City may ban medical marijuana sales ahead of November election

Hamilton city officials are considering amending several zoning ordinances that would preemptively ban medical marijuana sales in all of the city’s zoning districts. While the sale of medical marijuana is currently illegal in the state of Ohio, concerns expressed at several 2013 public input meetings led to this preemptive ban, said John Creech, the city’s senior planner.

He added that the amendments related to medical marijuana sales are “just the last ones that we’ve addressed of a larger zoning overhaul,” that began after the public input meetings addressed improvements that could be made to Hamilton’s zoning ordinance, which was last updated in 1971.

“There were a whole bunch of things that folks didn’t want to see in neighborhood business districts,” Creech told the Journal-News on Monday . “My guess is that they thought it would have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood.”

The City Planning Commission held a public hearing and reviewed the proposed changes to the Hamilton Zoning Ordinance on Jan. 5, then approved the proposed amendments and recommended approval by City Council. Minutes from that meeting were not readily available by this newspaper’s deadline.

Planning Commission member Larry Bowling said that the approval was an attempt to be “proactive, rather than reactive,” ahead of any vote in November.

Creech said that should Ohioans vote to legalize marijuana in November, the city may have to “tweak” its ban. But until then, the ban would go into effect 30 days after being approved by City Council, which could vote on the matter at its February meeting. The penalties would be identical to those of any zoning violation, between $250 and $500 for each offense and each day that the violation continues is considered a separate offense. This excludes any criminal violation the offender would receive as well, Creech added.

Creech was not aware of any current businesses that might be affected by this prospective ban.

A public hearing is scheduled for the Feb. 11 City Council meeting, as well as the first reading of the ordinance. The second reading and vote are currently scheduled for the Feb. 25 council meeting.

There are currently three pending ballot issues concerning marijuana legalization for medical use that are eligible to be placed on a statewide ballot. But that’s provided enough signatures of registered Ohio voters are verified, according to the Ohio Secretary of State.

However, the Ohio Rights Group, which received its approval from the Ohio Ballot Board to collect signatures in an attempt to place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot, seems to be the farthest along with around 150,000 signatures from 30 counties. The group must collect 305,591 valid signatures from registered Ohio voters in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

In order to place any constitutional amendment or statute proposed by petitioners on the November 2015 ballot, it must be submitted by July 1, which is 125 days before the general election.

According to several media outlets, the village of Granville in Licking County repealed this past summer a law that permitted the use of marijuana for medical purposes if it was prescribed by a physician. However, it conflicted state law that does not permit the use of marijuana for any reason.

Staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this report.

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