Marijuana dispensaries now permitted in Middletown after council vote

Some residents speak against marijuana businesses in the city; council members defend decision.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Marijuana dispensaries can now locate in Middletown, and a business investor said his company has “a spot picked out on (Route) 122.”

A largely new council on Tuesday night repealed the 2017 ban of on medical marijuana dispensaries and passed an ordinance permitting a total of three dispensaries, medical and recreational, in the the city.

That number was reduced from the first reading of five dispensaries, one per 10,000 people in the city.

Before council voted, several citizens, including some teens and students, spoke out on the negatives of marijuana dispensaries in the city.

Kristy Duritsch, Safety County of Southwestern Ohio executive director, said, “Increased access for adults to use legally also increases access for teens to experiment with and use illegally.”

Recent studies say a high percentage of users of marijuana products move on to other drugs, Duritsch said. “It is a gateway drug,” she said.

She added based on studies in other states, increased access will result in a tripling of ER visits for children and an increase in teen use. And, Duritsch said, the only people who will benefit are the owners and investors.

Councilman Steve West II said most of the anti-marijuana studies have been funded by “big pharma.”

“The real epidemic for our youth in this country is absentee parents, fast food and not prioritizing academics,” West said. He added there is a “big problem” in this country with prescription drugs, and marijuana is an alternative that may have helped those who found themselves addicted.

John Young of Waynesville spoke as a representative of Grand Slam dispensaries, a group of investors from out of state. Young said he is a former college and professional baseball player who has worked in the medical industry for 30 years in the area of cancer diagnostics.

“My passion has been just helping people and saving lives,” Young said. “Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping people.”

He said the company also wants to connect with the community, giving back $50,000 to $100,000 a year to invest in youth programs.

“We want to partner with Middletown, We have a spot picked out on (Route) 122. We are excited about it,” Young said.

Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips Carter addressed council as a “citizen” and urged council to move “more slowly” on marijuana dispensary legislation.

“While we certainly respect the rights of adult to make their own informed choices, we health professionals do have serious concerns about marijuana getting into the hands of children, especially when it is presented in the forms of gummies, brownies and hard candies,” Phillips Carter said. “I would be remiss as a health official not to come before you and speak tonight. My request would be two (dispensaries).”

Council members Zack Ferrell, West and Paul Horn have advocated for months to repeal the six-year moratorium and permit dispensaries in the city. After additional discussion Tuesday, which included Mayor Elizabeth Slamka in agreement, they amended the number to three.

Councilwoman Jennifer Carter was clear: “I do not want to see any dispensaries in Middletown.”

Horn said the issue is about choices, whether it be smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, eating an unhealthy diet, all of which have detrimental physical effects and can cause death.

”What this is is a choice, you can choose to do this ... no one is going to make you go there. You can drive by,” Horn said. He added the area is saturated with retail growth, and people in the city are driving to other locations to make purchases.

Slamka said she liked what she heard about the business investors wanting to give back to the city and said a recent city survey shows “people in Middletown do support medical marijuana very much.”

But she said continued education is a must, including how marijuana use affects drivers.

Ferrell said his father “drank himself to death ... he had a problem with addiction. Couldn’t beat it. I wish to God I could have gave him some medical marijuana. So for everybody who needs it ... it could have saved my Dad’s life.”

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