Medical marijuana dispensary driving Marietta traffic study

MARIETTA — It’s too late for objections regarding the location of a medical marijuana dispensary at Greene Street and the Williamstown Bridge, but a traffic study could address concerns about congestion, city officials said this week.

The facility was authorized by the Ohio Department of Commerce and Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program at the beginning of June following a year-long application process to install dispensaries in designated regions. The applications included business plans, financial proof of solvency and plans for security of the controlled substance facilities. The site should be open by the end of the year.

Some residents are concerned with the perception of having a medical marijuana dispensary in Marietta and others are unhappy with the proximity to Marietta College or the potential impact on traffic.

However, because the company’s application package included the location as a condition of the state’s approval, a different site is not an option.

The company is working with representatives of the city and Marietta College to incorporate neighborhood and downtown considerations into the traffic planning.

A petition asking the city administration for public meetings to address zoning, economic impact and traffic was circulated via social media and other local news outlets over the last two weeks by local real estate broker Karen Strahler. Council members Kathy Downer and Geoff Schenkel responded to those requests with a series of meetings to dispel inaccurate information in that petition and give examples of the dialogue between the city, company and college.

“The location is not ideal for us, we’re not happy with it,” Tom Perry, vice president for communication and brand management for Marietta College, said. “But we have to be a partner as well and work through this situation the best we can.”

Perry said the location’s proximity to the college’s Don Drumm Stadium, softball fields and new soccer field is not ideal. Some freshmen are 17 and local high school students take classes on campus under dual enrollment.

“We don’t feel that’s appropriate located so closely to people of that age,” he said.

But recognizing disagreement with the location is now a moot point, he said the college has begun discussions for how medical marijuana would be addressed in the student handbook and for students who may be legally registered to consume the medicinal product.

“It just won’t be something we point out though on our campus tour,” he said.

The reason the location discussion is moot is because the company’s business plan and approved provisional license is incumbent upon the security plans and features of the physical building.

Those security features include door security and verification of registration to be granted entrance into the waiting room, additional verification and accompaniment into the dispensary, multiple cameras and security staff, and a secondary entrance solely for the delivery of medicinal products.

Schenkel said the two other applications placed with the state concerning Marietta were ruled out in part because of their locations, one offered the former Ryan’s building on Pike Street, the other a location within 500 feet of Gun Lock Park, a skateboard and bicycling park located off of Pike Street.

City Law Director Paul Bertram said the city is legally bound to follow the state’s appointment for Strawberry Fields, owned by parent company Cannascend.

He also said that under both Ohio Revised Code and administrative drug trafficking code, the college is not considered a school under the legal restrictions for placement of the medical dispensary.

“We cannot weaponize our zoning code to hurt them,” Bertram said. “This council cannot come back and have a complete letter of prohibition. Vesting means they have rights (installed by the Ohio Department of Commerce and the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program).”

“What they could have, should have done, is immaterial,” Councilman Mike Scales said.

Scales said the city risks a lawsuit it could not afford if it were to enact ban of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

“The point is we don’t want it in Marietta, and that’s the majority of the people,” Strahler said at a meeting on Tuesday.

Cannascend Founder and CEO Ian James said council on Oct. 26 repealed the moratorium it had placed on medical marijuana in the city until the state regulations were complete.

“Miss Strahler, you testified that you had a client who was going to do a 20-year lease for that property (at the old Ryan’s building),” said James, recalling Strahler’s comments on record that the interested buyers “really want something in the city.” “(She) urged council to pass legislation so that the city could receive tax money because ‘if we don’t, it will go to the county.’ That is your record, those are your minutes.”

Strahler said the location under her commission was better because it was not beside the college stadium and near children.

Perry and Schenkel also noted the continuing dialogue between Cannascend, the city and college to see how the three may work in partnership.

Schenkel said the partnership may see joint contributions to a full-scale traffic study and plan not only to address the college’s proposal of closing Butler Street, but also address the Greene Street congestion concern where Strawberry Fields is going in by the end of the year.

Southeastern Port Authority Development Director Andy Kuhn also spoke of the anticipated traffic congestion on Greene and urged the partners to consider the new business as a destination attraction as they plan for traffic pattern changes.

Downer said she will wait to hold other meetings on the traffic patterns until the college’s study is complete.

“If (Cannascend and the college) want to put their heads together and pay for a larger traffic impact study I’m not opposed to it,” she said. “But they can’t start the study until classes are in session, so late in the fall when that’s complete we will hold a couple of public meetings in the evening then to listen to the proposals and the study results before opening them up to public comment.”

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What’s Next…

* Strawberry Fields and its parent company, Cannascend, will complete the purchase of the Michael J. Bradley building and Auto-Detailing building at Greene Street and the Williamstown Bridge this fall and begin renovations.

* The business will be a regulated medical marijuana dispensary.

* Cannascend and Marietta College are in communication with the city to address surrounding traffic concerns.

* A full traffic impact study is expected to be presented in November.

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