, McNamee said. Once provisional licenses are granted for dispensaries, he said, operators will have six months to get their locations up and running.

The city's role in where these operations will go is limited to ensuring they are in the proper zoning district, Celebrezze said -- which created an unknown for city officials.

"These are a new use," he said. "You're not going to find them specifically called out in the zoning code."

It was determined that in Columbus, the dispensaries would be allowed in C-4 zoning areas -- the highest of the commercial designations, Celebrezze said.

"They are essentially a retail use -- specific, but a retail use," he said.

If a licensed dispensary opens at a site with C-4 zoning, nearby neighbors won't have any ground to oppose it.

"It's like any other retail activity," Celebrezze said. "We don't have area commissions sign off on every change of use. We're encouraging these folks to go talk to area commissions."

Celebrezze noted the dispensaries have strict security, and only registered patients or caregivers may even access the facilities.

"We suspect they'll end up being good neighbors," he said.

Conditional uses permitted

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, physicians in Ohio will give patients "recommendations," rather than prescriptions, for using medical marijuana.

These patients must be diagnosed with one of 20 approved conditions, ranging from AIDS, multiple sclerosis and cancer to glaucoma, Tourette syndrome, fibromyalgia and severe, chronic pain.

Libby Wetherholt, chairwoman of the Clintonville Area Commission, anticipates the dispensaries will cause no issues. A location on High Street north of Morse Road already has been identified as the potential site for one.

"I hate to predict, but I do think an awful lot of people will be for it, especially with the opioid crisis. If there's something else that can help people with pain, it should be welcome," she said.

"It doesn't particularly bother me," said Dave Paul, chairman of the Northland Community Council development committee. "I'm not sure that I have a position in terms of the question of legalization, but now that it is legalized for medical use, it seems reasonable that we would have such businesses in the Northland area and contributing to the local economy."

Cipiti wasn't as certain about public acceptance, noting he's read reports of dispensaries "being busted for selling items other than just medical marijuana."

"I understand that given the current zoning, they wouldn't have to request any changes," Cipiti said. "If they wanted to move in, they wouldn't even have to come before the Northwest Civic Association.

"I haven't had a chance, really, to survey the other members, so I don't have a handle on how they would feel."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1