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Council members expect plenty of discussion tonight

Cary Ashby • Mar 14, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Norwalk city council members expect plenty of discussion tonight about the proposed legislation for the city to consider welcoming medical-marijuana cultivation facilities.

Councilmen Chris Castle and Kelly Beck are co-sponsoring the resolution, which will be presented during tonight’s work session. Castle, a Democrat, represents the fourth ward while Beck, an Independent, is an at-large council member.

Castle and Beck have said Norwalk needs to be innovative and proactive in showing it welcomes medical-marijuana cultivation facilities and “look outside the box” in generating revenue. Castle earlier said it’s a good time to propose this legislation “because the wheels are being put in place in May.”

Both the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives passed House Bill 523, making Ohio the 26th state to legalize medical marijuana. The law went into effect in September, although rules governing cultivation facilities won’t be finalized by the Ohio Department of Commerce until May 6.

Councilman Chris Mushett, after speaking to Castle last week, said he understands what Castle is attempting to do, but said he owes it to voters to “consider all the possibilities” before making any decisions about the proposed legislation. Mushett added he knows the benefit to Norwalk would be generating revenue, but he hopes to get a read on how residents are responding before he votes on it.

“I’m not a no and I’m not a yes at this point,” he said. “I want to see what the public’s reaction to it is. … I want to give them the opportunity to have their opinions expressed on it.”

Councilman Steve Schumm didn’t expect the resolution to make it onto council’s agenda as quickly as it did.

“I thought it would come on down the line,” he said. “I have to know an awful lot more about this proposal.”

Based on what residents have shared, “they don’t want to enhance the drug culture,” Schumm added. 

Many council members said they haven’t done any independent research, but look forward to learning more during the work session.

“The only thing I’ve heard is the buzz off Facebook and the article in the newspaper,” Councilman Dave Wallace said. “I don’t have anything against the proposal. I’m wanting to get more information.”

Castle, in a separate interview, said he understands Facebook doesn’t represent a scientific or academic gage of the community’s response to the legislation, but noted within the first 17 hours of the Reflector story going online “we had 504 likes and 11 dislikes.”

“As far as council support goes, I haven’t heard anyone say no,” he added.

“If it’s legitimate, legal enterprise, I think I would be open to that,” Wallace said.

Council members expect a lot of discussion at subsequent meetings in the coming weeks. 

“I have had mostly favorable (feedback). I’ve only had a couple negative,” Beck said Monday.

In one case after he explained the facilities would only produce medical marijuana, the resident remained opposed to the idea, but had a better understanding. 

“The other one was against marijuana altogether,” Beck added. “I’m just hoping for a healthy discussion and (we) bring out the positive and negative. I’m sure there will be plenty of it.”

Castle hopes to have many residents come to council.

“It’s going to be a great discussion,” he said, noting people need to be educated about what HB 523 means. “It means this industry is coming to Ohio regardless.”

The state medical-marijuana program will be administered by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, State Medical Board of Ohio and Ohio Department of Commerce. The legislation outlines 20 specific qualifying conditions, including: Alzheimer's disease, ALS, cancer and Parkinson’s Disease.

Castle said if there are 400 Huron County residents who suffer from one of those conditions, those people will apply for cards to receive medical marijuana “regardless of the city’s legislation.”

“It’s going to happen in Ohio regardless of how we decide on it. We might as well generate revenue from this industry sector because someone is going to have this (in their area),” he added, noting Wilmington recently passed legislation for 100 acres devoted to medical marijuana facilities. “They are looking at creating 300 jobs in Wilmington.”

Councilwoman Samantha Wilhelm said she sees the proposed legislation in Norwalk as “a smart business decision,” despite how controversial it may be. She equates the situation to welcoming “any big medical manufacturer” into the Maple City.

“I am a proponent of this business or other possible businesses coming to Norwalk. I think it’s a smart business decision,” Wilhelm said. “This brings old medicine and new medicine together.”

Similar to Wilhelm, Councilwoman Deb Lucal said “it could be a good business deal.”

When asked how much discussion about the proposal there might be, she said she believes more of her constituents are concerned with possibly allowing an outdoor shooting range. Most of the discussion about Gunners Haven has centered around related noise issues. That issue remains tabled by city council.

“Most people want answers and want to talk about that, but I could be wrong about that,” Lucal said.

While there is more research and education that needs to be done about medical-marijuana cultivation facilities, Wilhelm said she has learned it is produced safely.

“I think there is enough supervision. There will be many inspections,” she added. 

“I know a lot of people want to make it out to our meetings,” said Wilhelm, who is glad to see community members share feedback — whether it’s positive or negative. “There will be a couple weeks of discussion. To me, it’s about business.”

Council president Steve Euton was surprised the proposal was on tonight’s agenda.

“I think it definitely will generate discussion,” he said. “(I have) no prediction about where it will go or how it will play out.”

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