Dozens of medical marijuana shops that soon will pop up in the state — including 13 in the Dayton area — already have conjured up images in the minds of many.
“A lot of people think you are building a little stoner head shop. It’s not like that at all,” said Jimmy Gould, chairman of CannAscend Alternative, a company that received provisional licenses to operate four Strawberry Fields-branded dispensaries.
One of those shops will be at 333 Wayne Ave. in Dayton, another in Monroe.
“It’s a very a fresh, attractive feeling … I think a lot of people just don’t understand what these dispensaries look like for people who have never been in one,” Gould said.
Many Ohioans aren’t sold on marijuana’s therapeutic value and remain concerned about legal pot’s impact on community safety, especially with the cash-only business model required by federal rules.
The 56 Ohio dispensaries announced last week will be extremely secure, say operators, adding they will help the state and local economies plus provide a needed medical benefit.
The state’s Board of Pharmacy approved provisional licenses that include dispensaries in Beavercreek, Riverside, Lebanon and Springfield as well as a second Dayton site on Needmore Road that was a former hookah bar, the site of fights and a 2016 robbery followed by a separate shooting that year.
“I just think it’s going to add to a whole lot of problems,” said Crystal Newsome, 27, who is living right behind the property at 1875 Needmore Road that received a provisional license.
Newsome said the street has been quiet since Hookah Star closed about a year ago, but she is worried trouble could return with the sale of medical marijuana, something she’s against.
“To be very honest with you it’s kind of disturbing,” said the mother of an 8-month-old. “I think that’s the reason why this place shut down in the first place … It was a whole lot of drama, a whole lot of fights … it’s just going to add right to it.”
‘Last place on Earth’ to break law
Larry Pegram, president of Pure Ohio Wellness, the company preparing to sell medical marijuana at the former hookah bar, said highly secure and video-monitored dispensaries would “be the last place on Earth” anyone would go to break the law.
“I understand people have reservations about this. It’s an unknown to them,” Pegram said. “Our whole goal is to improve the area and put money back into the area and bring the area up, not what was maybe previously in that building.”
Pure Ohio Wellness is also licensed to cultivate marijuana in Springfield. The company is working on two storefront dispensaries, at the Needmore Road site in Dayton and another at 1711 West Main St. in Springfield.
“Both of them are in distressed areas we are trying to improve financially by putting a bunch of money into the buildings and into the immediate area to try to improve the lives of people in that area,” Pegram said.
In June 2016, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law that authorizes marijuana use by patients with 21 conditions, including cancer or chronic pain. While home growing and smoking remains barred, dispensaries will be allowed to sell cannabis in the form of edibles, oils, tinctures, patches and for vaporizing.
Officials announced last week that Ohio won’t meet a September deadline for the sale of medical marijuana, but the Board of Pharmacy expects to launch its patient registry in July. Provided they have a doctor’s recommendation, patients and their caregivers will be allowed to possess up to a 90-day supply.
More harm possible, expert says
The medical benefits of cannabis have yet to be proven and the new dispensaries could do more harm to a population already troubled by drugs, said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board of Montgomery County.
“In terms of which communities the dispensaries will be allowed to operate in, unfortunately they are in communities that already have some challenges with high levels of other substance misuse or high levels of other social determinants that have taken a toll on the community. So we have some concerns about that,” she said.
The ADAMHS board, chambers of commerce and law enforcement officials opposed a 2015 statewide ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana, including adult recreational use and limited cultivation for personal use. The referendum failed but lawmakers followed with House Bill 523 in 2016, which approved the drug’s use for medical purposes and set up a framework for licensing cultivators, processors, testing labs and dispensaries.
“While we want to have as many options in our community available to our citizens for pain relief, we don’t think this is the one,” Jones-Kelley said. “And until there is some research and approval from the FDA, our tune will not change.”
Patients face debilitating pain
Cannabis therapy was the only thing that helped her special needs child, said Shawnta Hopkins-Greene, who helped set up medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, D.C. and in Maryland. As CEO of MyCannX, she said she is trying to break down the stigma that people who will frequent the dispensaries are just drug users.
“They genuinely are patients. These will be very, very ill people accessing this medication: cancer patients, seizure patients, patients who are in such excruciating pain,” Hopkins-Greene said. “Many of the patients have debilitating pain conditions and can barely walk there. Some of them are immobile and they have to have a caregiver come and get their medication for them.”
Dispensaries will attract patients with higher disposable incomes because the regulated environment pushes up the cost of medical marijuana to nearly double the street price, said Hopkins-Greene, who plans to relocate to her native Columbus and consult for Ohio dispensaries.
“They are going to be people who have jobs — usually well-paying jobs — who have families and understand the benefits of getting their medication in a legal market,” she said. “They value the safety and security of being able to enter a dispensary rather than just getting what they can get on the street.”
But at the federal level, marijuana continues to be a Schedule 1 drug — considered to have no acceptable medical use — and is illegal. The businesses largely can’t accept credit card payments, write or take checks or deposit money in banks, forcing most of the industry to operate on a cash-only basis and raising more concern about attracting crime.
While it’s difficult to find crime statistics related to dispensaries, it’s not difficult to find accounts of marijuana shops in states where it’s legal targeted in smash-and-grab burglaries, the type already plaguing Miami Valley cell phone stores.
Armed robbers have hit dispensaries in multiple states. At least two security guards have been killed during attempted heists at stores in Colorado and in California. One break-in netted robbers $100,000 in cash in Seattle, and in December, thieves carted off $600,000 of pot from a San Francisco dispensary, according to news reports.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legal medical marijuana and nine states along with the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use.
The Ohio licensing process was weighted heavily on the applicant’s operations plan that detailed security and surveillance measures of facilities and how the product would be received, stored, dispensed and kept out of the wrong hands.
Ohio dispensaries must be located at least 500 feet from prohibited locations like schools, be in compliance with tax laws and meet certain capital requirements and have zoning approval from the municipality. Additionally, the applicants couldn’t have been convicted of certain criminal offenses.
Despite the safeguards, not every locality embraced the idea. Centerville, Oakwood, Huber Heights and Springboro enacted bans during the process. Kettering City Council members approved a permanent ban this month.
With a moratorium and possible future ban, Beavercreek will not challenge the opening of a dispensary at 4370 Tonawanda Trail to be operated by Harvest of Ohio LLC. Dayton, Riverside and Springfield have accepted the new businesses with little reservation.
Small businesses that help people
Keith Klein, Dayton’s senior development specialist, said the two planned dispensaries along with the cultivator license already granted within the Dayton borders gives the city three potential new small business with another potentially coming should a processing operation get licensed.
“The city is looking at it from two perspectives: it’s an opportunity to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in the community,” he said. “And the city supports the idea that people should have safe access to these products in order to potentially treat their medical conditions that qualify under the state’s program.”
Renee Jones said she’s in chronic pain. The 57-year-old Dayton resident said she would be a potential customer at the facility to be built on Wayne Avenue near where she waited for a bus last week.
“I know it could help me. It would help as far as my movement, if my doctor prescribed me,” she said “A lot of people who oppose it is because they see people using it recreationally. But medical-wise, it definitely helps those who need it. It really does.”
Gould said by the end of the year a roughly 3,000-square-foot Strawberry Fields dispensary could be selling medical marijuana to patients at the Wayne Avenue location.
“We’re already ready with our plans. Now we just have to get in there and time this right and get this up and operating,” Gould said. “A lot of people have to understand this is a winning proposition for everybody, assuming we do it right.”