This first batch of businesses received local approval last week. They must now await a response from the Ohio Department of Commerce, which charges hefty fees to apply for a limited number of state operator's licenses. Then, they'll return to Akron to seek yet another operator's license.
This is just for the growers. There will be processors that package the product, labs that test its potency and dispensaries that start selling the drug in September 2018 to patients with a doctor's recommendation.
Mike Antenucci, Akron's zoning manager, said Monday that the city expects to hear zoning requests from the first dispensaries this month -- well before the Ohio Board of Pharmacy opens the state application process to those same parties in September.
Akron City Council held two public hearings last week and, with the clock ticking, suspended their rules to quickly approve the first five grow sites. With only 24 cultivation sites to be awarded statewide, Council President Marilyn Keith called it a "far stretch" that every company looking for a home in Akron would get ultimate approval.
"There's no way you will see five of them," she said.
Only two citizens showed up to speak about grow sites proposed by the first five companies. Both said they supported the operations, though one expressed concern about the possibility of increased traffic and noise.
Councilman Mike Freeman cautioned against a "knee-jerk reaction to the word 'marijuana,'" especially after what he called compelling testimony from doctors about the medicinal benefits for those with cancer, debilitating neurological diseases and other ailments.
"Our people are hurting," Councilman Rich Swirsky has said in supporting medical marijuana. Surveys show most Ohioans agree.
"This isn't recreational," underscored Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the committee that approves zoning requests.
With council's action, cultivation and processing centers can be built on Harlem Road (Parcel Nos. 6852309 and 6857723); at 1055 Home Avenue; or 171 Kelly Avenue. Strictly grow sites, which could get later approval for processing or testing activity, can be set up at 1956 South Main Street and 1023/1025 South Broadway.
On Friday, Akron's Planning Commission will hear from Tallmadge resident Joseph Scaccio about a $15 million cultivation facility proposed at Baltimore Avenue north of Georgia Avenue and a $400,000 facility at 1076 Home Ave. proposed by Fire Rock Ltd., a Massillon company formed in April. City planning staff have reviewed both proposals and recommend their approval.
Some of the more sophisticated proposals heard last week tap environmentally friendly processes like on-site composting, reverse osmosis and rainwater barrels to reuse every droplet of water that falls on the roof or is exhaled by the plants.
Prodded by members of council, each company and property owner promised to hire anywhere from four to 44 employees and, in some cases, invest or donate as much as $50,000 annually in the surrounding community.
Geoff Korff with Galenas LLC pitched the plan for 1956 South Main Street, an empty property where he and a team of consultants would build a $1.1 million double-tiered greenhouse with "zero waste." Not even a vehicle could ram through the security system Kroff says he'll put in place: a double fence and steel barrier with 360-degree surveillance camera coverage outside and multiple layers of access with only three key cards unlocking vaults for money and the finished product inside.
The attorney from Hudson runs a heavy industrial manufacturing facility in Salem. He promised council that the marijuana he grew would not hits the streets unlawfully.
"We are pursuing a black market. It's been a black market for a long time. And there are a lot of concerns about health and substance abuse," Korff told council.
To educate themselves and the public, Korff said Galenas LLC has partnered with Signature Health, one of Ohio's largest addiction treatment and mental health providers, "so we can demonstrate to everyone that we are taking mental health and addiction very seriously," he said.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug .
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