Economic Development

Opponents of Marijuana Farms Want Ear of Council

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A coalition composed of faith-based groups, concerned citizens and small businesses say that allowing the cultivation of medical marijuana within the city opens the door for recreational drug use that would endanger the community.

“This is not really about medical marijuana statewide,” said Al Yanno, co-director of Now Youngstown and pastor at Metro Assembly of God on the South Side. “There’s more behind this that’s about recreational use.”

Last month, City Council heard from five investor groups looking to grow medical marijuana at select sites across the city. Ohio has approved issuing up to 24 licenses across the state. Twelve Level 1 licenses would be issued to growers planning indoor farms of 25,000 square feet initially with an option to expand up to 75,000 square feet.

Another 12 licenses would be issued to growers who want to set up farms of between 3,000 and 6,000 square feet.

A resolution expressing support for medical marijuana cultivation sites is scheduled to come before council Wednesday evening.

“City Council is about to make a decision to either allow or disallow these companies to come into our city and set up shop,” Yanno said. “Our goal is to help City Council, to help our mayor, make wise decisions” by listening to those who live in the community.

While council heard from the five companies, that body is yet to formally hear from concerned citizens who see the establishment of medical marijuana farms as undermining to the well-being of the community, Yanno said. “No one at that public meeting got an opportunity to present a case in opposition of cultivating and processing marijuana in our city limits.”

Yanno pointed to data that he said show problems in states such as California and Colorado that have approved marijuana for both medical and recreational use. “They have had increased crime, increased overdoses, increased traffic accidents and violations,” he said.

The group has scheduled a community meeting at the Newport Library at 6:30 this evening to give what Yanno calls “the rest of the story” about medical marijuana use and its implications.

“We see ourselves as partners with City Council in making Youngstown a great place to live,” Yanno said.

There is also concern about the effect of the measure on schools, the city and the legal impact on those companies that instate drug-testing policies, said the Rev. Gary Frost of Mission America.

“This is not a religious issue. This is a very ethical issue that regards our children,” Frost said, noting that an initial effort in 2015 to approve recreational marijuana use in Ohio called for distributing the substance in an edible form.

Frost called it ironic that these companies are projecting hundreds of jobs in the industry when many other companies across the city complain that they can’t find enough workers who can pass a drug test.

“Why in the world would we want to bring in more marijuana when they can’t get employees because of that problem?” he asked. Those who ingest medical marijuana legally, he emphasized, would fail a drug test.

Asked by The Business Journal to respond, Mayor John McNally said whether opponents like it or not, medical marijuana will be legal in the state of Ohio and the city has an opportunity to create jobs as a result.

“One of the things we get beat up on is not bringing enough new employment to the area,” McNally said. “Here, we have folks who are interested and I would have people yelling at me if I didn’t support it.”

McNally stressed that Ohio has approved legislation for medical marijuana only, not its recreational use.

“We agree to disagree,” the mayor said of the coalition opposed to medical marijuana sites. “I’m hoping that council will pass a resolution supporting medical marijuana in the city.”

However, Frost said the mayor and council need to hear his group’s side.

“We’re very concerned that this issue has not been properly addressed,” Frost stated. “And, we’re concerned that the mayor would take such a bold position when he will no longer be serving in this office and dealing with the consequences.”

Tito Brown defeated McNally in the Democratic primary for mayor. Brown faces two independent challengers, Sean McKinney and Janet Tarpley, in November.

“If our community leaders, who are making decisions for our children, are not looking at where this is leading, then that troubles me,” Frost said.

Pictured at top: Pastor Al Yanno and Rev. Gary Frost speak to reporters.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.