Home Culture This Village is the Only Place Welcoming the Ohio Medical Marijuana Industry

This Village is the Only Place Welcoming the Ohio Medical Marijuana Industry

Image Credit: Mark Spearman Photography

Ohio recently became the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana, and among a slew of naysayers and complaints of the ‘unknown’, one village in the Buckeye State is embracing the medical marijuana industry.

The small Village of Johnstown is making huge efforts in positioning themselves at the forefront of Ohio’s cannabis industry. Home to one of the largest botanical oil extraction companies, Apeks Supercritical, they have already seen the plant’s potential. Apeks is listed on Inc. 5000’s list of the fastest growing private companies in the country.

Marijuana laws in Ohio allow for municipalities to opt out, effectively banning dispensaries and cannabis industry operations within their jurisdictions. Despite some opposition from residents, the village council voted in favor of allowing medical marijuana operations with a 6-1 vote in August.

Cannabis Companies can be Great Neighbors

Millions in revenue, employment, and safety have been proven to come in from medical marijuana markets. For example, Denver is home to Colorado’s most extensive marijuana market. They took in $29 million in 2015 from taxes and licensing fees. In Washington D.C., one cultivation center has more than 20 surveillance cameras, which have proven very helpful to local police.

In an exclusive interview with The Marijuana Times, Village Manager Jim Lenner was enthusiastic and optimistic about the budding industry. “I would say over 95 percent of the town comments I’ve been hearing are positive. A lot of people are under the mindset of, “its legal in Ohio at state level, so let’s be on the forefront of the new industry and reap the benefits.”

Johnstown, Ohio is part of the Columbus metro region and has a robust transportation network. Courtesy: Johnstown Ohio Economic Development Facebook
Johnstown, Ohio is part of the Columbus metro region and has a robust transportation network. Courtesy: Johnstown Ohio Economic Development Facebook

Not everyone supports the idea of allowing the cannabis industry into their village. Some local councilmembers and community leaders think “there are too many unknowns,” despite polls showing 90% approval of medical marijuana in Ohio. Lenner explains it’s a minority of people and it’s largely due to a lack of education on the subject of medical marijuana.

As the Village Manager, Lenner holds the duties of the Chief Administrative and Law Enforcement Officer. He explained that whether they opt-in or out, his residents will eventually be able to use the state-legal medical marijuana program. The medical marijuana bill, HB523, passed on September 8th but Ohio patients won’t see medicine lining dispensary shelves anytime soon because the Department of Commerce has until March 6, 2017 to adopt rules to oversee cultivators and testing labs.

“I’m getting calls about the retail aspect of it, and we are too far from knowing what that will entail. We are not issuing permits today or tomorrow; we will do our homework and do it right,” said Lenner.

Johnstown Welcomes Medical Marijuana

The village of 5,000 actively promotes their community to the manufacturing, logistics, and fabrication industries – and they are adding the cannabis industry to the list as well.

There’s a lot of work to be done at the state level regarding how Ohio’s medical marijuana program will operate. The lack of structure in Ohio’s medical marijuana program reveals the common issue states will have when ‘going green’ – lack of structure when it comes to regulations and oversight. But with Johnstown’s emphasis on economic development, they could be the perfect partner in shaping Ohio’s future cannabis operations industry.

A Johnstown local and cannabis entrepreneur, Andy Joseph, started Apeks Supercritical in Johnstown in 2001. His business manufactures the machinery used to extract cannabis oil in 20 other states, not (yet) including Ohio. He has seen large successes in the cannabis industry. His company began as a backyard operation, now the ganjapreneur wants to bring opportunities from the ‘green rush’ to his community with a proposed cannabis industrial park.

Medical Marijuana Industrial Park Proposal Courtesy: Andy Joseph
Medical Marijuana Industrial Park Proposal Courtesy: Andy Joseph

Not one to take the limelight, Joseph has single-handedly given the Village of Johnstown access to information about medical marijuana and its health and industrial benefits. “Our community is more knowledgeable about the topic because he is here,” explained Lenner. He credited Joseph for helping to make their village the only place in Ohio to effectively pass a resolution ‘not to opt out’ of the program.

The efforts to educate village councilmembers and bring the community into the new age of state-legal medical marijuana include bringing in experts, such as Dr. Sue Sisley and Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Commission program director, Natalie LaPrade. “We have had the ability to learn over the last 18 months and other communities haven’t,” Lenner continued, “if it wasn’t for [Andy], maybe we would have a different stance and be like other communities.”  In the end, Johnstown was in a position to make an educated decision.

Joseph’s goal is to open a cannabis business park in Johnstown is to share his success in the cannabis industry with his neighbors. “The marijuana industry as a whole was $5.4 billion dollars last year, it’s expected to be 20 billion dollars by 2020,” Joseph said. The plan: turn 100 acres of industrial park land in Johnstown into an industrial park for cannabis businesses.

Apeks Supercritical doesn’t currently touch the plant, but that could all change as Ohio lawmakers create the regulations needed to start processing both patients, and the plant. The industrial park would have everything from testing laboratories to cultivation centers on the many acres of farmland available near his proposed location.

When the rules and regulations guiding Ohio’s program begin to take shape, every medical marijuana business in Ohio will essentially be a start-up and will be looking for a place to set up shop once licenses are issued. “By becoming the first adopter, we will be well positioned to receive the maximum economic benefits from Ohio’s medical marijuana industry with potential revenues as high as $500M,” said Joseph. Johnstown is positioning themselves to provide marijuana businesses with a place they can operate with the full support of the city, police, fire, and zoning. Cities that have issued bans and moratoriums are telling those new businesses, as Joseph puts it, “don’t come to our town, we don’t want you.”

The Stigma of “Reefer Madness”

Johnstown recognizes the need for its patients and the patients in surrounding communities to have access to safe, tested medicine that is sold in childproof packaging and in a regulated manner.   Despite what some of the banning city leaders may think, marijuana is currently available through the black market in just about every Ohio city. 

It could be fear of being politically incorrect, or possibly that these anti-pot moratoriums and bans are being passed based on the “Reefer Madness” or political fears of the city leaders and do not represent the true wants and desires of the residents they represent.

Lenner wouldn’t expect 100 percent of his residents to support it. “The response I’ve heard is overwhelmingly positive, but some have concerns of the stigma of welcoming medical marijuana. I get that and understand sometimes the divisiveness of the topic.”

Lenner told The Marijuana Times that he is planning to nail down a date this fall for a Town Hall with HB523 supportive Ohio State to let people ask questions. Or, people can just come into the Village of Johnstown Offices and ask questions so they don’t have to wait. In a village of 5,000 people, said Lenner, everyone knows they can come in here and ask us about it.