Marijuana Group Pushes for Oberlin Lab

Marisa Aikins

The city of Oberlin is now a contender to house a marijuana testing facility. ResponsibleOhio, a nonprofit organization campaigning to legalize marijuana for medical and personal use for adults over the age of 21, is pushing for the facility to be located within city limits.

Although homegrown marijuana will be allowed conditionally, the majority of ResponsibleOhio’s proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution focuses on creating legalized marijuana stores and testing facilities that will be centralized and heavily regulated. The Marijuana Control Commission, a regulatory body that the amendment would create, will regulate the 10 growing locations and at least five testing facilities across Ohio.

The marijuana produced will be distributed to medical marijuana dispensaries and retail marijuana stores in the areas surrounding these facilities. The marijuana purchased for medicinal purposes must have a recommendation from a doctor and will be sold to the patient at wholesale price. Marijuana purchased for personal use will have a tax rate of less than 15 percent, and 85 percent of the tax revenues will go to municipalities, townships and counties to support public services.

While Oberlin is one of the options for testing facilities, the Marijuana Control Commission would have the final say in where the lab would be located and who would run it, according to Lydia Bolander, a ResponsibleOhio spokesperson.

According to Bolander, Oberlin College is one of the reasons ResponsibleOhio is looking at Oberlin as a possible testing location. “We wanted to be sure that the research facilities were located in close proximity to Ohio colleges and universities so that these institutions could benefit from potential research opportunities and job growth,” Bolander said.

In order for the proposal to appear on the Nov. 2015 ballot, over 305,500 signatures must be collected. If the amendment passes and the Marijuana Control Commission chooses Oberlin as a location for a testing facility, the Oberlin City Council is ultimately responsible for whether or not the testing facility appears in Oberlin.

“My personal considerations would be to weigh the economic benefits to the city with the possible negative social impacts of marijuana use, and I’m not prepared to make that judgment [at this time],” said Sharon Fairchild-Soucy, City Council vice president. The City Council members have not had a thorough discussion on this topic and consider it a moot point until it appears on the ballot.

The proposed location for the testing facility is at the intersection of Route 511 and Oberlin Road. This plot of land is 32.78 acres and was purchased by the city in 2003 for future economic development, according to Oberlin City Manager Eric Norenberg. In the past, this site was home to a gas station and later was used for farming, though it has not been in use since the 1960s.

According to Norenberg, this venture is being treated in the same way any economic development prospect would be treated. Initially, the testing facility is projected to create 40 jobs. Over time, this amount is projected to increase as the facility grows and becomes more established, potentially resulting in opportunities for local hiring.

However, the Ohio Rights Group, a separate group campaigning for legalized medical marijuana, disagrees with the fundamental idea of ResponsibleOhio’s proposal: a centralized and state-regulated marijuana industry.

“Under the ResponsibleOhio model, all of the profits would be concentrated in the hands of the wealthy investors, and as we all know from the Reagan-era economics, very little will ‘trickle down’ back into the economy,” said John Pardee, the Ohio Rights Group’s president. Pardee added that as an Oberlin native, though he believes that adding well-paying jobs is a laudable goal, he disagrees with ResponsibleOhio’s method.