Monroe will have highest rate of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state

Columbia Care, 300 N. Main St., opened in 2019 as Strawberry Fields. It's the only medical marijuana dispensary in Monroe, though three more recently were approved for licenses. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Columbia Care, 300 N. Main St., opened in 2019 as Strawberry Fields. It's the only medical marijuana dispensary in Monroe, though three more recently were approved for licenses. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

City leaders say they are ‘business friendly’, and it is a convenient place off I-75.

Monroe may soon be the medical marijuana capital of Ohio.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which regulates medical marijuana dispensaries, approved 70 provisional licenses for new locations across the state last month, including three in Monroe, pushing the city’s total to four.

Of the provisional licenses in the state, those include three in Butler County, two in Warren County, four in Montgomery County and two in Miami County.

Once all dispensaries are operational, Monroe, with a population of 15,412, will have one marijuana business per 3,853 residents, the highest rate in the state.

The only Ohio cities that will have more dispensaries than Monroe are Columbus (15), Cincinnati (11), Cleveland (5) and Dayton (5). Monroe is tied for fifth with Canton that has a population more than four times larger at 70,872.

There are 59 dispensaries operating statewide now, including nine in this region: two in Butler County, one in Warren County, three in Montgomery County, two in Clark County and one in Greene County.

Strawberry Fields opened at 300 N. Main St. in Monroe in the fall of 2019. Jimmy Gould, the owner, said he sold that business last year and it’s called Columbia Care.

Two of the provisional licenses in Monroe were granted to Shangri-La Dispensary Ohio and one to Deaver Ohio. No locations have been announced for Shangri-La, but Deaver will be located at 1312 Ohio 63, according to the Ohio Department of Pharmacy.

The first Ohio licenses for dispensaries were issued in 2018 and 2019, said Justin Sheridan, the board’s director of medical marijuana operations.

Keith Funk and Christina McElfresh, Monroe’s mayor and vice mayor, respectively, said dispensary companies may be attracted to the city due to its available retail space and easy access off Interstate 75.

Funk said it’s important for Monroe to be “business friendly,” regardless of whether those in the city agree or disagree with the type of business.

He’s surprised the state would aware four dispensary licenses in such a small city like Monroe.

“Is that terrible?” he asked. “I don’t know.”

McElfresh said businesses are welcome in the city as long as they follow the rules and are zoned properly.

But she understands that some residents are against medical marijuana. So those people, seeing more businesses open would be “a hard pill to swallow.”

Gene Smith, 43, of Monroe, said he doesn’t mind having marijuana dispensaries in his community as long as they’re good community partners.

“Obviously there is a need,” he said of medical marijuana dispensaries. “We might as well fill that need.”

But a 57-year-old woman, who said she’s a lifelong Monroe resident, said the city never should have allowed those type of businesses in the city.

“I don’t want people to think of marijuana when they think of Monroe,” said the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous.

The Board of Pharmacy is required to reevaluate the number of licenses at least every two years but can do so more often, said Cameron McNamee, the board’s director of policy and communications.

Last year, the Board of Pharmacy changed its licensing rules to choose winning applicants by lottery instead of by competitive applications, Sheridan said. This time the board got 1,465 applications.

Gould called determining who opens a medical marijuana facility through a lottery system “the worst idea in the world.” Those decisions should be merit based, he said.

He doesn’t understand why the state would want four dispensaries in a small community like Monroe and none in “underserved” rural communities.

Monroe City Manager Bill Brock called the lottery system “a little short-sighted” by the state and he doesn’t understand why the state would open several of the same businesses in the same city.

Like opening 15 McDonald’s in one small town, he was asked?

“Exactly,” Brock said.

But Brock said he welcomes three more small businesses and said the city has had “no issues” regarding crime or drug abuse reported at the dispensary on North Main Street.

The number of licenses available depends on the geographic distribution of existing dispensaries and the number of patients in that area, McNamee said.

The new round of licenses will get close to the target of one dispensary for every 1,200 nearby patients, based on numbers from April 2021, he said.

Applications for a second round of licenses opened in November, and the Ohio Lottery Commission oversaw the drawing from among qualified applicants on Jan. 27.

State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, sponsored the bill which legalized medical marijuana for some uses – House Bill 523, passed in 2016 when he was a state representative. Now he’s sponsoring an update, Senate Bill 261, which would allow expanded cultivation and potentially increase the number of dispensaries.

Huffman said the expansion proposal is motivated by the average price of medical marijuana in Ohio: about $310 an ounce, more than surrounding states. He hopes a greater supply and more sales outlets will bring that price down.

The bill would also expand the illnesses eligible for marijuana treatment, including any condition a doctor thinks it would help.


Marijuana businesses

Cultivators: Level I cultivators are permitted to operate an initial marijuana cultivation area up to 25,000 square feet. Level II cultivators are permitted to operate an initial marijuana cultivation area of 3,000 square feet. Licensees may submit an expansion request pursuant to the cultivator rules.

Processors: A processor manufacturers medical marijuana products. There are three types of processors standalone, vertically integrated facilities, and a plant-only processor that is a cultivator who distributes plant material directly to dispensaries.

Testing laboratories: Testing laboratories include universities and private labs. There is no limit to the number of testing lab licenses that may be awarded by the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Dispensaries: The State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy licenses and regulates medical marijuana dispensaries.

SOURCE: The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program

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