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Public is silent on medical pot store in Elyria

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ELYRIA — No members of the public stood up Monday during a public hearing before City Council to oppose or support The Clubhouse medical marijuana dispensary slated to open this year on Sugar Lane.

Only Councilman Phil Tollett, D-4th Ward, opposed granting the business a conditional use permit when the matter was put to a vote after the hearing at a special City Council meeting.

Tollett said he did research on the effects of medical marijuana dispensaries on their communities, and during question time asked city officials specific questions about the city’s liability in taking taxes from the sale of medical marijuana.

Tollett said he’s concerned about the city violating federal law, which prohibits the sale and distribution of marijuana, as well as profiting from it.

“If we, as a city, take their money (in property and income taxes) are we participating in money laundering?” he asked during an interview with a reporter. “How do (The Clubhouse ownership) pay their federal taxes? Or do they?”

On Monday, prior to the vote, Tollett asked Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely to weigh in on the possibility that some medical marijuana users also might have concealed carry weapons permits. Under certain conditions, that poses a conflict as it might violate numerous state and federal laws, Tollett said.

Whitely said he and his officers would have to consult with Elyria Law Director Scott Serazin and Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will in such a circumstance to determine if the law has been violated.

Partners in The Clubhouse, operated by NMG Ohio LLC, and AFS Cultivation LLC, which is planning to rehabilitate a former music store on Cleveland Street into Elyria’s second licensed medical marijuana dispensary, have said they intend to hire security guards from among off-duty or retired local law enforcement officers.

Off-duty Elyria police officers will not be eligible to work in that capacity, Whitely said.

“That has never been approved. After a discussion ... that’s a no,” he said Monday. “Medical marijuana is still a violation of federal law. I’m not going to have them working there and enforcing something that’s violating federal law.”

Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka added that Elyria police officers also are forbidden from working off-duty in establishments that serve alcohol.

Finance Director Ted Pileski, also posed a question by Tollett, said he had “nothing in writing” that the city’s bank wouldn’t drop it as a client if the city collected income and property taxes from The Clubhouse and AFS’ future dispensary.

Siwierka also told Tollett she had no indication the city’s liability insurance carrier would drop the city’s coverage, though she said she’d “have to reach out” to its insurance carriers to make sure.

City Council’s Community Development Committee also voted Monday to recommend to full Council it approve a conditional use permit for

AFS’ 3,600-square-foot medical marijuana dispensary at 603 Cleveland St. AFS partners said last week they plan tospend $1.5 million rehabilitating its storefront, and will hire 10 to 25 employees ranging in salary from $30,000 to $70,000.

That dispensary is expected to open sometime between April and June, attorney Howard Lane told the committee. He said his clients “take security very seriously” and have hired a “first-class, top-notch” security firm to consult.

In addition, there is no indication “of a direct link between medical marijuana dispensaries and an increase in crime” in the neighborhoods where they have opened, Lane said.

“I would suggest an empty building also is a prime spot for criminal activity,” Lane told the committee.

Medical marijuana sales began Jan. 16 at a limited number of locations in Ohio.

Tollett said he visited The Clubhouse and met with its general manager Jan. 19 and shared additional remarks and thoughts in writing with City Council members and a Chronicle reporter.

All the uncertainty surrounding the clash between state law and federal law left Tollett unconvinced medical marijuana dispensaries are right for Elyria.

“This is a bad deal,” Tollett said in an interview.

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.


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