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'All the unknowns' cited as reason to say no

Cary Ashby • Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 1:32 PM

Norwalk Mayor Rob Duncan explained his decision to veto legislation passed by city council that would have welcomed a medical-marijuana cultivation facility in the city.

Duncan said Wednesday it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to announce his plans for a veto — one that council members knew was a possibility — and he made it because there’s not enough information about the state regulations and it seemed like the right one to make.

“In my heart of hearts, I can’t sign legislation right now with all the unknowns — and that is my moral dilemma, not medical marijuana itself,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Also, Duncan said he has had feedback from law enforcement personnel, mental health representatives and healthcare officials who wouldn’t support the legislation. He noted that played into his announcement on his plan to veto it.

“I’m not even opposed to medical marijuana. But that’s not the issue here. I said we should have been talking about this six months ago,” Duncan said.

If medical marijuana were available when his daughter was having seizures, the mayor said he would have used it “if that were something that would help her.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, council voted 4-3 to amend portions of chapter 513 of the Norwalk codified ordinances to provide for the state-regulated cultivation of medical marijuana within the city.

“Honestly, I thought the vote would go in a different direction,” Duncan said the next day. “First of all, I didn’t think that it would pass. Secondly, I thought that if it did pass, they (council members) were aware that (a veto) was my position.”

Council members Chris Castle, Kelly Beck, Samantha Wilhelm and Deb Lucal supported the legislation while Chris Mushett, Dave Wallace and Steve Schumm voted against it. The mayor has 10 days in which to file his veto. Council must act on it, or essentially take another vote, at its next session.

“A fifth vote would be only for overriding the veto. But at this point, that would only be done to be documented (to show) that the legislative branch is to be respected,” Castle said.

“The (city) administration held no position until they declared their intent to veto,” added Castle, who sponsored the legislation with Beck and was surprised by Duncan’s announcement.

“I expected the administration would maintain their neutral position, allowing the legislation to sit unsigned for 10 days, becoming law while maintaining their neutral position,” Castle added.

On the issue of possibly too many unknown factors, he said the Ohio Department of Commerce filed new rules March 22 and he immediately sent that same link to all council members and city administrators. The commerce department, State Medical Board of Ohio and the state pharmacy board all are overseeing and regulating the medical-marijuana process.

“They have until May 6 to hammer out those new rules,” said Castle, who discovered them via Google notification he set up earlier. “I think there were probably three dozen new rulings. If anyone says there’s not enough information, then they’re not looking for it.”

Duncan said he wonders why the legislation wasn’t presented to council as much as six months ago.

Castle said it’s simple — the interested company didn’t approach him until March and he hammered out his legislation immediately afterward. Council had its first reading March 21. 

“They contacted me because we had mutual acquaintances and they knew I’m a progressive councilman,” Castle said.

Remaining silent vs. possible grandstanding?

During the council meetings and work sessions before Tuesday’s vote, the mayor remained silent. The only time Duncan addressed the issue was the night Castle presented his legislation. Wallace asked Duncan at the first meeting what his position was. The mayor told him he only received information four days earlier and hadn’t done enough research about it to provide an opinion.

Duncan said Wednesday he didn’t speak up during subsequent sessions “because I was never asked.”

“I was never acknowledged,” the mayor added. “I’ve been trying to gather information. I’m trying to listen to people.

“Some of the things are still up in the air. Part of it has to do with breaking federal law. That has to be part of this.”

Castle was asked Wednesday if he believed the mayor’s veto announcement could be considered grandstanding — which Duncan denied in a separate interview.

“Of course it was,” Castle said. 

Good business fit?

Representatives of Standard Wellness Co., LLC, made a presentation about their proposed business at Tuesday’s meeting. After the vote, company CEO Erik Vaughan said he was “happy with the vote but disappointed with the veto.”

“I was very impressed with the people of Norwalk,” Vaughan added.

Duncan said he hadn’t met with anyone from Standard Wellness until Tuesday.

“I did not receive a packet of information until one hour before council (met),” the mayor added.

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