Richmond Heights votes to open its doors to the medical marijuana industry

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio — The city has turned on the welcome sign for the medical marijuana industry.

At its meeting Tuesday evening, City Council unanimously voted to repeal a previous moratorium the city placed last year on the growing, processing and dispensing of medical marijuana in Richmond Heights. It is action that several local cities took in the aftermath of the state legislature voting to make medical marijuana use legal in June, 2016.

The law took effect in September and laws defining various aspects of it have begun to take shape.

Before its regular meeting Tuesday, a council Committee-of-the-Whole meeting was held to discuss the issue. Present was State Sen. Kenny Yuko, D-25, of Richmond Heights, who fought on the state level for the passage of medical marijuana use.

Yuko and Law Director Todd Hunt spoke of the the growing competition among local communities seeking additional revenues by seeking to attract the medical marijuana industry.

City Council members were told that cities that have been open to the idea and who not had passed a moratorium on medical marijuana business, are now getting offers from those wishing to do business in their cities.

“By repealing our moratorium, we  are saying we’re in support of manufacturing and distributing and processing medical marijuana,” said Councilman Donald O’Toole.

Applications statewide for those seeking to cultivate and process medical marijuana are due in May.

Yuko told council of how the city of Eastlake has been aggressively seeking businesses associated with medical marijuana, making available city-owned property for such use, in order to meet its financial needs.

A featured speaker at the committee meeting was lawyer Susan Bungard of the firm Walter, Haverfield, an expert on the topic of medical marijuana.

“I think this will be wonderful financially for cities,” Bungard said.

Bungard told council members that the state is now proposing 24 sites across Ohio, up from the original 18, where marijuana can be cultivated. The largest permitted growing areas will measure 50,000 square feet, and the smallest, 3,000 square feet. All growing areas must be indoors for security purposes.

Doctors, she said, will be able to “recommend” marijuana use, in edible, patch and vaporized forms, but will not be permitted to prescribe it. Those who are recommended by a doctor will be able to get up to a 90-day supply.

“There are only 24 diagnoses now that would qualify for recommendation,” Bungard said. “One of those conditions is chronic pain.”

Chronic pain, she noted, can cover several maladies. More diagnoses can be added as time goes on.

“I’m very much for it,” Councilman Jeremy Kumin said of the city getting into the competition for medical marijuana dollars. “I would like to see it anywhere in our city.

“We’re a city seeking an identity and revenue,” he said. “And, when recreational use is eventually approved, hopefully we’ll have a leg up on that.”

While Bungard said the state is making sure every step in the growth and selling of medical marijuana is meticulously regulated, there has yet to be an announcement as to the number of dispensaries to be permitted in the state.

Hunt noted that dispensaries would allow a city to make income tax dollars on its employees, but that sales taxes would largely go to the county.

“The real money is in cultivation and production,” Kumin said.

Kumin recently undertook a study in which he surveyed mayors in from two cities each in New Jersey, Maine and Oregon where medical marijuana is permitted.

“I asked all the mayors if they would do it again (allow medical marijuana production and sales in their cities) and they all said yes,” Kumin said. “They haven’t had any problems with it at all.”

Kumin is also hoping that having resident Yuko on board may also help Richmond Heights.

Hunt said those selling medical marijuana must have their own store and cannot sell it as part of another store, such as a Walgreen’s. Medical marijuana could be sold anywhere within Richmond Heights, except properties zoned for office/industrial use, unless a zoning change were made.

O’Toole said he would be willing to make that zoning change in order to allow sales in office/industrial areas.

Further, O’Toole said he wouldn’t mind if parts of the struggling Richmond Town Square mall was converted into a cultivation/processing site.

“I wouldn’t mind if someone wanted to make (the former) Macy’s building, all 160,000 square feet, into the largest cultivation/production site in the state.”

Yuko lamented the fact that the federal government still lists marijuana as an illegal drug. Because of that fact, federal services, such as the U.S. Postal Service, cannot be used to ship medical marijuana. Further, those handling and shipping the substance and the money taken in from it, cannot possess guns for security purposes.

“Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals give us a vote of confidence that we’re on the right track,” Yuko said of opinions about medical marijuana use. “By 2018, it might be that every state in the country will be on board with medical marijuana. I don’t know how the federal government can continue to deny this.”

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