Bexley and New Albany could soon join more than a dozen Ohio municipalities banning or placing a temporary hold on medical-marijuana operations.
Both suburbs recently introduced legislation to adopt moratoriums temporarily restricting the activity — New Albany on Sept. 20 and Bexley on Tuesday. The New Albany City Council could approve its ordinance as early as Oct. 4, while Bexley's debates will likely continue until late that month, according to officials.
Their leaders — and officials in most of central Ohio's suburbs — said they're still reviewing the state's new law and researching how it might affect their communities. A moratorium gives officials more time to consider their options without the risk of businesses trying to set up shop in the meantime, they said. The state is expected to spend more than a year crafting its medical-marijuana rules.
New Albany's legislation calls for a six-month moratorium with an option for a six-month extension. Bexley is considering keeping activity on hold for 18 months.
"New Albany is a planned community and has built its reputation on that," New Albany City Manager Joe Stefanov said. "We wanted to make sure we had time to evaluate the pros and cons and develop a plan to address (medical marijuana), regardless of the direction we choose."
House Bill 523, Ohio's medical-marijuana law, took effect Sept. 8, allowing patients to use doctor-recommended medical marijuana. It provides for the plant's regulated cultivation, processing and sale and allows municipalities to enact regulations banning or limiting medical-marijuana operations. The law also prohibits operations within 500 feet of a school, library, church, playground or park.
Among the communities discussing bans or moratoriums, their reasons vary, said Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League. Some don't agree philosophically with the new law. Others don't think local pot dispensaries would conform to their community's values.
Lancaster City Council members approved the area's first ban on Monday, citing safety concerns, including impaired driving by marijuana users.
But many communities, including Bexley and New Albany, simply want to wait until the state has worked out the rules and other details of carrying out the new law. Medical marijuana is not expected to be available for 18 months to two years pending those rules. Four state entities — the Ohio Department of Commerce, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the State Medical Board and an appointed advisory committee — will oversee different parts of the system.
Another variable that raises questions about regulation: Under federal law, pot still remains illegal as a controlled substance.
"We're cautious about the idea of using Bexley as a test case," Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said. "We prefer to have a wait-and-see approach prior to opening it up to our community."
Municipalities across Ohio that have already initiated or approved medical marijuana bans or moratoriums include Lakewood, Rocky River, North Canton, South Euclid, Dover and New Philadelphia in northeastern Ohio and Beavercreek, Hamilton, Troy, Piqua, Middletown and Lima in western Ohio.
The Licking County village of Johnstown, meanwhile, was one of Ohio’s first municipalities to embrace medical marijuana as an economic development opportunity. In August, Johnstown Village Council members approved a resolution that encourages medical-marijuana businesses as long as they comply with state and local laws and zoning. The owner of a local plant-oil-extractions business that is focused on the out-of-state pot industry hopes to convert part of the Johnstown Business Park into a medical-marijuana campus.