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Grove City votes against ban on all marijuana sales and cultivation

Marijuana plants
Jim Mone

Updated: February 6, 2024, 9:57 a.m. ET

Grove City Council voted Monday night against a measure that would ban the cultivation, processing, or retail sales of marijuana in city limits.

The council voted 5-2 against the measure. The ordinance would have expanded on existing prohibitions on medical marijuana in Grove City to include potential recreational marijuana dispensaries once licenses are distributed by the state.

Despite the ordinance to ban all marijuana businesses failing, the city's ban specific to medical marijuana facilities remains in effect.

Council member Randy Holt said he doesn't want to take Grove City out of the running for potential jobs and social equity programs that could come from marijuana businesses. Holt voted against the measure.

"I don't want to take Grove City out of the running," Holt said. "By putting a moratorium on that now, those places will be looking in other cities."

Council President Christine Houk spoke in favor of the measure and said substance use disorders and mental health in Grove City left an mark on who she is. Houk said she viewed the legislation as "putting a bookmark" or pause on allowing marijuana businesses to operate in the city.

Grove City was one of the first Columbus suburbs to push forward on prohibiting marijuana cultivation, processing and retail sales following the passage of Issue 2 by Ohio voters in November, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state.

Grove City's municipal code prohibits medicinal marijuana cultivation, retail sales and processing plants like several other Columbus suburbs.

Now that Issue 2 has passed and legalized recreational marijuana, Grove City wanted to expand its ban.

If passed, the amended ordinance would have essentially eliminate the word "medical" from the city code section that covers the appeal that city council passed in 2017. This would apply the law more broadly to cover both medical and recreational marijuana.

Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage proposed this law and said he wants to prohibit dispensaries and processing plants for recreational marijuana until the Ohio Legislature finalizes any changes it makes to the language of Issue 2, which passed with over 57% of the statewide vote.

He advocated against delaying the vote and also tried to add a provision that would make the ordinance temporary until March 2025 when it would expire.

Grove City Director of Law Stephen Smith reminded the council members Monday about the Ohio Legislature's ability to change the language passed by voters, unlike with a constitutional amendment.

"It appears from everything I'm hearing and seeing is that they are going to make substantive changes to this law," Smith said.

He called this uncertainty a problem and said he heard the legislature might not make their changes until November this year.

Stage said consumption of marijuana would still be legal in Grove City if his ordinance had passed Monday.

"So the new ordinance does not ban medical marijuana and the use, it just puts the same rules for regular marijuana that we put the prohibition against in 2017," Stage said.

Stage said changing the law now keeps it consistent with how city law was before Issue 2. He called marijuana an entry drug and said Grove City tries to promote anti-drug abuse rhetoric.

"We try to get help the people who are getting addicted. And so whatever revenue might come out of it, I would assume, probably would be used for rehab and some other things," Stage said.

Tom Haren, a spokesman with the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said under Issue 2, cities are allowed to limit and prohibit dispensaries and other marijuana facilities from opening. However, Haren said he thinks it is too soon to be doing so.

"I think to the extent some cities are passing bans or moratoriums, I view it as a knee jerk reaction based on a lack of education and lack of information, quite frankly," Haren said.

Haren said he has heard of some cities near Cleveland, including Strongsville and North Royalton, that are moving forward with similar bans.

Dublin, Westerville and several other Columbus suburbs also have similar laws on the books prohibiting only medicinal marijuana, but Grove City so far was the first near Columbus moving to also prohibit these practices for recreational marijuana.

Columbus has some restrictions on sales based on zoning and limitations. Columbus has modified some of its laws including repealing its law outlawing possession of marijuana.

Other suburbs like Upper Arlington have fewer restrictions in its city code for medicinal marijuana.

Unlike northern parts of Franklin County, Grove City voters were more split on support for Issue 2, but as a whole, the city voted in favor of the measure. The Franklin County Board of Elections' results from the November general election show four of the city's precincts voted against the measure while the city's other 26 precincts did not.

The only other city-based voting precincts that voted against Issue 2 in November were a single precinct in Dublin and seven precincts dispersed throughout Columbus. Several township level precincts voted against Issue 2.

Haren said allowing adult-use recreational marijuana businesses is in the best interest of localities throughout the state and in the best interests of the citizens of those communities. He said the businesses have several net positives on property values, as well as reduce crime and economic development.

One aspect of Issue 2 still being debated by the Ohio General Assembly is where tax revenue will go. Under some plans, local municipalities would get at least some of the tax revenue.

Haren said if cities like Grove City continue to prohibit dispensaries and other businesses, they could be risking access to these funds.

Haren said he thinks local city council members and township trustees should take the time to educate themselves and tour existing medical marijuana businesses before voting on bans like this.

"It's sort of a fear of the unknown. But we do know a lot about what these businesses are going to look like, not just from other states, but from the last several years within Ohio's medical marijuana program," Haren said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.