Why does Newark have three dispensaries and the much larger Columbus have four? Because of a complex state application process and sometimes stringent local rules.
When medical marijuana company Herbology opens a dispensary this month in Newark, it will be the third such business in the Licking County seat and one block away from competitor Ohio Grown Therapies.
Columbus, on the other hand, has four dispensaries despite a population of roughly 892,000, nearly 19 times that of its neighbor to the east.
That’s not the only odd cluster of dispensaries in Ohio. Wintersville, for example, 140 miles east of Columbus, has two, a ratio of roughly one per 2,000 residents. Columbus has one for every 223,000 residents.
Meanwhile, three areas of Ohio — in the northwestern tip of Ohio, in southeastern Ohio near the West Virginia border and in the Mansfield area — have no dispensaries.
Why? When Ohio accepted applications from cannabis entrepreneurs, the state was divided into 31 districts. Two of those districts had no applicants, and applicants for the third were not approved, leaving the three districts without dispensaries.
Why do Newark and Wintersville have a disproportionately high number? The answer is multifaceted.
When asked why Herbology chose Newark, a representative said the company could stand out there.
“Newark is a market where we believe we can differentiate ourselves through our patient-first approach,” Talley Wettlaufer, vice president of retail for Grassroots Cannabis, Herbology’s parent company, said in a statement.
Representatives of other dispensaries in Newark and Wintersville did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Industry insiders said some small cities and towns have multiple dispensaries largely because of a lack of alternative locations.
One reason for that is prospective marijuana business owners needed approval from the municipality they planned to call home, and few outside big cities allowed them, said Brian Wingfield, co-owner of the Ohio Cannabis Clinic dispensary near Coshocton.
The largest city in Coshocton’s district is Zanesville, which declined to allow dispensaries, Wingfield said.
Even finding their eventual location proved challenging, he said.
“We’re not in Coshocton city proper because Coshocton said no,’’ Wingfield said. The Ohio Cannabis Clinic is in a township just outside the city limits.
Additionally, some small cities imposed limits. Dispensaries aren’t allowed near schools or churches in many places, said Thomas Rosenberger, associate director of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association.
“When a lot of dispensaries are applying in the same locations, or the same place, there’s a limited number of places where they can meet the requirements,” Rosenberger said.
Dispensary owners also looked for locations with a potentially high number of customers, he said. Newark, for example, is the largest city in Licking County and roughly a 45-minute drive from Columbus. Wintersville borders Steubenville, the most populous city in its district with 18,000 residents.
Newark’s city council addressed the prospect of dispensaries before Ohio’s medical marijuana program began in earnest in January 2018, approving a series of changes to the city’s zoning laws.
The new rules created a licensing system for cannabis businesses and barred them from opening near schools.
City officials welcomed dispensaries, “but we wanted to have some oversight,” council member Jeffrey Rath said.
Wintersville didn’t ban dispensaries or pass any special rules for them, and village officials were eager to bring jobs to their village. So far, their presence hasn’t disrupted life in the town, located in a quiet corner of eastern Ohio, Village Council member Jason Mattern said in an email.
“Our council and administration team have welcomed many honest, hardworking and legitimate business owners into the village, who in turn help stimulate our small economy,” Mattern said.
“The operators and staff have worked well with the village and local law enforcement,” he added. “I am proud to say that we have had no incidents at either facility.”