Canton Repository editorial: Don’t turn out grow light, err on side of transparency

When Ohio’s new medical marijuana law officially took effect in September, we urged local governments to prepare for the onslaught of potential processing facilities, dispensaries and other marijuana-related businesses that could crop up in their communities. We called for local leaders to give “lengthy and thoughtful” deliberation about the potential benefits and consequences of such businesses. We’ve seen communities like Lake and Plain townships, North Canton and Louisville do just that.

After a report out of Canal Fulton that an “unnamed” individual has pitched the city on being home to a medical marijuana processing facility, perhaps that message bears repeating.

More troubling than City Council members apparently being caught off guard by the prospect was Mayor Joe Schultz’s proposal that council members could meet in pairs with the unnamed developer to avoid Ohio’s open meetings laws. Schultz essentially said that by meeting in smaller groups in which no quorum of council exists, members could meet privately without telling the public or even inviting the public.

With all due respect to the mayor, that’s not how things are supposed to work. Not only does his suggestion fly in the face of the spirit of the state’s open meetings laws, we don’t believe it’s a legal option. Per state law, “a public body may not circumvent the requirements of the Act by setting up back-to-back meetings of less than a majority of its members, with the same topics of public business discussed at each.” They are what’s known as “round robin” or “serial” meetings, and they are illegal.

As Canton Repository correspondent Joan Porter reported, “Most council members were willing to do so (meet) and noted the benefits of medical marijuana, increased revenue from city income taxes, strict regulations regarding a marijuana processing plant and that the plant was not a retail outlet.”

State lawmakers made the right call last year when they legalized medical marijuana while placing tight regulations on all aspects of it. Thousands of Ohioans suffering from cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and other qualifying medical issues might find relief through the use of medical marijuana once the laws are implemented fully.

This will result in economic benefits for the state and for some communities. Though the state will control who receives medical marijuana licenses, local governments retain control over whether such businesses will be permitted to operate in their jurisdictions. Such decision-making should be made with the community’s interests in mind. Discussions with “unnamed” individuals about potential business opportunities should be held in the open, for all to see — not behind closed doors, as Canal Fulton’s mayor has suggested.

Canal Fulton Law Director Scott Fellmeth is on the right track. He urged council to wait until a proposal has been made to meet on the issue. Such a proposal, and such a meeting, should be open to the public.

 

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