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It may be some time before Rootstown decides whether to allow the cultivation and processing of medical marijuana in the township.
And by then, the state of Ohio may have already made a decision on whether the three cultivation and/or processing plants proposed in Portage County can go forward with their proposals in Rootstown, Ravenna Township and Nelson.
The Rootstown Zoning Commission discussed a proposal by Secure Cultivation, which hopes to cultivate medical cannabis at the former Wickes Lumber facility at 5192 Tallmadge Road. Joel Holt and Jim Ickes, attorneys for the corporation, have proposed a change to the township's zoning code which would permit cultivation of the plants, as well as processing and selling the material to outside processors and dispensaries.
Rob Swauger, chairman of the commission, said the process of changing the zoning code is a lengthy one, and it involves multiple meetings of the commission and sending the proposed code to the Portage County Regional Planning Commission and Township Trustees for final approval. The panel made no decision its Tuesday meeting, instead tabling the matter to a special meeting, which has not been scheduled.
Ickes and Holt said they plan to submit their application to the state next week, even though the zoning issue has not been decided. They hope to get an answer on the fate of their application by August.
The men started the meeting with a presentation hailing medical marijuana as a plant with healing properties, and a safer alternative to opiates, which killed more than 4,000 Ohioans last year. They said the former lumber yard, which is vacant, would have beefed up security and house a low-intensity use that would increase property values, sending money to the school district. They said their application will advocate for a medical marijuana tax fund which would be earmarked to local schools and to fight the opioid crisis.
Some people at the meeting hailed the proposal as a boon to the local economy, one that might reduce the abuse of opioids.
Tina Pitre pointed out that medical marijuana is going to be in Ohio by 2018 regardless of what decision Rootstown makes.
"The narcotic epidemic is out of control," she said. "If we're going to have a functioning business that makes a profit, why not? Maybe we could save a couple of lives."
Other residents asked questions about what impact the business would have on Rootstown, and how much income it could bring to the township. One resident, whose daughters live in Colorado, said her daughter has told her that the approval of medical and recreational marijuana has increased crime there.
"I'm not convinced that we're going to see a tax windfall," said Lynn Wagner. "It's like when they said the lottery was going to help the schools. It didn't. I'm not buying it."
Deron Boring, an attorney hired to represent some residents who live near the lumber yard, called the proposed code change "incredibly vague and very broad," suggesting that codes like that lead to things like strip clubs.
"Do we want to be known as the pot farm community?" he said. "Does Rootstown need to be the guinea pig on this?"