ELYRIA — City Council is amending zoning laws to define where medical marijuana facilities can locate in the city, and the conditions operators have to meet in order to get a conditional-use permit.
But residents need not worry that a cannabis shop will soon become a new neighbor. The proposed zoning changes restrict medical marijuana entities from operating in nearly 85 percent of the city.
Mayor Holly Brinda said the city is trying to strike a balance between embracing the new industry and advocating for the city’s residents and neighbors.
“I think many individuals can benefit from medical marijuana and that has been long debated by the medical community in our country,” she said. “Our lawmakers have recognized this, too. It’s coming to our area whether we choose to manage and control it or not. We want to take a proactive position because we think it will benefit our residents and nearby residents and lastly it will create some revenue for the community.”
Ohio law allows for the cultivation, processing, sale and research of medical marijuana, opening up the drug for use by Ohio residents suffering from roughly 20 medical ailments under the recommendation of a medical physician. Cities across the state are looking at how the September 2016 law will impact local municipalities when it takes effect next year.
Elyria has come out as a supporter of the industry and is taking steps to welcome cannabis entrepreneurs to the city.
Zoning changes on the books for a Monday vote include making medical marijuana entities a conditional use permissible in areas zoned under three designations in the city. Dispensaries, which are the retail arms of the industry, can go in areas zoned light industrial, heavy industrial or business general.
“As far as where a dispensary can go, we are trying to view it in the same way one would view a drugstore,” Brinda said.
“We wanted to keep our interpretation of it in terms of how people shop and given that medical marijuana is a medical product, we wanted to treat it in the same way people shop for their prescription drugs.”
Cultivation and processing sites will be restricted to heavy industrial districts.
“These businesses will not go into any residential or neighborhood business districts,” said Law Director Scott Serazin. “This is the less restrictive zoning we think will work for Elyria. There are still cities that have moratoriums or that are restricting it into nonexistence.”
With 11 commercial zoning designations and four designations set aside for residential areas, Kevin Brubaker, the city’s assistant safety service director, said zoning for medical marijuana puts the entities in very specific areas of the city.
“I would say it restricts 85 possibly 90 percent of the city,” he said.
Even within those restricted areas, medical marijuana facilities can not operate within 500 feet of a school, church, public park, public playground or public library and must be consistent with Ohio spacing requirements. There also is a caveat in the legislation that allows Planning Commission and Council to look at the impact on public safety, economic welfare, the impact on the area related to nuisance smells and odors, how many such facilities are in the area and proximity to medical or pharmaceutical facilities in deciding to grant local operating licenses.
“The city of Elyria has been rather open about this process and since there is much regulation from the state about it, we feel it will be a job creator for the city,” Serazin said.
Brinda first announced her interest in the budding industry during her annual State of the City address. Since then she said she has received roughly 40 phone calls from people interested in potential dispensary facilities. Many have requested information about available property.
However, that heavy interest will not translate into multiple facilities. The state is limiting the licenses it will award, and Brinda said industry experts said Elyria will probably only get two dispensaries and one cultivation license.
A testing laboratory likely will not come to Elyria because they are linked to universities that do research.
The city’s measures don’t circumvent state requirements in any way. A medical marijuana entity will still need a valid license and certificate of operation from the Ohio Department of Commerce to operate in the city, Brinda said.
The city also has its own licensing protocols and fees in places that include applying for a local provisional license for a non-refundable fee of $500 and then applying for a local operating license for a non-refundable application fee of $5,000.
Fees also are attached to relocating a medical marijuana facility and renewing a local operating license.