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Will farmers be financially shut out of Illinois medical marijuana?




Illinois Correspondent


PEORIA, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed into law House Bill 1, better known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act. With his signature, Illinois became the 21st state to enact medicinal marijuana legislation.

The state’s laws controlling the cultivation, dispense and use of medical pot are regarded as among the strictest in the nation. Final rules for the four-year pilot project are expected to be approved by the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules – paving the way for would-be growers and retailers to submit formal bids and applications beginning Sept. 8, according to recent news reports.

The law allows for the establishment of up to 22 cultivation centers – one located within each state police district – that would supply 60 dispensaries across the state. This could allow a limited number of investors to profit from the law by constructing state-approved cultivation centers for the growing of marijuana.

Whether Illinois farmers will be among those seeking cultivation licenses will be determined in the coming weeks, now that some counties are speeding up their permitting and site approval processes in an effort to secure the tax benefits the cultivation centers could bring.

The medical cannabis program is overseen by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). Conditions of application for proposed cultivators include "experience in agriculture," among other, stricter requirements. Cultivation center applicants should be prepared to prove they possess $500,000 in liquid assets.

According to Bureau County Farm Bureau President Bill Naffziger, the monetary requirement, along with a nonrefundable $25,000 application fee, conspire to put most farmers out of the running for operating a cannabis cultivation center. "I’m not sure if that would be economically feasible for any area farmer," Naffziger told the Ottawa News-Tribune.

Investors are eyeing industrial-zoned areas in Peoria and Marshall counties for potential cultivation centers. The Peoria County and Marshall County sites, which are located in State Police District 8, will compete with other potential district locations in Tazewell, Stark and Woodford counties. The scenario is being replicated all across Illinois in each district, county by county.

Many Illinois counties and municipalities stand to gain financially from the program via cultivation center and dispensary tax revenue. Illinois’ annual medical pot sales are projected at $20 million-$30 million per year, according to Jonathan Caulkins, a leading expert on marijuana legalization from Carnegie Mellon University.

Dispensaries are expected to provide up to 20-30 well-paying jobs in each facility.

In anticipation of the IDOA accepting applications for cultivation centers, some municipalities and rural townships have scheduled special sessions, town halls or communicated with residents in other ways about the new law and its potential effect on communities.

Mapleton (Peoria County) Mayor Aaron Stone said some residents he’d spoken with are concerned about site security and odors emanating from a potential cultivation plant.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has also addressed residents’ concerns.

"We ensured a transparent rulemaking process by offering the public a chance to weigh in on the proposed medical cannabis rules, even before seeking legislative approval," stated Bob Morgan, IDPH general counsel and statewide program coordinator, in a news release.

"The rules make sure Illinois has the nation’s strictest safeguards to prevent abuse, while offering relief and help to eligible patients to ease their suffering."

The Illinois law allows medicinal marijuana prescriptions for those suffering from a myriad of diseases and conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, ALS and Hepatitis C, among others.

Patients will pay $100 per year for their medical cards; disabled patients and veterans will pay $50.