UPDATED CAPTION FOR YEAR-END STORY: In 2016, Ohio became the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana. LAURA A. BISCHOFF/STAFF Marijuana plants grow in a backroom at Northwest Patient Resource Center, a medical marijuana business in Seattle. LAURA A. BISCHOFF

Medical marijuana businesses interested in Clark County

No one would identify the businesses or specific sites in Clark County but local leaders said they’ve been approached with inquiries. Several national medical marijuana growers are expected to apply this month for 24 medical marijuana cultivator licenses to be offered in Ohio, the Springfield News-Sun reported last month.

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“Reality is reality — medical marijuana is legal,” Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said, “and why not have a big expensive facility in our county that has quite a few employees? That’s my personal opinion.”

Ohio will issue up to 12 licenses for large-scale cultivators, which can initially operate on 25,000 square feet, and up to 12 for smaller-scale cultivators, which will start with 3,000 square feet.

State applications opened for small-scale licenses on June 5 and will continue to be accepted until June 16 and applications for large-scale licenses will be accepted June 19 to 30.

The applications will be scored based on plans for operations, quality assurance, security and finances. The Ohio Department of Commerce has begun accepting applications but it’s unclear if any for Clark County have been accepted, spokeswoman Kerry Francis said.

The department has yet to process or review the applications, she said, which will happen after the application process ends.

It’s going to take a lot of money to follow the state rules, including complying with security measures, Lohnes said.

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“It’s going to bring jobs here and they have to comply with so many rules and regulations that I’m not worried about a climb in marijuana or security,” Lohnes said. “They’ll have a bazillion dollars in security requirements.”

The county would likely have to sign a form saying it won’t stand in the way of a possible growing operation, he said.

The new rules are a good way for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt said. She’s not in favor of legalized recreational marijuana.

“If it’s a controlled substance, it needs to be handled like a controlled substance,” Flax Wilt said.

The zoning for growing sites would be categorized as agriculture, Clark County Administrator Jenny Hutchinson said.

MORE: Springfield extends medical marijuana moratorium

Ohio legalized medical marijuana last June when Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law that authorizes use by patients with 21 conditions, including cancer or chronic pain, in the form of edibles, oils, patches and vaporizing. Smoking or home growing is barred.

The state law requires the program to be fully operational by September of 2018. The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program’s rules govern growers, dispensaries, patients, caregivers, physicians, processors and testing labs.

Marijuana remains classified as an illegal controlled substance under federal law, which makes traditional financing impossible for new cannabis businesses.

Several local areas have been proposed for cultivation sites, including Yellow Springs and Wilmington.

The Springfield City Commission originally placed a six-month ban on medical marijuana last August and extended its ban in February of 2017 until July 5. It allowed staff members to have more time to research the effects the state’s medical marijuana program would have on land use, city leaders have said.

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Townships and cities may adopt ordinances or resolutions prohibiting certain activities but counties can’t, Lohnes said. Commissioners are now in waiting mode to see if any businesses step forward.

“I’m not going to stand in anybody’s way, that’s for sure,” Lohnes said.

Mad River Twp. has had two interested parties contact them, Trustee Joe Catanzaro said.

“We have several facilities and locations that I guess could be good,” Catanzaro said. “I’d just as soon have the tax money in our township and our county.”

RELATED: More than 100 Clark County law enforcement officers to get Narcan kits

With the amount of security required and other regulations, Catanzaro has no problem bringing that type of business to the township. The jobs are needed, he said.

“It’s going to be strictly enforced by the governor and the state,” Catanzaro said. “It’s going to be a factory … If it was a beer or cigarette company coming into town, we would want the jobs.”

The Chamber of Greater Springfield has had inquiries and provided information to potential businesses hoping to start cultivation operations in Springfield, Vice President for Economic Development Horton Hobbs said.

In many ways, it’s no different than a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, he said.

“We view it as industry, agriculture basically,” he said. “It’s agri-business, the medical side of it. The regulations go around that make it like any other regulated business … We certainly will work with interested parties and help where we can.”

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