Fairfield debates allowing cannabis business to operate in the city

State lawmakers still working on rules months after voters approved ballot measure.

Credit: Morgan Smith

Credit: Morgan Smith

Fairfield City Council enacted a nine-month moratorium against allowing adult-use cannabis license holders from opening within the city, but that could change.

As rules surrounding the legalization of adult-use cannabis, often referred to as recreational marijuana, are finalized and updated, communities that had put a ban or moratorium on allowing related businesses to operate are deciding if they should reverse course.

Fairfield City Council members seem to be open to allowing the industry to operate in the southern Butler County community. But just one business, and possibly in a commercial area. Councilman Tim Meyer said it would need to be “in a very strategic, isolated location that’s away from any way that resembles our city center at all.”

“I wouldn’t want anything close to that, but I’m not in favor of any more than one,” he said, adding that one would be a cultivator that could have a dispensary attached.

Meyer also stressed this business should not be taxing on the city’s utilities or local government where more utility infrastructure would be needed just to support the one business or more staff needs to be hired to address the industry as that would outweigh any tax benefit.

Ohio became the 24th state to legalize recreational marijuana when voters on Nov. 7, 2023, supported Issue 2. The election issue enacted adult-use cannabis as an initiated statute in the state’s revised code, taking effect on Dec. 7. In addition to allowing the sale, it permits residents to grow up to six marijuana plants per person or 12 per household and the smoking of the product (though smoking is still prohibited in various areas, including where smoking tobacco is banned.)

The vote tally in Butler County and Fairfield practically mirrored the state, which saw 57% of voters support the legalization of recreational marijuana. Butler County voters supported the measure with 57.02% of the vote, and Fairfield voters were in favor with 57.86% of the vote (and 34 of the 38 Fairfield precincts supported the issue).

Because it’s a statute, lawmakers can still amend revise and change the law, but not much movement has happened. What voters passed was placed into the Ohio Revised Code, and that’s what the Ohio Division of Cannabis has been guided.

“There’s been a lot of movement on this topic over the last six or seven months since the vote happened,” said Fairfield Development Services Director Greg Kathman. “We’ve been doing our best to trying to keep up with everything that’s being discussed, and that’s passing and draft rules and things that’s coming out, so it’s very much a moving target.”

But at Monday’s work session discussing adult-use cannabis, there were plenty of responses from staff that were either “I don’t know,” “I’m unsure,” or “That’s unclear” given that lawmakers have yet to come to a consensus on rules the General Assembly wants to alter.

Meyer said the council made the right decision in December to enact the moratorium, which gave the city a pause to acquire more facts and allowed the state to act.

“I think the facts are continuing to develop,” he said, adding he’s “in favor of going slow at this and looking at the cultivating piece. I love the idea of the cultivator with (an attached) dispensary.”

The dispensary would provide the city with additional tax benefits, as the retail component has a 10% state excise tax on adult-use cannabis. This tax is not in the other types of cannabis businesses, like cultivators or processors. Of the 10%, if Fairfield has a dispensary, they would receive 36% as a host community, and they cannot collect additional special taxes on cannabis, however, regular sales, property and income taxes still apply.

Fairfield does not allow medical marijuana businesses in the city, and the discussion did not dive into that aspect of the industry outside of acknowledging medical marijuana dispensaries can apply for a dual-use license to sell both medical and adult-use cannabis products in the same facility.

Applications can begin to be submitted on June 7, and licenses must be issued by Sept. 7, according to the rules that were outlined in the ballot issue.

Council member Adam Kraft said the city needs to act, while not necessarily soon, as “there are enough surrounding communities taking effect to this that it’s knocking at our door.”

He’s in favor of just one or two dispensaries with more strict guidance. The state said an adult-use cannabis business cannot be within 500 feet of schools, daycares or churches, along with other amenities, Kraft would like to double that.

While some on council want to focus on the cultivation business of the adult-use cannabis industry, some want to allow one or maybe two dispensaries. Councilman Matt Davidson, who voted against the moratorium, repeated his stance by saying that a temporary ban shows the city is “not being business-friendly.”

But he agrees with some of the added layers of regulation others on the board want, including not having it in the town center, and regulating near Interstate 275 or along Ohio 4. He said he believes the city can fit the industry in, which would “help our economy, to boost our economy and do good things for us.”

Vice Mayor Gwen Brill and Council members Debbie Pennington and Dale Paullus agreed with Meyers, saying they aren’t opposed to a cultivator in a commercial area with a possible dispensary attached, but no more.

Paullus suggested around the Ohio 4 and Muhlhauser Road area.

There is a medical cannabis cultivator in Forest Park, King City Gardens, which abuts Fairfield’s border with Hamilton County.

It’s uncertain when City Council could consider any decisions, either extending or altering the moratorium. The board’s next meetings are on the second Mondays of June, July and August.

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