VERMILION — A discussion about allowing medical marijuana to be zoned into the city isn’t scheduled for a public hearing until September but is already creating quite a buzz.
Officials this week set an open meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 for residents to offer opinions to members of the city’s Planning Commission.
The purpose for the hearing is best described more as a matter of what it is not, rather than what it is designed to accomplish.
It is not an official meeting to open the city’s doors to the medical marijuana industry, said Mayor Jim Forthofer.
Medical marijuana use is legal in Ohio and many officials and residents speculate the state will eventually legalize recreational use, too.
But in the current climate, many smaller cities are grappling with the business end of the medical marijuana industry; do they agree to open the city’s zoning to allow for distribution facilities, or for growing it?
Vermilion has long delayed the issue. Forthofer said since he has been a member of Council — which he estimates stretches back more than 15 years — the body repeatedly has approved a moratorium on it.
“This is the first step, I think, that the Council is taking this serious,” Forthofer said. “It even cautions in the hearing announcement that there is to be no discussion other than letting the public give their opinions where we should put it.”
The Planning Commission would have to decide where, if a dispensary or a cultivation center were to locate in the city, it could be located. It would then make a recommendation to Council, and ultimately it would be up to Council to allow the businesses into the city.
“At this point, it’s theoretical. If we have the marijuana, where would it be OK to grow it?” Forthofer said.
But after it was legalized in 2016 for medical use — meaning it only is available with a doctor’s prescription, and obtained from a regulated dispensary — cities began grappling with the zoning questions.
There are dispensaries in Elyria, Lorain, Sandusky and as close as Huron in Erie County, next door to Vermilion.
“Everybody’s kind of been watching Huron to see how it’s going. More and more communities are addressing it, but ultimately that’s a decision for the people,” said Police Chief Chris Hartung. “I’ll be very curious to see how it will go.”
The time limit for speaking will be determined by the Council president, based on the number of residents who sign in to address officials, Forthofer said.