Picture of the site of the proposed marijuana dispensary
Buckeye Relief plans to upgrade this vacant building to make a dispensary in Kent. Asha Blake/The Portager

A medical marijuana dispensary wants to open in Kent, and the community is for it

Buckeye Relief hopes to move into a vacant building on West Main Street. Kent’s Architectural Review Board favors the plan, and several neighbors in the area say they would welcome the new tenant.

A medical marijuana dispensary may be coming to Kent, the first of its kind in Portage County.

Buckeye Relief plans to open the dispensary at 1181 W. Main St., on the corner of West Main and North Francis. The building most recently housed a restaurant but has been vacant for years.

Buckeye plans to upgrade the exterior and interior of the building, including reworking the roof line and redoing the landscaping, providing wheelchair accessible parking and a bike rack.

Plans also call for eliminating ground floor windows except for the windows at the entry and waiting room. “You can’t see into the rest of the building from that point,” project architect John Waddell told Kent’s Architectural Review Board last week.

Getting rid of those windows is a state requirement so “you cannot see into any portion of the building where any product is sold, kept or stored,” Waddell said.

Besides an employee area and a retail sales area, the actual marijuana products will be kept in a vault.

“As you enter the building, once you get inside the building, you have to go through man traps to get into the area where there’s any product. It’s heavily secure,” Waddell said.

Image of the proposed Kent dispensary
The dispensary would occupy a building that once housed a restaurant and has been empty for years. Asha Blake/The Portager

Buckeye Relief is ready to implement the security Ohio regulations demand.

“They have a security team that is incredible. It was put together by the former director of the U.S. Secret Service so it’s a pretty intense program,” he said.

Signage will be minimal because “the state doesn’t allow a whole lot of signage on these buildings,” he said

Buckeye Relief has not yet received authorization from the state, which requires zoning approval prior to application. In Kent, that means obtaining Architectural Review Board recommendations to the city’s Planning Commission, which then needs to sign off on a conditional use permit.

Armed with the review board recommendation, planning approval and a conditional use permit, Buckeye Relief can submit signed paperwork to the state to use the location for a medical marijuana facility, Buckeye Relief’s Government Affairs Director Caroline Henry said. 

So far, Kent is on board.

“It’s a tremendous improvement to a building that’s been an eyesore for probably 40, 50 years,” board member Howard Boyle said. “It’s an unusual use, but hey!”

Boyle asked that his comments, as well as those of board member David Basista, be forwarded to the city’s Planning Commission.

“It’s definitely a huge improvement,” Basista said.

Local marijuana growers

Buckeye Relief is a licensed medical marijuana grower and processor based in Eastlake Ohio. Such facilities must be licensed by the state medical marijuana control program, Henry said.

“We’re an Ohio-based company so we are looking at areas that are friendly to the use of medical marijuana, and Kent did pass an ordinance that allows medical marijuana dispensaries,” Henry said. “We’re very excited, and the City of Kent has been very easy to work with.”

Buckeye Relief does not have dispensaries elsewhere in Ohio. The company is looking at sites, but Henry said she cannot say where. The nearest dispensaries are in Cuyahoga Falls and Akron.

Potential clients, whom Henry refers to as patients, would need to have a doctor’s prescription based on 22 conditions Ohio has approved for medical marijuana use. Statewide, there are more than 600 physicians approved by the state to write such recommendations, she said.

According to OHDispensaries.com, qualifying conditions include AIDS-HIV, ALS, Alzheimer’s, cancer, wasting syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy or other seizure disorders, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, MS, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord disease or injury, Tourette’s Syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and chronic, intractable and severe pain.

The website does not list any specially licensed doctors in Portage County, but both the site and Henry indicated that potential patients can work with physicians virtually, through such platforms as Teladoc. Medical records must be provided.

Neighbors welcome the news

With strict security in place, medical marijuana cards required for all patients and limits on how much marijuana can be purchased, Henry is confident Buckeye Relief will be a good neighbor.

Budget Muffler Shop manager Phil Gast said he would be happy to have the dispensary next door.

“Hey, it brings business for our community, we love it,” he said.

Dispensaries that have opened in Akron, where Gast lives, have rehabilitated buildings and improved property values, he said.

“Crime’s not an issue with these places. They haven’t had one issue. I think it would be a good thing for Kent,” he said.

Joshua Shield, a sales associate at nearby Kings of Vapor, told The Portager the proposed business doesn’t bother him. Kings of Vapor sells smoking paraphernalia, including rolling papers, pipes and water pipes, so having a dispensary nearby could be good for business, he said.

“It ain’t gonna bother me,” said Paul Battaglia, who owns a home directly behind the proposed site on North Francis. “Too much stuff is closed around here. Better to have something in a building than have it closed up.”

Paul Thrams, who also lives behind the proposed business, echoed Battaglia’s remarks.

“It’s medical. It’s fine,” he said. “I think it’s an interesting placement next to Kent State.”

An employee at nearby Guido’s Pizza, who would only give his name as Josh, pronounced himself neutral, but added: “Having new businesses is good when businesses are closing.”

Heritage Barbershop, the nearest neighbor to the east, declined comment. The building across state Route 59 is vacant, most recently having housed a bank. The Houde School of Acting, located caddy corner from the proposed dispensary, could not be reached for comment.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.