Fairfield enacts ban on recreational marijuana licenses, Hamilton may be next with vote tonight

Tonight, Hamilton City Council will be the next local government to consider some type of ban or moratorium on businesses with a recreational marijuana license from operating within the city.

On Monday, Fairfield City Council approved by a 6-1 vote a nine-month moratorium disallowing recreational marijuana license-holders from operating within the city, at least until Sept. 10, 2024. The council was the latest local governmental body to consider such legislation following the Nov. 7 vote with Issue 2 to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio, and ahead of codifying possible changes by Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly.

Issue 2 passed with 57% of the vote statewide, making Ohio the 24th state to legalize recreational marijuana. The law takes effect Thursday, which could be altered by the Ohio legislature, but for now, it allows, among other things, adults 21 and over to legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, as well as use and grow (six plants per person and 12 per household). It also imposes a 10% sales tax.

Hamilton Council will consider an ordinance that would prohibit cultivators, processors and dispensaries for adult-use cannabis within the city. City Council had a lengthy discussion last month, and said they can always reverse any ban once the state’s guidelines and regulations have been established.

Hamilton, as well as Fairfield, already prohibited medical marijuana from being sold, process, and cultivated in the city. This does not prohibit anyone from possessing or smoking marijuana on or after Thursday, the day recreational use is allowed by law.

Though the vote result of tonight’s Hamilton City Council decision is uncertain, Council member Eric Pohlman said last month that he would be satisfied with prohibiting what the city can and move on because, “I really don’t want to see one of these in downtown Hamilton. We’ve worked very hard to make Hamilton what it is ... and I think it would poison what we did.”

Fairfield’s vote Monday night to temporarily ban recreational marijuana licenses wasn’t unanimous.

Council member Matt Davidson said Fairfield City Council should support the will of the people because 57.9% of Fairfield residents supported Issue 2, a near-16 percentage point margin of support. He pointed out that there are a limited number of licenses being issued statewide, and City Council can limit the number of shops in Fairfield. Their control, he pointed out, is through zoning, so concerns of blight, business operations, and location within the city can be controlled.

“Fifty-eight to 42, to me, is nowhere close to right now the middle,” said Davidson. “To me, that’s a statement right there. That’s a statement of what the citizens want, what the citizens voted for, what the citizens are favoring.”

Several on city council said they want to wait until lawmakers in Columbus get everything resolved, from amending what is allowed. State lawmakers want to ban or limit aspects of the voter-approved Issue 2 prior to its being enacted.

“There are so many things that are still up in the air to be resolved,” said Council member Gwen Brill. “And it’s probably going to take most of next year to get those things answered.”

Lawmakers have said it could be until the fall of 2024 before any dispensaries open up. The state has until June 7 to develop and publish application materials for recreational marijuana operators, cultivators, and processors, as well as research facilities, and Ohio must begin issuing licenses by Sept. 7, 2024.

Fairfield Vice Mayor Tim Meyers said while a majority of city residents supported the use of recreational marijuana, it’s still the council’s purview to regulate the business operations. Fairfield has already banned medical marijuana license holders from operating in the city.

“I absolutely believe that the voters have spoken,” said Meyers. “But the cultivation piece and the selling is our job to evaluate that, whether we want that in the city.”

Meyers said the pause doesn’t mean the city administration won’t be evaluating and study the issue and “look at all the angles of this and see what we missed. And the state of Ohio, as Council member Brill had indicated, is still looking at how is this all going to play out.”

Davidson said it’s irrelevant to what Columbus lawmakers do, because it won’t change the Nov. 7 vote, allowing citizens to possess and smoke, and eventually (but not yet) purchase marijuana in Ohio, regardless if it’s in Fairfield or any neighboring community.

“This is not a reason to take action from prohibiting businesses from our city,” he said, adding that potential business owners would bypass Fairfield.

Issue 2 allows local governments to prohibit or limit the number of operators, processors, and cultivators from operating within the city, according to Ohio Revised Code section 3780.25. The code, which becomes effective on Thursday, also states that local governments are able to prevent license holders from operating within their jurisdiction, even after a license is issued and the business is operating, according to the same section of the ORC.

While many who spoke Monday night in opposition were fundamentally opposed to marijuana use, and wanted to limit it within the city, resident Scott Lepsky, a member of the city’s planning commission, said the pause will give the city’s planning, zoning and development professionals to evaluate the matter as it could change after Columbus lawmakers vote to place limits on the new law.

“There’s nothing in the (municipal) code to an operation of dispensaries,” said Lepsky. “Those restrictions need to be in place first, just like every other business operating here in the city. It’s responsible and reasonable to put a pause in place to allow your development staff, and boards and commissions to evaluate what we know, and more importantly, what we don’t know.”

Davidson believes Fairfield will be missing out on new tax dollars by not allowing an industry the city can regulate, from look and operations, as well as the number of types of licenses. He said Fairfield “would just be giving tax revenue somewhere else, we would be funding somewhere else,” and it won’t prevent residents from purchasing marijuana or using it.

Citing the Ohio State Moritz College of Law, Davidson told the council that Ohio could see between $276 million and $403 million in annual tax revenues if the General Assembly doesn’t alter the tax structure.

In a proposed ban on homegrown marijuana, among other alterations to Issue 2, lawmakers in Columbus on Monday proposed increasing the marijuana excise tax from 10% to 15%, and add a 15% tax on cultivators, adding millions of dollars more to revenue to the state.

While the city is temporarily prohibiting some licenses from being in the city, it cannot block marijuana research. According to the new law, no local legislative body can prohibit laboratory research related to marijuana, including at a state university, academic medical center or private research and development organization.

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