Hamilton continues prohibition for marijuana businesses … for now

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Hamilton City Council continued its prohibition of allowing marijuana businesses to operate within the city, but it may not last.

Some members on the council would support allowing a cultivator within the city. Staff had identified possible locations in the eastern sections of the city, but that won’t happen until more concrete rules come from the Ohio Division of Cannabis Control or state lawmakers.

“I, for one, believe it does benefit us, with owning our own public utilities,” said council member Joel Lauer. “I just hope that we can get this pushed through quickly (once the rule updates come out). I believe there are opportunities for a cultivation business to come in and possibly settle here.”

Hamilton City Council voted 6-1, with Lauer being the dissenting vote, on a pair of legislative actions that would continue to prohibit recreational marijuana businesses from operating in Hamilton, and a zoning update. The only change was to remove an end date on the prohibition, which was June 12. Now, it’s indefinite, but council can change that decision in a single meeting.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Lauer did support with the rest of council amending city laws as it pertains to not permitting employees to use marijuana while employed by Hamilton and drug testing for certain employees.

Councilman Michael Ryan said he’s glad the groundwork to build the industry in Ohio is starting to take shape, but understands why the city had taken its steps in pausing on allowing marijuana businesses from seeking spots in Hamilton.

“I know this can work in Hamilton if we do this right; if we can pass the right ordinances here that would protect our city, protect our neighborhoods and our schools, and really make this work,” Ryan said.

The Ohio Division of Cannabis Control started taking applications on Friday, June 7, for new dual licenses allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to also sell adult-use cannabis. Hamilton does not have any medical marijuana facilities as it prohibits both medical and adult-use dispensaries, as well as cultivators and processors. Under the rules in Issue 2 in the November 2023 election, licenses are to be issued by Sept. 7.

Under the new law, adults 21 and over can buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow at home up to six plants per person, or 12 per household. When marijuana adult-use dispensaries are established and operational, they will be subject to a 10% state excise tax, which would be split among multiple funding sources: state administrative costs, host communities, addiction treatment, and paying for social equity programs, among others. Communities cannot collect any special taxes on cannabis, but regular sales, property and income taxes still apply.

Hamilton Law Director Letitia Block said the rules process is evolving and what were issued recently is just the first set of rules.

“There are going to be rolling out several other rules and so this is going to be an ongoing process, so this is the first step that we have and that we’ve been waiting for,” said Block.

Hamilton administrators will provide updates to the city’s Ordinance Review Commission, Planning Commission and City Council related to changes to the state ordinance governing recreational marijuana. Since the adopted new and updated rules, Hamilton staff will have its first update to the Ordinance Review Commission on Wednesday, then work with the city’s planning department for a presentation to Planning Commission.

After that, Block said, they’ll bring any recommendations out of the two commissions to City Council for consideration.

But Lauer still has a problem with the city using what he views as unfriendly business language, specifically prohibition and moratorium.

“I still stand where I have the entire time on this issue, however, I know we are moving forward, but when we have language on our agenda that says prohibit or continue the moratorium,” he said. “I am concerned as this will be a highly competitive industry, and I would hope that we could get it out there as soon as possible that we are interested if it benefits us.”

He sees the cultivation side of the marijuana industry as an economic opportunity for Hamilton given the amount of electric and water that will be required for growing the plant. Hamilton is the only municipality in Ohio that owns and operates the four major utilities: electric, natural gas, water and wastewater.

“I believe that with our utilities, it is beneficial to our economic development,” he said. “I would hope we can get beyond the language of ‘prohibit’ and ‘moratorium.’”

Ryan said he hopes in a few months more solid rules from Columbus can emerge and it’s “a path we need to keep investigating” as he wants to “work down a positive path to make this work in Hamilton.”

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