Seeds of legal marijuana cultivation planted in West Central Illinois

A public forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 4 at the Oakley Lindsay Center to gauge public support of a possible legal cultivation center in Adams County.

As Illinois takes its first steps toward allowing physicians to prescribe medicinal marijuana, an attorney, state lawmakers and local leaders say that several people expressed interest in establishing a legal grow center in Quincy or Adams County.

The question remains whether the public will accept marijuana in its backyard.

A public forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 4 at the Oakley Lindsay Center to gauge public support of a possible legal cultivation center in Adams County.

State regulatory agencies havenâ??t started taking applications, but Bradley Vallerius, an attorney who specializes in video gambling and medical marijuana issues, said at least three people in Adams County have expressed interest in what would amount to a legal marijuana growing operation.

â??The stateâ??s pilot program is simply an experiment,â?? Vallerius said. â??Itâ??s not like weâ??ve gone all out for full-blown recreational use. Itâ??s really here so we can learn something about the social costs and gains of medical cannabis.â??

The forum is expected to address research about the benefits and drawbacks on the use of medicinal marijuana, how it affects law enforcement, what steps are taken to keep it out of the hands of children and what employers can do to ensure employees arenâ??t impaired at work.

The state allows one cultivation center in each of the stateâ??s 22 Illinois State Police districts.

State Sen. John Sullivanâ??s senate district falls within three of those ISP districts. Sullivan, who voted for the medical marijuana bill, said Thursday that heâ??s spoken with several people interested in the cultivation centers and said he welcomes the potential economic benefits this new industry would bring to the state and the region.

â??I think itâ??s going to be an opportunity for whatever area of the state it ends up in,â?? he said. â??Itâ??s going to be construction jobs as itâ??s put together, ongoing employment of the facility itself and a tremendous outlay of equity to put one of these things together.â??

The law is not without controversy. State Rep. Jil Tracy said that Quincy, Adams County and much of her district is socially conservative which means there could be some resistance to the program. Tracy didnâ??t support the legislation that became law, but favored its use in a hospital or clinic setting.

Potential growers have approached her with interest in operations in Pike and Adams County.

The Quincy Republican said she would welcome whatever economic windfalls it would create in the state. The key, she said, is to avoid the nudge-and-wink medical card programs that exist in states like California that put few, if any, restrictions on who can get a medical card and a prescription for medical marijuana.

â??We want to make sure that it doesnâ??t get into the hands of young people,â?? she said. â??I think people have a right to be concerned. But, I know some people feel very strongly that they can benefit from this, so we have to weigh this opportunity. We have to keep monitoring it. It being a pilot program, we can learn from any mistakes very quickly.â??

To that end, Sullivan said that Illinois created some of the strictest regulations for grow operations in the nation.

â??The public needs to have the information so that they understand what this facility is going to look like,â?? Sullivan said. â??This isnâ??t going to be some grow operation thatâ??s outside. Itâ??s a secure, indoor facility with around-the-clock surveillance and security fences around the facility. It will be one of the most secure facilities you will see for this type of operation.â??

The cost to get licensed and permitted to run a center will keep a lot of people out of the business, Tracy said. Cultivation centers would be required pay a $25,000 non-refundable application fee. Theyâ??ll also have to prove that they have $250,000 in liquid assets, pay a $200,000 fee after theyâ??re approved for the permit, plus a $100,000 renewal fee.

The Sheriffâ??s Association opposed the legislation, but Sheriff Brent Fischer said the law is the law and theyâ??ll have to make adjustments to accommodate the pilot program. The sheriff said he, too, was approached by one person interested in opening a cultivation facility in Adams County.

â??I think what we have to deal with is, how is a person going to maintain their prescription in their house. How do they keep that safe? How do they consume it?â?? he said. â??And from the law enforcement side of things, how do you prove impairment if somebody takes their medicine and their medicine is marijuana.â??

The City of Quincy is already making plans should a dispensary want to locate within the city limits. Mayor Kyle Moore said officials are working behind the scenes to draft zoning requirements for a marijuana cultivation operation.

â??I think because the state has made it a law, our zoning should reflect what the state is requiring,â?? Moore said. â??Under our ordinance right now, there is nothing that would stop it. I think thereâ??s a discussion that we need to have about where these are going to go and where these centers would be allowed and how our definitions would affect those proposals.â??

The mayor said economic benefits are good for Quincy and the region, but said there are still many unanswered questions related to existing laws, policy and regulations that the current law leaves unanswered.

â??If youâ??re talking about a business that is operating within the state of Illinois guidelines and without our zoning laws, thereâ??s nothing we can do to stop it,â?? he said. â??But there are issues related to driving under the influence, questions about security measures and a lot of things that the state laws have not addressed that weâ??re going to have to think about for years to come.â??

Quincy has a history of rejecting so-called â??vice operations.â?? The city passed on the opportunity to have a riverfront casino that was later built 15 miles up the river in LaGrange, Mo. The city also faced outcry over the stateâ??s expansion of video gaming. Quincy was one of the only municipalities to put a two-machine cap on gaming machines at bars and restaurants.

Rev. Tom Rains of the First Southern Baptist Church led public demonstrations against the expansion of video gaming. Rains believes that there will be a public outcry related to any potential legal marijuana operation in Quincy or the surrounding area.

â??I think the backlash will come from people who are older and I think youâ??ll see it coming from substance abuse centers like Recovery Resources who see the effects of this on a daily basis,â?? he said. â??I think when the rubber hits the road, the biggest backlash will take place when these legally obtained drugs end up in the hands of someone who isnâ??t supposed to have medical marijuana and some tragedy takes place.â??