Hamilton plans to extend pot biz prohibition but may reconsider later

Council member frustrated with state on delay for rules, but wants city to be ready.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

As Ohio rules and regulations for marijuana operational licenses are still being hammered out, Hamilton is the second Butler County community laying the groundwork to possibly allow one type of marijuana business.

Hamilton City Council is planning to continue a prohibition on adult-use cannabis operators before its six-month moratorium expires next month. The city already prohibits medical marijuana operators.

It’s unlikely, based on past and recent council discussions, Hamilton would consider a dispensary, which is what Middletown City Council is considering as that board last month took steps to potentially allow such licenses. This also comes with the consideration of revoking its 2017 marijuana prohibition.

But Hamilton could consider allowing cultivators to operate in the city, though no cultivator at this time has expressed interest. Hamilton staff, based on interest by at least one member of City Council, has been investigating potential locations of an adult-use cannabis cultivator.

Council member Joel Lauer said he was “frustrated” by Ohio not having finalized rules by now, given the overwhelming support for Issue 2 by voters in last fall’s general election.

On Nov. 7, 2023, 57.2% of Ohioans approved Issue 2 to legalize the possession and use of marijuana by individuals 21 years and older (though not in public areas), and allow the sale, cultivation and processing of marijuana state-licensed facilities. The legal consumption of marijuana became effective, along with the ability to grow a limited number of marijuana plants in one’s home, on Dec. 7, 2023.

The voter-approved law allowed for state lawmakers to amend what is now Chapter 3780 of the Ohio Revised Code, and while there have been bills introduced, nothing has been presented to lawmakers for a vote.

“I was hoping legislation would be worked through in a more efficient manner when it was voted in by the majority of the people,” Lauer said. “The number of voters that came out for this was astronomical. This issue was important to our voters, across the state as well as in Hamilton.”

According to a city staff report, a number of internal and external conversations have happened to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of having adult-use cannabis cultivators in Hamilton.

The primary advantages include jobs as well as the increase to the electric load — Hamilton is the only Ohio municipality to own and operate its electric and natural gas utilities. Electric production could potentially make a marijuana farmer and cultivator one of the city’s top electric users. Vertical farming company 80 Acres Farms ― whose spokesperson has told the Journal-News they are not considering getting into the marijuana business ― is the city’s third-rated electric user.

There are negatives that would need to be addressed, including intermittent odor issues.

City Council will consider at its next two meetings legislation to continue the prohibition, with the caveat that it would reconsider the issue once Ohio establishes finalized rules and regulations for the cannabis industry.

Ohio’s Division of Cannabis Control has stated the licenses to be issued in 2024 are only going to be issued to businesses that currently operate medical marijuana dispensaries. This is consistent with what’s stated in the draft rules, which say medical marijuana businesses can apply for a dual-use cannabis license to be permitted to sell recreational marijuana.

There are no medical marijuana dispensaries in Hamilton as they are prohibited from operating in the city. Any non-medical marijuana business licenses are unlikely to be issued until 2026, according to the Division of Cannabis Control.

“What that means, based on what we know today is that there will not be an ability for the city of Hamilton to have recreational marijuana facilities this year when the licenses are issued because we don’t have any medical marijuana businesses to convert,” Hamilton Law Director Letitia Block said.

Applications will go to each existing medical marijuana licensee beginning June 7, according to the Department of Commerce. From that point, the Division of Cannabis Control will consider applications from entities new to Ohio’s marijuana trade. There are expected to be 50 recreational dispensary licenses.

There are also expected to be upwards of 40 recreational cultivator licenses.

Any potential cultivator could face restrictions such as a 600-foot buffer from residential zone districts and being able to operate in industrial zones, according to a presentation presented by Block. City staff identified a couple of locations where a cultivator could operate, including some sites off Symmes Road in eastern Hamilton and an area west of the Great Miami River, across from the Hamilton Water Reclamation Facility.

A Hamilton prohibition enacted this summer could always be amended to allow just cultivators, Block said.

Lauer said he struggles with the word “prohibition” as he fears Hamilton will be behind on this issue.

“I just want to be ready,” he said about when the rules and regulations would be finalized. “If there is somebody interested in coming to Hamilton, Ohio, I think it provides a great opportunity with our public utilities owned by us.”

The next Hamilton Ordinance Review Commission meeting is 8 a.m. Wednesday and the next City Council meeting is 6 p.m. May 22.

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