As Illinois’ new medical marijuana program moves forward, competition has developed over where Metro East’s only legal cultivation site should be built.
The St. Clair County Board has approved a proposal for a farm near Marissa, to be operated by a group headed by a woman from Glen Carbon.
Meanwhile, the city of Wood River has given the go-ahead to a facility that would be owned and operated by a Chicago company.
Only one can prevail.
The state will accept applications from Sept. 8 to 22 from parties seeking to secure the 60 dispensary and 21 cultivation licenses allowed statewide under the new law.
In most areas, the law allows two dispensaries and one cultivation center per Illinois State Police district. St. Clair, Madison, Bond, Clinton and Monroe counties are in District 11.
Wood River Mayor Fred Ufert wants the green stuff — the weed and the cash it generates — for his city.
This month, the city council approved an agreement with Largo Meds LLC, of Chicago, for 5 percent of the company’s gross revenue, minus property taxes.
Ufert estimated the deal would bring $1 million a year to the city.
“I base that on what’s going on in Colorado, where some of these cultivation centers are taking in $20 million a year,” Ufert said in a recent interview.
The city would use the money on infrastructure projects, including a new sewer system, sidewalks, street repairs and flood abatement.
Ufert said Wood River would send a letter to state officials making its case, and had commitments from numerous politicians and business leaders to write on the city’s behalf.
“We want the state to know that, in the 1980s, we had a Standard Oil-operated plant that closed and really affected the city’s bottom line and cost us a lot of jobs.
“In addition to the revenue (for the city), we’ve been told this growing site will provide 30 good jobs that pay double the minimum wage, plus benefits,” Ufert said.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said he wanted the state to approve a site near Marissa that would be operated by a Glen Carbon-based company called Nature’s Care. It, too, would employ about 30 people, he said.
“But aside from standard property taxes, our site would be revenue neutral,” Kern said, adding that the county was not allowed to take more.
State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly explained, “We don’t have authority as a non-home-rule county to set up some additional licensing scheme on top of what the state is doing. Munis are situated differently.”
NOT FOR MISSOURIANS
Nature’s Care owner Mara Meyers worked in marketing at Anheuser-Busch before leaving to co-found the Zipatoni Co., a marketing firm.
Meyers, who also owns a house in Carbondale, Colo., cited cases of family members and friends who have been successfully treated with medical marijuana there. She said that motivated her to seek an Illinois cultivation license.
“Marijuana is a natural remedy that works,” Meyers said. “It’s had a terrible rap and stigma but, quite frankly, someone put that plant on this earth for a reason and we’re just now discovering what that is.”
Meyers said she leads a group of investors in the $7 million project, but she declined to name the others.
At all Illinois sites, cannabis will be grown inside greenhouses, with the operation surrounded by fencing and patrolled by guards. The facility also would be subject to regular visits by state and local police.
The law does not allow patients to grow their own marijuana or to resell their prescriptions. And only Illinois residents will be eligible to apply for the ID card that’s required to buy from a state-sanctioned dispensary.
Missouri has no such program, and its residents will not be eligible to secure cannabis in Illinois.
In addition to construction and staffing costs, cultivation centers face steep fees from the state. The application fee alone is $25,000. The operating fee is $200,000 in the first year and $100,000 annually thereafter.
An application fee for a dispensary is $5,000, with an operating fee of $30,000 the first year and $25,000 annually thereafter.
Officials in Madison and St. Clair counties said they knew of no plans to open dispensaries in unincorporated areas. A Glen Carbon official said the village had been contacted by an individual interested in opening a dispensary there, but additional information was not immediately available.
Under the law, medical marijuana in Illinois is a pilot program set to expire at the end of 2017.
Meyers said the group’s investment could go to pot if the state did not extend the program.
“We’re hoping that the state will continue with this program after the pilot period ends. Our feeling is that this program takes marijuana out of the hands of the black market guys, making it transparent for state government to actually tax it while making the medicine available safely.”
With a limited list of qualifying ailments, Illinois’s law is among the most restrictive of the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
Meyers would like to see those restrictions relaxed.
“PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is not currently in it, so vets who would benefit greatly don’t have access to it. And neither is chronic pain. A lot of people just have terrible back and neck pain and can’t sleep and get prescriptions for opiates like Vicodin which can lead to terrible addictions,” she said.
At least two health conditions included on the state list — spinal cord disease and fibromyalgia — could prove to be avenues for abuse, according to Dr. William McDade, president of the Illinois State Medical Society.
“General complaints of back pain could effectively be interpreted as spinal cord disease,” McDade recently said. “And there really is no medical test for fibromyalgia, per se. That leaves a lot of subjectivity on the part of treating doctors based on a patient’s description of the symptom.”
State officials said this week that no date had been set for selecting the cultivation site and dispensary operators.
However, Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said she anticipated that qualifying patients would begin getting cannabis prescriptions early next year.
Patients would be limited to 2.5 ounces every two weeks.
Asked how much the drug would cost, Arnold said, “That’s difficult to say. It will be based on the free market and dispensaries will set the cost. And anybody, anywhere can go to any dispensary they choose.”
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