Ohio: Columbus officials propose new rules for future medical marijuana businesses

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Columbus zoning officials have proposed legislation to outline where future medical marijuana businesses can locate in the city, and to require dispensaries to introduce themselves to the appropriate neighborhood association. The city Development Commission on Thursday unanimously recommended the zoning ordinance changes and sent them to City Council staff for drafting and a vote, a process that takes a few weeks.

"The main premise behind this code change is to encourage the medical marijuana dispensaries, which will have public interaction, to have connection and communication with area commissions or civic associations in the area where they're located," said Tony Celebrezze, assistant director of the Department of Building and Zoning Services. "The public can learn a little bit better about what goes on in a dispensary and remove the mystery of what occurs there."

Any ordinance that passes would not apply to the five dispensaries and three processors in the city that have received provisional licenses under the state's program. There are no cultivators in the city yet. Columbus-based Battelle is licensed as a testing laboratory but hasn't revealed which of its Central Ohio facilities it would use.

The Department of Commerce and Board of Pharmacy, which regulate different aspects, have the ability to license more businesses as the program expands. The ordinance applies to medical marijuana businesses under the 2016 state law creating the program, but not if the state someday legalizes recreational use.

The ordinance sets the zoning districts where cannabis business can operate:

  • Cultivators and processors: Manufacturing districts M, M1 or M2.
  • Dispensaries: Commercial districts C4 (which also are permitted uses in a manufacturing district).
  • Testing labs: Office district C2.

Also, dispensaries would be required to obtain a special permit from the Board of Zoning Adjustments. To qualify for the permit, they must notify all property owners within 250 feet of the site and provide the appropriate area commission or civic association with an introduction to the company, including its background, emergency contacts, projected opening date and operating hours.

Dispensaries would not be allowed within 500 feet of another dispensary. State law already creates that size buffer from a school, church, public library, public playground or public park.

The businesses already licensed were "very proactive coming to the building department," Celebrezze said, and they've followed all zoning and building rules. The addresses also are within the appropriate zoning districts had the ordinance been in effect earlier. "We just felt it was a necessary component now and going into the future," he said.

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