Upper Arlington City Council is expected to decide Monday, March 9, if medical-marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to operate in the city.
In June 2016, then-Gov. John Kasich signed a bill legalizing use of medical marijuana.
As a result, all Ohioans who meet state standards according to a certified doctor and who obtain a card from the State Board of Pharmacy may legally obtain and use medical marijuana.
They may not, however, get the drug in Upper Arlington, in part, because for the past three years, City Council has approved one-year moratoriums prohibiting businesses from cultivating, processing or dispensing medical marijuana.
City Manager Steve Schoeny and council members Jim Lynch and Brian Close pointed out Upper Arlington isn't a candidate for medical-marijuana cultivation, processing or dispensary businesses any time soon. Although there are 49 such operations in Ohio, according to the Ohio Marijuana Control Program, there are no plans for the state to extend additional licenses.
That said, Upper Arlington's ban on medical-marijuana businesses will expire April 7.
In its place, council is considering a permanent ban on "the cultivation, processing and retail dispensing of medical marijuana in all zoning districts in the city."
After discussing the issue at a Feb. 18 conference session and hearing a first reading of Ordinance 4-2020 at its Feb. 24 meeting, council is expected to vote on the proposed permanent ban at its next meeting.
"I just don't see what (allowing dispensaries) does for us," councilwoman Michele Hoyle said at the Feb. 18 conference session.
She said federal laws don't recognize medical marijuana and raised concerns that dispensaries are "cash-only" businesses that could be subject to security issues. Hoyle said most of Upper Arlington's neighboring communities don't allow such operations, either.
A Feb. 24 staff report to council from development director Chad Gibson and assistant city attorney Jesse Armstrong stated Dublin, Grove City, Powell, New Albany, Westerville and Worthington all have citywide bans on dispensaries and other medical-marijuana operations.
The report said Bexley's zoning prohibits the operations, and Hilliard would allow such businesses only in specific zoning districts if proprietors get local licenses in addition to those required by the state.
During the Feb. 18 conference session, council Vice President Brendan King said a ban in Upper Arlington "makes sense."
Council President Kip Greenhill voiced his support of a ban Feb. 18 and 24, saying he thinks medical-marijuana ventures could negatively affect other businesses and local property values, as well as send a dangerous message to youths that marijuana is OK.
"I'm not here to speak against medical marijuana, but I do think one of the roles of government is to protect its citizens and also to protect property," he said Feb. 24.
While some council members line up with communities that have taken a stand against medical-marijuana businesses, new members John Kulewicz and Michaela Burriss have, to date, been open to allowing them.
They point to a dispensary in Grandview and four in Columbus that seem to be operating without significant problems, are generating revenue and, in some cases, are leading economic revitalization of properties that previously were vacant or blighted.
Kulewicz and Burriss said medical marijuana is legal in Ohio and said Upper Arlington leaders shouldn't restrict access to the drug for patients who need it.
"There are our fellow citizens in Upper Arlington who have medical-marijuana cards," Kulewicz said Feb. 18. "It's under the laws of the state of Ohio, duly adopted with broad popular support. This is a legitimate means of medical treatment. I think we need to avoid stigmatizing people who depend on this."
Burriss fought back emotions while speaking against the ban Feb. 24. She said the city shouldn't put up barriers to health care.
She said she battled posttraumatic stress disorder in college and requiring medical-marijuana patients to drive to Grandview and Columbus to get medicine they're legally entitled to could create "life-or-death" situations for suicidal people.
"We're not here necessarily to debate the legitimacy of medical marijuana in the state," Burriss said. "Our very conservative state General Assembly did that, and it had overwhelming, bipartisan support and it's very popular. So what I'm thinking about is the role of government in prohibiting business in Upper Arlington."
Lynch countered by saying the city has used zoning to prohibit adult bookstores and massage parlors for public-safety and community-standards reasons, but Burriss said the small number of dispensaries in Grandview and Columbus suggest the proposed permanent ban is unwarranted.
During council's Feb. 24 discussion, six residents spoke about the proposed ban, with three in favor of it and three opposed.
Those opposed to the ban included a Columbus dispensary operator who said medical-marijuana businesses must comply with strict state security standards and two medical-marijuana patients who testified that cannabis has helped them deal with chronic pain and anxiety.
Those in favor of the ban included a medical professional and two anti-drug advocates who argued that allowing medical-marijuana businesses would normalize the recreational use of the drug and result in upswings in traffic accidents and abuse among young people.
Council is expected to take more public input March 9 before deciding whether to enact the proposed ban.