Council seems open to medical marijuana sales


Council members don’t want anybody growing or processing medical marijuana in the city, but people looking to buy may have the possibility of up to two retail outlets in Salem in the future.

City council’s Committee of the Whole, which includes all seven council members, voted Tuesday on three separate motions related to medical marijuana, with two being forwarded to the city law director to prepare as ordinances for council to consider at a future council meeting.

In a unanimous vote, the committee proposed a ban on medical marijuana cultivation and processing facilities in the city, with Councilman Clyde Brown making the motion and Councilman Roy Paparodis providing the second so there could be a vote.

That was followed by Councilman Andrew Null proposing a ban on retail dispensaries of medical marijuana, seconded by Paparodis, but the motion failed in a 2-5 vote, with only Null and Paparodis supporting the idea of prohibiting retail outlets.

Councilman Geoff Goll proposed limiting the number of dispensaries that could locate in the city to two, with Brown seconding the motion which passed by a 5-2 vote. Again, Null and Paparodis stood alone as the only ones to vote against allowing dispensaries but limiting the number to two.

When asked why they voted against retail outlets, Null said he has nothing against medical marijuana if someone needs it, but he’s concerned about sending a mixed message to the residents. They’ve invested a lot in the police department and now have two K-9s. He questioned what kind of message that sends if the city allows medical marijuana businesses to locate here.

“I’m afraid it’s going to go from medical marijuana to recreational marijuana and what element that may bring to the city,” Paparodis said.

According to Null, he understood that the city has been approached by someone who wants to open a dispensary, which Planning & Zoning Officer Chip Hank confirmed, noting that applications don’t have to be filed with the state until September.

According to a website on Ohio’s medical marijuana law, rules for dispensaries won’t be finalized until September. The frequently asked questions section did note that the facilities will be “prohibited from being located within 500 feet of a school, church, public library, public playground, or public park. In addition, cities, villages and townships may adopt additional regulations to prohibit or limit the number of retail dispensaries.”

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey questioned whether city council could limit where a dispensary can locate in the city, specifically to keep them out of the downtown. Hank said he had met with Law Director Brooke Zellers who said they would be permitted in all industrial and commercial areas. Committee Chair Councilman Brian Whitehill said he would check with Zellers about Dickey’s question on location.

During discussion, Paparodis said he’s never had so much interest on any other topic in the form of emails and phone calls from constituents. He commented that people he knew in the past who smoked marijuana had different reactions to it. Some got mellow and some got rowdy. He commented that people who live in the communities who don’t allow the dispensaries will end up going somewhere else to buy it. If Salem approved dispensaries, he questioned what risk they would be inviting into town to buy the product.

Goll, though, pointed out that according to the law, smoking marijuana is still prohibited. The issue before them is medical marijuana, which will have a limited percentage of THC, the chemical compound that provides the high. Medical marijuana will be distributed in oils, edibles or patches. The law also lists the specific illnesses that may be treated with medical marijuana, which will require a doctor’s order.

He was having a problem with the idea of telling a resident who’s suffering from an illness that they have to drive to Akron or Youngstown to fill their prescription. People are saying they don’t want to see people smoking marijuana walking down State Street, but that won’t be allowed.

Whitehill said he didn’t feel the cultivation business that was previously proposed for a building at the corner of East Perry Street and South Broadway was a good fit for that area, which was the reason no action was taken to change the zoning. He also said cultivation and processing plants will face the biggest risks, from corruption and from people trying to break inside.

Null said they needed to be proactive, noting that if they didn’t take some type of action now, they may not be able to later, with Whitehill adding that it’s all speculation, but if recreational use becomes legal, there may not be any limits. Whitehill also pointed out that nobody’s trying to block pharmacies and they sell some drugs that can be destructive.

On one hand, Dickey expressed concern about oversight of the program, but as a nurse, she said she’s watched people suffer. She said it would be difficult looking patients in the face and telling them they have to drive 30 to 60 miles to get what they need. She also talked about what happened during prohibition when alcohol was made illegal and how some problems go away when something’s made legal. At one time, marijuana was legal.

Brown said he liked the idea of dispensaries, but not the cultivators or processors. Councilwoman Christine Mancuso said she agreed with a lot of what was said, but she was torn. She was concerned about the message being sent after putting so much money into the police department, but then talked about the possibility of people who are ill in Salem feeling better through medical marijuana.

Dickey at one point suggested that it should be up to the people of Salem to decide on the ballot, but Whitehill said that would just be passing the buck, noting it was council’s job to make these types of decisions.

Goll also made a point about some of the concerns raised previously in a letter from Family Recovery Center about how the medical marijuana will affect the workplace. He said it’s important to note that the statute specifically addresses what happens if someone loses their job over using medical marijuana, saying a violation of workplace rules would be just cause for a dismissal.