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Cannabis legislation sparks debate

MONTPELIER— The second reading of an ordinance restricting cannabis operations in Montpelier sparked a nearly 30-minute debate at the village council meeting Monday evening.

The ordinance, which passed its second reading, would prohibit cannabis operations in any area not zoned for industry. Although there are some areas in the village zoned this way, they are within 500 feet of a school, church, public library, public playground or public park, so a dispensary wouldn’t be able to open there.

The only viable option would be to open in the industrial park.

Village Law Director Robert Bohmer said the Ohio General Assembly is still working on amending the statute legalizing recreational marijuana and he doesn’t know what the law will end up looking like.

That would include what sort of restrictions municipalities can place, but he said the advice from Columbus is for municipalities to “do it on your own time.”

Restrictions being enacted vary.

“Toledo is going to be partying in the streets,” Bohmer said. “I’ve seen some more local folks go from one extreme to the other from restricting where to restricting it, mostly, all together. So it’s your decision. You can always amend it later unless our friends in Columbus make it in a way that if you change it you lose it.”

Councilwoman Melissa Ewers initially voted in favor of the ordinance but had some time to think about it since then.

She said she wants to bring in new businesses and people and council shouldn’t actively work against that goal, which she finds this ordinance does.

“I do have concerns with feeling like we’re OK with one vice like alcohol or another vice like tobacco but saying we don’t want marijuana because we have a fear or stereotype about it when that is an adult decision and we should be able to make those decisions,” Ewers said. “So I don’t want Montpelier, when we’re trying to be progressive and bring businesses in, bring residents in and keep businesses here, to feel like we’re being unfriendly to business that we have out here and bringing people in.”

She said she spoke to the owner of a tobacco store in town who wants to see the business grow, but is unsure if that growth will be into marijuana or not.

Ewers said council doesn’t need to exclude a business or push them into the outskirts as if the business and their customers aren’t welcome in Montpelier.

“Some of those customers are residents and some of those customers could be future Montpelier residents,” she said. “To me, that doesn’t make us sound like a welcoming village and I don’t want to be that way.”

Councilwoman Heather Freese, who dissented to the resolution last month, said she didn’t want to pass a resolution that would disenfranchise a current business that is already looking to expand.

Councilman Chris Kannel said he didn’t want to disenfranchise a business but selling recreational marijuana isn’t yet legal so that business isn’t being disenfranchised.

It would also be “unfair” to hold council accountable from preventing a business from selling a product they are not currently permitted to sell and one they may not try to sell, he added.

“I think that’s a step beyond what we are trying to do,” Kannel said. “If that business was already in existence, already doing that thing and we were trying to circle back and regulate it after the fact it would be completely different.”

He said council isn’t choosing one vice over another. It is simply telling them where they will be able to sell, grow or cultivate marijuana.

Councilman Nate Thompson said they do that already, restricting where industry and other businesses can operate.

Mayor Steve Yagelski said he’s had several residents approach him and most of them are in favor of the resolution.

“That’s what I’m hearing from residents,” he said. “I talked to business owners, I talked to some industry leaders and they’re scared. They are scared of what it’s going to bring because our workforce already is slim.”

Councilman Don Schlosser called an end for discussion after roughly 30 minutes because no one’s mind would be changed on the ordinance, no matter how long they discussed it.

A voice vote was made with Freese being the only audible dissent.

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