Most of Richland County’s mayors approached about growing facility sites
The company seeking a license to operate a medical marijuana growing facility in Richland County believes this area makes sense, as a location which isn’t far from agriculture research and training, or from the permitting process in Columbus, Barrett Thomas said Thursday.
The county’s economic development director said an unnamed Ohio company sought his help to approach cities around Richland County, to see which might have potential construction sites, and which had an interest in the proposal.
The Richland Community Development Group staff member said he was not free to share exactly which communities are reviewing further discussions on allowing construction of a medical marijuana cultivation/production site.
But Ontario and Shelby appear to be among them.
“As the economic development director for Richland County, when these leads come in, they come to me,” Thomas said.
The lead came through the company itself, which was looking at specific counties. “They came here, they did a site visit, and they were very happy with what they saw,” Thomas said.
Richland County is fairly close to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and OSU’s Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster — which could provide research on increasing marijuana crops’ medical components and train workers, the economic development official said.
A local facility also wouldn’t be far from Columbus, where the permitting process will be centered, he said
On Wednesday night, Ontario Mayor Randy Hutchinson told city council he took part in a conference call related to the project with a company official, the economic development director, himself and Shelby’s mayor.
Ontario residents have been invited to give their input, possibly at city council’s next meeting March 1, if a company representative can be available to answer questions.
Shelby Mayor Steve Schag was in meetings Thursday afternoon and could not immediately be reached for comment on whether the city may continue to consider a medical marijuana plant.
Thomas said Thursday he held initial discussions with most of Richland County’s mayors, to let them know the company is seeking to build. “I have talked with a lot of mayors about this, and there are only a few that are still involved in the conversation,” he said.
Officials from townships – some of which have enacted zoning regulations prohibiting medical marijuana businesses – were not on his list of contacts for that project, Thomas said.
If a medical marijuana cultivation/production facility is to be built at all in Richland County, the wheels might need to start turning this year, the economic development director said. The state will issue only about a dozen licenses, and it’s possible no additional licenses will be added later. If so, after that, “you can’t build any more in Ohio,” he said.
Jobs in cultivation/production tend to much higher-paid than jobs at the retail end of the new cultivation/production industry, Thomas said Thursday.
The local growing facility could involve 35 to 40 jobs, at salaries ranging from $35,000 to $90,000, for a total payroll of $1 million, according to local officials.
The proposed facility may be housed in a 35,000- to-40,000-square-foot building that would contain marijuana plants grown to produce high levels of therapeutic chemicals.
The medical marijuana plant would sell wholesale, to dispensaries — not retail — and would not itself include a dispensary. People with prescriptions would go elsewhere, Thomas said, citing an analogy from another industry. “If you need a foot long tube of steel, you’re not going to go to ArcelorMittal. You’re going to go to a hardware store…” he said.
Since Ohio’s rules for the new industry won’t allow medical consumption in smoked form, medical components processed from the plants won’t be kept in a form that would encourage recreational users to try to obtain some, Thomas said. “They are not sending out like the bricks of leaves that you see when people are smuggling drugs…There won’t be joints rolled up and you can just break in and grab some,” he said.
The facility would be closer to a pharmaceutical business, he said.
While few communities are eager to attract medical marijuana dispensaries, more communities are interested in attracting growing facilities, Thomas said.
Hutchinson told city council a specific California-0based company, MedMen, was involved.
But Thomas said Thursday it’s an Ohio company, not a California company, which plans to apply for the license.
“The company that is seeking a license is not publically known,” he said.
The Ohio company will not be directly involved in operating a marijuana growing business, Thomas added. “They will be hiring an outside company that excels in cultivation/production,” he said.
The company plans to build another facility outside Ohio, where it will “work out the kinks” in what is still a nascent industry, then build a facility in Ohio, the Richland Community Development Group staffer said.
Mayors involved in discussions with the company are trying to work out whether the public will see potential economic development benefits outweighing concerns about marijuana.
Hutchinson said Wednesday he wanted to be clear that he was not “pushing” to attract the business, only presenting it to the community as an option.
Thomas said it’s not clear how area residents will line up.
“I think the public support for medical marijuana is something like 80 percent,” he said. That level of support may lessen when a company is looking at operating in local communities — but it’s likely residents might be more supportive of a cultivation/production business than of one involving sales, he said.
Ohioans turned down an initial ballot measure which would have allowed medical marijuana a few years ago.
“As voters, we turned down ‘carte blanche’ medical marijuana in 2015. That proposal was ‘anything goes, we’re going to write it into the Constitution as a monopoly for ourselves,’ ” Thomas said.
After voters nixed that plan, the Ohio General Assembly lent support to allowing a much more restricted industry, to head off the potential for another ballot measure which, if approved, might have included options legislators did not like. “The rules are still being worked out,” Thomas said.