HUBER HEIGHTS — If some residents of Huber Heights had their way, a zoning change that would allow medical marijuana to be produced and sold in the city would go up in smoke.
A number of city residents turned out at a public hearing before city council Monday night to voice their opinions. Most of them were not interested in seeing medical marijuana come to town.
The city’s planning commission recently voted 5-0 to approve zoning regulations that would allow for the cultivation, processing and selling of medical marijuana in the city. The plan generally follows state guidelines with one exception: it calls for a stricter 1,000-foot buffer around the facilities instead of the state suggested 500 feet.
After explanation of the zoning proposal by City Manager Rob Schommer and Council Members Richard Shaw and Tyler Starline, residents had their chance to address council.
First up was Jason Wilson, who has applied to the state for approval to open a cultivation center, which he hopes will be in Huber Heights. Wilson said he plans to open a 3,000-square-foot facility to cultivate marijuana. He said his operation could employ up to 30 full-time employees and would pay property and employment taxes. He said he has a location that would meet all the guidelines spelled out by the city.
Wilson was followed by five other residents, none of whom had anything good to say about the idea.
Herman Karhoff questioned the timing of the proposal.
“In the interest of getting things done because you’re driven by deadlines, you skip over these things and later on they come back and haunt you,” he said.
Karhoff then went on to raise questions about public health consequences, including environmental concerns and potential odors from the growing facilities.
He cited Colorado, where marijuana started out as medicinal and then progressed to being approved for recreational purposes. He said studies say the economic costs outweigh the benefits.
“As of September of 2016, 68 percent of the local jurisdictions in Colorado have now banned medical and recreational marijuana,” he said. He also said larger Colorado cities are experiencing decreases in tourism revenue and increases in crime.
He called for more participation by local law enforcement, a cost-benefit analysis, a citizen impact study and a survey of residents before any action is taken.
Melissa Petachi followed Karhoff to the podium and said she thought an issue of the magnitude of medical marijuana should be voted on by the city’s residents.
“Don’t we have enough drug issues to worry about, let alone bringing medical marijuana into the mix?” she asked. “A drug that Ohioans voted against and (Ohio Governor) Kasich ramrodded through? A drug that is considered illegal by our federal government and is not FDA approved?”
Petachi reminded council members that Dayton and Montgomery County are considered “the overdose capital of the United States” and questioned why the city would open the door to the potential of more drug abuse.
“I hope too that our city slogan, ‘Come Grow With Us,’ does not become the butt of a bad joke around the Miami Valley,” she said.
Lori Erion said she was concerned medical marijuana could be diverted to other users much the same way other painkillers have contributed to the opiate epidemic. She suggested the city take a survey of residents and “take your time in making your decision.”
Richard Van Dorpe and Tina Roberts also spoke against the proposal. Van Dorpe said the city should find out how the residents feel about the issue and Roberts cited the city’s commitment to “family-centered residential development” and quality of life.
The questions didn’t stop with the residents.
Council Member Janell Smith had a list of concerns. She asked for tangible proof that medical marijuana would benefit the city. She also said she would like to hear recommendations from the police and fire departments and see a cost-benefit analysis.
“We’re the only municipality in this county that is considering this,” she said. “That might be a little bit of a wake-up call.”
She also raised questions about distributors being cash-only establishments and echoed the concern about the Dayton area being the top opiate overdose area in the nation. She concluded by saying there could be some conflicts with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and that the city’s residents should have a direct say in the issue.
Council Member Judy Blankenship expressed her concerns about the cash-only nature of the marijuana business. She also called for a survey of city residents, as did Council Member Ed Lyons.
Shaw, an advocate of the measure, agreed to the idea of a survey. He said he had a lot of answers to the questions that were raised Monday and would provide information at the next council work session. Mayor Tom McMasters said he thought the issue should go to a vote of the city’s residents.
Council eventually unanimously decided to have Schommer organize a survey using an outside source. The issue will be discussed at the next council work session and a second public hearing is scheduled for the July 10 council meeting.
Reach Dave Lindeman at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @HH_Courier.