Local medical marijuana shop owner: ‘People have reservations’

Springfield police chief: ‘We will have to see how this plays out.’

Those who want to operate medical marijuana dispensaries approved for Springfield and other parts of southwest Ohio want doubters to know the businesses will be safe, boost the local economy and help those in pain get relief.

The 56 Ohio dispensaries announced last week include two in Springfield, plus 11 others in southwest Ohio.

FIRST REPORT: Two Clark County sites get permission for marijuana sales

Larry Pegram is president of Pure Ohio Wellness, which also is licensed to cultivate marijuana in Springfield. The company is working on two area storefront dispensaries, one in Dayton at Needmore Road and another at 1711 W. Main St. in Springfield.

“Both of them are in distressed areas we are trying to improve financially by putting a bunch of money into the buildings and into the immediate area to try to improve the lives of people in that area,” Pegram said.

Many Ohioans aren’t sold on marijuana’s therapeutic value and remain concerned about legal pot’s impact on community safety, especially with the cash-only business model required by federal rules.

“I understand people have reservations about this. It’s an unknown to them,” Pegram said. “Our whole goal is to improve the area and put money back into the area and bring the area up.”

READ MORE: Springfield doctor among first licensed to recommend medical marijuana

Pegram said highly secure and video-monitored dispensaries would “be the last place on Earth” anyone would go to break the law.

Springfield’s second store will be operated by Cannamed Therapeutics LLC at 0 Raydo Circle near Leffel Lane.

Springfield Police Chief Lee Graf said the division is aware of the changes in the law.

“We will follow the laws as they have been adopted and make sure that our officers are informed of the changes,” Graf said. “As for challenges, we will have to see how this plays out for a while to determine if there are any negative effects in regards to public safety.”

Not a stoner shop

Another owner of dispensaries said the wrong thing comes to mind for many when thinking about medical marijuana shops.

“A lot of people think you are building a little stoner head shop. It’s not like that at all,” said Jimmy Gould, chairman of CannAscend Alternative, a company that received provisional licenses to operate four Strawberry Fields-branded dispensaries in Ohio.

“It’s a very a fresh, attractive feeling … I think a lot of people just don’t understand what these dispensaries look like for people who have never been in one,” Gould said.

READ MORE: Group wants to legalize recreational pot in Ohio, erase criminal records

In June 2016, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law that authorizes marijuana use by patients with 21 conditions, including cancer or chronic pain. While home growing and smoking remains barred, dispensaries will be allowed to sell cannabis in the form of edibles, oils, tinctures, patches and for vaporizing.

Officials announced last week that Ohio won’t meet a September deadline for the sale of medical marijuana, but the Board of Pharmacy expects to launch its patient registry in July. Provided they have a doctor’s recommendation, patients and their caregivers will be allowed to possess up to a 90-day supply.

More harm possible, expert says

The medical benefits of cannabis have yet to be proven and the new dispensaries could do more harm to a population already troubled by drugs, said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board of Montgomery County.

“In terms of which communities the dispensaries will be allowed to operate in, unfortunately they are in communities that already have some challenges with high levels of other substance misuse or high levels of other social determinants that have taken a toll on the community. So we have some concerns about that,” she said.

The ADAMHS board, chambers of commerce and law enforcement officials opposed a 2015 statewide ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana, including adult recreational use and limited cultivation for personal use. The referendum failed but lawmakers followed with House Bill 523 in 2016, which approved the drug’s use for medical purposes and set up a framework for licensing cultivators, processors, testing labs and dispensaries.

“While we want to have as many options in our community available to our citizens for pain relief, we don’t think this is the one,” Jones-Kelley said. “And until there is some research and approval from the FDA, our tune will not change.”

Patients face debilitating pain

Cannabis therapy was the only thing that helped her special needs child, said Shawnta Hopkins-Greene, who helped set up medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, D.C. and in Maryland. As CEO of MyCannX, she said she is trying to break down the stigma that people who will frequent the dispensaries are just drug users.

“They genuinely are patients. These will be very, very ill people accessing this medication: cancer patients, seizure patients, patients who are in such excruciating pain,” Hopkins-Greene said. “Many of the patients have debilitating pain conditions and can barely walk there. Some of them are immobile and they have to have a caregiver come and get their medication for them.”

Dispensaries will attract patients with higher disposable incomes because the regulated environment pushes up the cost of medical marijuana to nearly double the street price, said Hopkins-Greene, who plans to relocate to her native Columbus and consult for Ohio dispensaries.

“They are going to be people who have jobs — usually well-paying jobs — who have families and understand the benefits of getting their medication in a legal market,” she said. “They value the safety and security of being able to enter a dispensary rather than just getting what they can get on the street.”

But at the federal level, marijuana continues to be a Schedule 1 drug — considered to have no acceptable medical use — and is illegal. The businesses largely can’t accept credit card payments, write or take checks or deposit money in banks, forcing most of the industry to operate on a cash-only basis and raising more concern about attracting crime.

Smash-and-grab thefts

While it’s difficult to find crime statistics related to dispensaries, it’s not difficult to find accounts of marijuana shops in states where it’s legal targeted in smash-and-grab burglaries, the type already plaguing Springfield-area cell phone stores.

Armed robbers have hit dispensaries in multiple states. At least two security guards have been killed during attempted heists at stores in Colorado and in California. One break-in netted robbers $100,000 in cash in Seattle, and in December, thieves carted off $600,000 of pot from a San Francisco dispensary, according to news reports.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legal medical marijuana and nine states along with the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use.

The Ohio licensing process was weighted heavily on the applicant’s operations plan that detailed security and surveillance measures of facilities and how the product would be received, stored, dispensed and kept out of the wrong hands.

Ohio dispensaries must be located at least 500 feet from prohibited locations like schools, be in compliance with tax laws and meet certain capital requirements and have zoning approval from the municipality. Additionally, the applicants couldn’t have been convicted of certain criminal offenses.

Despite the safeguards, not every locality embraced the idea. Several cities in the region enacted bans during the process.

With a moratorium and possible future ban, Beavercreek will not challenge the opening of a dispensary at 4370 Tonawanda Trail to be operated by Harvest of Ohio LLC. Springfield, Dayton and Riverside have accepted the new businesses with little reservation.

Keith Klein, Dayton’s senior development specialist, said the two planned dispensaries along with the cultivator license already granted within the Dayton borders gives the city three potential new small business with another potentially coming should a processing operation get licensed.

“The city is looking at it from two perspectives: it’s an opportunity to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in the community,” he said. “And the city supports the idea that people should have safe access to these products in order to potentially treat their medical conditions that qualify under the state’s program.”

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