WOODMERE — Village Council approved a new chapter in the municipal code to permit medical marijuana dispensaries in Woodmere. Before the vote, council members heard from a number of experts about the medical marijuana industry and its impact on the surrounding community.
The panelists included Director of Medical Marijuana Operations for the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy Sharon Maerten-Moore, chemist Zachary Melvin of North Coast Analytical Laboratories, Director of Public Safety for the City of Cleveland Karrie Howard and Chief Prosecutor for the City of Cleveland Aqueelah Jordan.
Mayor Ben Holbert said three dispensaries have approached him about opening a location in the village. Councilman Seth Young said that people often have the wrong connotation when they hear the word “marijuana.”
“They automatically go back to this moment in time whether they were a child themselves or they saw it in a movie, you get a little baggy out of a car, there’s some shady deal and some kid is walking down the street rolling up a joint,” he said at the committee of the whole meeting on Monday. “That’s what people tend to think about when they think about marijuana. I think that all of you have done an incredibly clear and concise job tonight of explaining this is not like that.”
Ms. Maerten-Moore said the pharmacy board regulates the medical marijuana dispensaries, the patients and the caregivers who may assist patients in obtaining the product. Minors are required to have a caregiver purchase the medical marijuana for them, she said. The state is divided into 31 districts and the number of licenses issued depends on the district. Cuyahoga County is part of Northeast District 2, which currently has five dispensaries. In April, the pharmacy board approved the issuance of 73 more licenses, including seven more in Cuyahoga County, she said.
There are stringent requirements to meet regarding the location to have a license issued. For example, the dispensary must be 500 feet away from certain entities, such as a school, church, public library, playground or park and an opioid treatment facility. Ms. Maerten-Moore said there are also security requirements and dispensaries are not permitted to use neon signs or billboards for advertising.
“Many people are surprised because they’ve driven by a dispensary and they didn’t even know it was a dispensary,” she said. “We have very strict rules regarding what signs can be on the dispensary and what it looks like.”
Mr. Howard said that the City of Cleveland has not seen an increase in crime due to nearby medical marijuana dispensaries. There are currently dispensaries in Lakewood and Garfield Heights. He said that restrictions bar certain people from obtaining medical marijuana. For example, a person with a conviction for carrying a concealed weapon cannot have a prescription to use medical marijuana. Mr. Howard also said that medical marijuana is not smokeable so there is not an odor in the municipality where the dispensary sits.
“Marijuana is still federally illegal,” he noted. “I don’t have any knowledge of the federal government prosecuting or coming down on legally operating dispensaries.” Mr. Howard added that the dispensaries have brought transparency with them, not crime.
Ms. Jordan said that she has not seen an increase in criminal prosecution related to the medical marijuana dispensaries. She clarified that Cleveland no longer prosecutes for minor misdemeanor marijuana, but it can still be used as probable cause for other offenses. Ms. Jordan said dispensaries are heavily regulated and overseen by the pharmacy board.
“There are so many safeguards in place that thankfully we haven’t really had any issues with it,” she said. “I think that’s what citizens want to hear because it’s not something that’s going to bring blight to their community.”
Mr. Melvin’s employer, North Coast Analytical Laboratories, is a hemp lab testing facility. He said that the knowledge of his fellow scientists is evolving, and they challenge each other to improve. He is a native of Woodmere.
Councilman Tennyson Adams and several other officials toured a dispensary in Huron called Firelands Scientific. Mr. Adams said he was impressed because the dispensary only keeps enough of the product on site to fill prescriptions and armed guards are used during deliveries.
Council President Nakeshia Nickerson had several questions about potential backdoor sales and inspections. Mr. Howard said that he is not aware of any backdoor sales in Cleveland. It is expensive and difficult to own a dispensary, he said, so the possibility of having the license revoked is a deterrent from participating in backdoor sales. The start-up cost to open a medical marijuana dispensary is about $250,000, Ms. Maerten-Moore said.
She said the pharmacy board’s agents conduct an annual inspection. Ms. Nickerson also asked how a routine traffic stop could turn into a more serious issue if medical marijuana is involved since marijuana is still illegal according to federal laws.
“That is something to be worried about and that is why we have to continue to educate our youth on their rights when they encounter police officers, how to respond when they’re interacting with law enforcement officers, and how to provide the essential documents that they need to have when responding to law enforcement officers,” Ms. Jordan said.
Woodmere Police Chief Sheila Mason said to look at a medical marijuana dispensary as a drug store, noting that it is “no different” from CVS and Rite Aid, which are already in the village.
One person viewing the meeting on Zoom submitted a question to the chat to ask if alcohol, codeine and opiates are stronger than marijuana. Councilwoman Vivian Walker, a certified chemical dependency counselor, said that the products that CVS and Rite Aid carry are stronger than marijuana.
Roselawn Avenue resident Shannon Fuller asked about the proximity of the doctors who prescribe the medical marijuana to the dispensary itself. Ms. Maerten-Moore said that the doctors cannot be associated with the dispensary. For example, a doctor who prescribes medical marijuana cannot also own the dispensary. Otherwise, there are no regulations on the physical distance between the doctor’s office and a dispensary.
Ms. Fuller also asked about the impact on traffic. Ms. Jordan said that the traffic is the same as it would be for any business that opens in the village, so the flow of traffic should be normal.
The ordinance that council passed established a new chapter in the code to permit medical marijuana dispensaries and prohibit cultivators and processors.