By MAX FILBY
Findlay City Council narrowly voted against hurrying passage of a city-wide ban on medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday.
The ban legislation, requested by Mayor Lydia Mihalik, received the first of three readings.
An attempt by council to hurry passage needed eight votes, but it only received seven. At-Large Councilman Grant Russel, 7th Ward Councilman Tim Watson and 5th Ward Councilman John Harrington voted against suspending council’s rules, which would have allowed the ordinance to proceed to a final vote Tuesday night.
“I feel like we’re rushing to ban,” Watson said. “I’d rather not act too quickly to completely ban it.”
Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 523, which legalizes medical marijuana, into law in June. The law goes into effect Thursday, but gives communities an out by allowing them to limit the number of medical marijuana businesses or prohibit them altogether.
Russel said Findlay Council should only rush legislation that is “business as usual,” not controversial ordinances such as a medical pot ban.
Harrington told council he could not support the ban because of an uncle who died of bone cancer. After going through chemotherapy, Harrington said, his uncle could have used something to “take the edge off.”
“At the local level, to try to circumvent the state is a mistake and for that I cannot support it,” Harrington said.
While 4th Ward Councilman Tom Klein voted to move forward with the ban Tuesday, he questioned the length of time the ban would be imposed.
Findlay’s proposed ban would be indefinite, while some other Ohio cities have implemented more temporary measures. Piqua, a little more than an hour south of Findlay, and Lakewood, two hours northeast, both put six-month moratoriums in place.
Klein called the Findlay ban a “knee-jerk reaction.”
When looking at a list of medical conditions for which marijuana can be used as a treatment, he spoke of the inconvenience that might arise if council passes the ban but never lifts it.
“I’ll probably get two or three of these” conditions, Klein said. “I don’t want to have to drive to Fostoria or Lima to get my medical marijuana.”
Fostoria may not be an option. Fostoria City Council on Tuesday approved a one-year freeze on the cultivation, processing and sale of medical marijuana in that city.
The Findlay legislation also would prohibit the cultivation, processing and sale of medical marijuana.
Mayor Mihalik had asked council to bypass its normal rules so the Findlay ban could take effect before medical marijuana becomes legal in Ohio on Thursday.
At-Large Councilman Jeff Wobser criticized the administration for trying to rush passage of the legislation in “the eleventh hour.”
Mihalik took the blame for making the request just days before the drug becomes legal.
“It snuck up,” Mihalik said. “It hasn’t really been on my radar.”
Mihalik asked council to approve the ban because of a lack of state regulations in place for medical marijuana.
Over the next year, a state board will develop regulations for medical marijuana, according to House Bill 523. Those regulations will dictate how the drug can be advertised, the number of dispensaries and marijuana cultivators allowed, and how it will be taxed.
A training process will also be established for doctors so they can prescribe it properly. But the regulations may not be implemented until 2018.
In deciding not to approve the ban before Thursday, council has given up some of its control over potential medical marijuana businesses in Findlay, if only temporarily, Law Director Don Rasmussen said. If the ban is passed at a later council meeting, entrepreneurs who purchase property now for a dispensary would have grounds to argue they should be allowed in, Rasmussen said.
Council’s decision to slow action on the proposed ban provided relief for some audience members at Tuesday’s council meeting. Around 30 people were in attendance, some of whom clapped every time a council member spoke out against the ban.
Connie Houk, 56, of Findlay, spoke to council members early in the meeting about why they shouldn’t move forward with the ban. Houk said medical marijuana is a needed “health benefit” and said she was standing up for people who are afraid of being labeled as “dope dealers.”
Houk spoke of a family member who suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Houk said medical marijuana could have helped her family member and provided some comfort.
“She was told this would help, but she was not able to reach it,” Houk said.