While a slight majority of Grandview Heights City Council voted in favor of prohibiting retail medical-marijuana dispensaries in the city, the matter ultimately may be decided by voters.

Council voted 4-3 at its April 2 meeting to prohibit dispensaries, but some on council expressed an expectation that a referendum would occur no matter the result.

Council members Melanie Houston, Greta Kearns, Emily Keeler and Anthony Panzera voted in favor of the ordinance.

Steve Gladman, Steve Reynolds and Chris Smith voted against the prohibition.

Reynolds, who has been the most passionate advocate on council for allowing dispensaries to operate within the city limits, said he has been in contact with at least a few residents who have expressed interest in seeking a referendum on the issue.

"I know of at least one person who is planning to talk to an attorney to find out what would be involved in the process, including the expense for the resident, and will be making a decision whether she wants to move forward on it," he said.

"I'm certainly hoping there's enough interest in the community for a referendum on this issue," Reynolds said. "Part of my thinking was always that we as a council would decide to put the issue on the ballot ourselves and let the residents decide."

By state law, a petition for a referendum must be filed no more than 30 days after legislation has been acted on by a city council. The petition requires the valid signatures of at least 10 percent of the electors who voted for governor in the most recent general election.

"It's a pretty tight timetable to get 270 or so valid signatures," Reynolds said.

The legislation council approved was a revised version of an ordinance originally introduced in February by Keeler, who leads council's planning and administration committee.

In February, council tabled indefinitely two pieces of legislation Reynolds introduced at the beginning of the year as what he said was "a compromise."

The first ordinance was similar to the original measure council adopted last year to ban cultivation and processing operations. It would have prohibited retail dispensaries as an allowable activity in certain permitted uses in zoning districts in the city.

The second measure would have permitted a retail dispensary to be located within the M-1 light industrial zoning district.

It is "unconscionable that legislators at any level would stand in the way of potential treatments for citizens with life-threatening or life-changing illnesses," Reynolds said.

Many of the premises leaned on by proponents of banning the retail sale of medical marijuana are based on "accusations, theories and misguided concepts of what dispensaries are" and what impact they have on a community, he said.

"If we had taken time to (dig into some of those accusations), we probably would have had a different outcome on this," Reynolds said.

There is a lot of evidence in studies that show that medical-marijuana dispensaries do not lead to more property crimes and that the legality of marijuana, either for recreational or medicinal purposes, does not increase the use or acceptance of the drug among young people, he said.

While Smith said he agreed with council's earlier action to ban the cultivation and processing of medical marijuana in the city, the retail dispensing issue "comes down to giving people who are suffering the treatment they need."

The bill passed by the Ohio General Assembly permitting the retail dispensing of medical marijuana in the state is "a pretty conservative and restrictive bill," he said. "Those folks are not the Berkeley City Council, to say the least."

In his own informal polling of residents he has spoken to about the issue, Smith said, "most people either don't have a strong opinion or they're fine with (allowing dispensaries). And I'm fine with it."

The concerns about medical marijuana don't stand up when one considers and compares the negative impact legal opioids are having across the country, he said.

Houston said she voted in favor of the ban even though "in principle, I support medical marijuana and I would support friends and family using it if needed."

But the specific question council was facing was whether to allow medical-marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city, she said.

In her study of the issue and conversations with an expert in the field, Houston said she found various factors that compelled her to vote in favor of the ordinance.

First, since the state requires all dispensaries to be at least 500 feet away from a school, playground or park, it would be unlikely that a dispensary could be located in Grandview in any case, she said.

A dispensary also would add to the risk that young people in the community would have greater exposure to marijuana, Houston said.

"And then I do believe our residents will have access to medical-marijuana dispensaries (in other cities), since most of our residents do have vehicles," she said.

The state has approved five dispensaries in Franklin County, although the locations have not been selected yet.

A preliminary list of applicants for dispensaries in the county, released in February, included none within the city of Grandview Heights.

Keeler said her experience has been the opposite of Smith's.

Most of the residents she has spoken to "are overwhelmingly against allowing dispensaries in Grandview Heights," she said.

It's not council's role to tell residents whether they should use medical marijuana, Keeler said.

The state has decided the issue by making it legal in Ohio, but it's also given municipalities the right to decide whether to allow dispensaries in their community, she said.

Marijuana remains illegal by federal law, "and we don't know what consequences, positive or negative," permitting the use of medical marijuana will have in Ohio, Keeler said.

Banning dispensaries in the city, at least for now, will "give us time to decide whether we want it or not" as more studies are completed and more data collected, she said.

While he voted in favor of banning dispensaries, Councilman Anthony Panzera said he had no strong passion one way or the other on the issue.

His vote was based on his belief, based on the feedback he has received, that the majority of the community opposes allowing medical-marijuana dispensaries in Grandview, he said.

Panzera said he also believes the public will decide, because no matter what council's decision was, "it will be challenged."

He noted he had suggested council should pass any legislation related to the dispensary issue as a nonemergency ordinance to give residents the ability to place a referendum on the ballot.



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