Ontario officials recently said they are seeking public comment on a proposal by an Ohio company to build and operate a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot medical marijuana growing operation somewhere in Richland County — possibly on two undisclosed industrially zoned parcels within the Ontario city limits.
Some area law enforcement officials said they have concerns about such a facility opening here, but Plymouth police Chief Charlie Doan said he has no problem with it.
“I’ve been surprised we haven’t done it before this. If marijuana has its place in medical treatment, why aren’t we doing it?” Doan said.
The chief of the small village in northern Richland County said however to be clear, he is not in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Other local law enforcement officials voiced concerns about medical marijuana.
“The statistics out of Colorado should be a warning sign for all parents and residents of Richland County that sometimes the revenue isn’t worth the decay it causes within the community,” Coontz said. “We have seen diverted marijuana from Colorado in Ohio already, and the statistics from Colorado prove that the industry is not being controlled very well. Thirty-six other states in the United States received marijuana that was supposed to stay in Colorado.”
“We are still in the middle of a heroin epidemic that we cannot control, that is tearing our families apart, and that started with prescription medication,” the Mansfield police chief said. “How in the world do we think we can control this when other states cannot? We already struggle with a presence of drug dealers from Chicago and Detroit in our area chasing heroin sales, how many more do we want to invite?”
Coontz referred to “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado; The Impact,” a September 2016 Colorado report by The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Are (RMHIDTA), an anti-drug task force.
“Organized Crime Comes to Colorado to Cash in on Illegal Marijuana Home”
An excerpt: “Grows: “On March 31,  sheriff’s deputies from the Special Investigations Narcotics Section raided a single‐family home that was in the process of being converted into a ‘grow house’. Authorities discovered 127 marijuana plants, over $100,000 in growing equipment, and two Cuban nationals.” In the following weeks, the report said, four more individuals were arrested in similar cases, transforming residential homes into elaborate marijuana grow operations, and all were “recent transplants to Colorado”. The report quoted DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kevin Merrill as saying the agency has seen operations with Cuban, Vietnamese and Russian ties.
The report quoted Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who previously served 10 years as attorney general of Colorado, as calling the emergence of grow houses as a nightmare scenario, and terming it a byproduct of the state’s recent legalization of first medicinal, and later recreational, marijuana. People from out of town or even foreign countries move to Colorado and ‘buy or lease houses by the hundreds if not thousands’,” Suthers said in the report.
“I love this community and I have raised my children here, so I want to be certain that our citizens are well informed,” Coontz said.
Ontario Police Chief Rodney Smith declined to say whether or not he supports such a facility.
“Truly in my mind it is falling to the legislative branch to make the decision,” Smith said.
“It’s a challenging event for our state. Marijuana has been an illegal thing to possess and now that they’ve opened the door to the medical side, they’re going to have to take another look,” he said. “It becomes a challenge for our kids, we’re trying to steer you away from it at school but what does that mean when we might have a plant here?
Smith said it’s going to be a challenge as to whether people want this in their city or not. He sees the potential good, with the tax base and the bad. He said he doesn’t know what the company is planning other than a warehouse.
“Our city is big on wanting input. The city belongs to the people If they want this here, that’s their choice to make. If they don’t, they need to let their legislators know so they can make the right decision for our city. Our job will be to enforce the laws whether it’s built here or not,” Smith said.
Mansfield Police Crime Lab Director Tony Tambasco said he was contacted by the Board of Pharmacy after an incident involving the “candy” at the concert in Butler last year. In August, 24 people became sick from eating candy laced with THC at a music festival.
Matthew Gross, 28, of Ypsilanti, Mich., was charged with aggravated trafficking, a second-degree felony, for the Aug. 6 incident at the EST (Everyone Stands Together) Fest, held at Ohio Dreams, an action sports summer camp in Worthington Township outside of Butler.
“Since that date we have provided images of food-related products containing THC to the BOP for evaluation,” Tambasco said. “The Board of Pharmacy is concerned as they are responsible for the Ohio laws surrounding the manufacture of legal THC products and understand some of the current products mimic currently legal items such as candy. They are attempting to address issues that have been created from other states before they become an Ohio issue,” Tambasco said.
Richland County Sheriff J. Steve Sheldon said, “I am an opponent to the use of marijuana for medical purposes or not. If can lead to harder drug use and impairs driving ability.”
Shelby police Chief Lance Combs said he doesn’t want to see such an operation come to the area.
“I don’t want any of it here,” said Combs.
He cited the ongoing opiate addiction problem in Richland County and is concerned about how the drug will be diverted from its intended use, with the criminal element diverting marijuana “out the back door” of the facility. Concerns also include increased thefts, burglaries and people driving under the influence of drugs.
“We have so many challenges now. I don’t think that we want to open that door,” Combs said.
“It’s very difficult for me to stand up for the opiate addiction problem and simultaneously support bringing the marijuana industry in Richland County,” he said.
He referred to the same Colorado report.
In the report, experts cited that marijuana-related deaths increased 62 percent from 71 to 115 persons after recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013.
The marketing organization in Denver, called Visit Denver, found, “The downtown environment is the No. 1 complaint from meeting planners, far surpassing any other categories. The severity of the issue has increased and as of 2014, nearly 50 percent of meeting planners negatively commented on homeless, youth, panhandling, safety, cleanliness and drugs including public marijuana consumption.”
As of January 2016, there were 424 retail marijuana stores in Colorado compared to 322 Starbucks and 202 McDonald’s, according to the Colorado report.
Councilman Mark Weidemyre said he understands law enforcement’s concerns but said if two major pharmaceuticals were considering coming or building in the community, they would be welcomed with open arms.
“The bottom line is it’s legal and it helps people. It’s not for recreational use, it’s medicinal,” he said.
“We’ve been told the security is going to be tighter than Fort Knox,” Weidemyre said.