Marietta officials work out buffers around medical marijuana businesses

Photo by Janelle Patterson Utilizing live mapping with the aid of GIS Specialist Jason Pyles, left, Councilman Geoff Schenkel explains options for boundaries to regulate where medical marijuana dispensaries, testing laboratories processors and cultivators could be limited to operate within city zones during Marietta City Council’s Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee Tuesday.

MARIETTA — Medical marijuana business development in Marietta city limits and boundaries of state law were the focus of city officials Tuesday as they mapped changes from the discussion in real time.

“That’s what we’re here for,” said Buckeye Hills GIS Specialist Jason Pyles after responding to specific location points made by council members with changes to a projected map of the city’s zones by parcel at the Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee meeting.

Chairman Geoff Schenkel facilitated the discussion with council members Cassidi Shoaf, Kathy Downer, Steve Thomas and Mike Scales to review which current boundaries to medical marijuana operations allowed by state law apply within city limits, and where pockets of opportunity for another future dispensary, cultivator, processor or testing facility currently exist without restriction.

Council members Cindy Oxender and Mike McCauley were not present for the discussion. Susan Boyer, expected to be the Democratic Party appointee to fill Downer’s remaining term when she moves from the area, and City Law Director Paul Bertram also participated in the discussion.

“At present, the boundary of 500 feet applies to the parcels where a church, school, day care center and public park exists,” noted Bertram, reviewing current state statutes.

Photo by Janelle Patterson City Law Director Paul Bertram, right, recounts state legislative parameters allowing the city to limit certain locations within the city zoning for medical marijuana businesses and testing to Councilman Steve Thomas, center, and the expected Democratic Party appointee Susan Boyer during Marietta City Council’s Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee Tuesday.

He said the state legislature gives home rule for municipalities to limit the number of medical marijuana facilities within their boundaries without potential recourse for creating a monopoly, plus the opportunity to limit which zones within the city operations would be allowed.

Council also has the opportunity to create additional spacing requirements to prevent congestion of similar businesses to one area, which Columbus has legislatively called buffer zones.

While Scales suggested a simple blanket legislation limiting the number of dispensaries within city limits to the one poised to open at the corner of Greene Street and the Williamstown Bridge, Strawberry Fields, other members present said that action would not be as thorough as needed.

“Growing is taking place indoors,” noted Downer. “It’s not happening elsewhere in the state outside where people can climb a fence, so why wouldn’t we consider that in a manufacturing zone?”

Shoaf added that a thorough look at which specific zones of the city’s six commercial, three manufacturing, one hospital-medical and one institutional (surrounding the Marietta College campus and Washington State Community College campus) would be imperative to cover in coming legislation.

“It’s still important to consider those zones so we don’t leave anything out or room for a surprise in a zone not covered under the state boundaries around schools and churches,” she contributed.

Boyer, who has formerly served as a county common pleas court judge, also contributed insight into the city zoning ordinance and the current zoning map most recently updated in 2017.

“That map is considered law, even if there are mistakes on it until a new map is legislated like the last one,” she reminded council members when a spot zone of one parcel off of Dye Circle on Harmar Hill was pointed out as sharing the C-3 designation.

Those present at the meeting identified with the printed and projected map Pyles provided Tuesday with additional parks to be included in the map’s identified state buffers, for the next committee discussion planned for mid-June.

“And Paul and I will meet and draft legislation for this committee to review at that meeting writing specifically to limit dispensaries within C-3, outline potential limits for cultivation and processing within manufacturing zones and laboratory testing within (institutional) zones,” summarized Schenkel.

Council may also limit medical marijuana dispensaries to operate solely within the C-3 but not in any less limiting zone (C-4 through C-6) by adding language specifically prohibiting operations within city codes, noted Bertram.