Hemp store’s owners accuse Ohio mayor of delay tactics

Tuesday, January 4, 2000

National Organi...
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — NORML — retail store in downtown Ravenna, Ohio, pictured on Dec. 27.

A group promoting the legalization of marijuana says the mayor of a small Ohio city is attempting to snuff out plans for its downtown hemp store.

But Mayor Paul Jones of Ravenna says plans by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws to open a store in the town of 12,000 don't fit with his downtown renovation efforts.

“It's not the image we are trying to project in the historic downtown district,” Jones told the Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier.

NORML, which promotes the legalization of marijuana, the production of industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana, operates about a dozen stores nationwide that sell jewelry and clothing made from hemp. Unlike marijuana, when smoked hemp does not produce a high. However, it is illegal to grow hemp in most parts of the United States.

NORML owns three such stores in Ohio, including one near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. None of the Ohio stores sell drug-related paraphernalia.

The store's owners blame their inability to secure a final occupancy permit in Ravenna on politics.

“I'd like to think we're well-enveloped in the First Amendment,” NORML co-director Allen St. Pierre said. “But the mayor seems to want to run roughshod over the First Amendment and the right of Ohio citizens to distribute and disseminate information about law reform.”

St. Pierre says the store has been ready to open for several months and has passed a fire inspection. The mayor last month tabled the store's proposed sign. That proposal is now pending before the city's planning commission.

Jones has said he would block the store's opening using zoning rules. Jones did not return calls from the First Amendment Center for further comment.

St. Pierre says Jones is using the zoning laws to stamp out speech he doesn't like.

“It's disturbing to have mayor singling out this special venue of commerce,” said St. Pierre, who added that NORML was considering court action in this case.