Board discussing possible marijuana cultivator

Potential operator would like to put facility near state police HQ

RURAL ASHKUM — A medical marijuana cultivation center could be coming to the Ashkum area in Iroquois County.

County Board Chairman Rod Copas said that since April, he has had "two or three" discussions with an attorney whose client is interested in establishing a facility that cultivates cannabis for medical use under the state's Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act.

Details remain vague, but Copas said it is his understanding that the facility would be built in a rural area "very close" to the District 21 Illinois State Police headquarters in Ashkum.

Under the new law, only one marijuana cultivation center is allowed to operate in each of the state police's 22 districts. District 21 covers Ford, Iroquois and Kankakee counties. Ford County Board Chairman Rick Bowen said he has not received any inquiries about a potential cultivation center there.

Copas discussed the issue with his county board earlier this month, after first talking about it with individual board members. Although some members have a few concerns, the board seems open to learning more, he said.

"I didn't know whether I was going to get a 'hell no.' I just didn't know what to expect from the board," Copas said. "But nobody said that. They all just said, 'We're open,' or whatever. ... Everybody was pretty much willing to listen and see. ... We're open to the discussion."

Copas said Friday he was waiting to hear back from the attorney to see if he would be interested in making a presentation to the board to provide more details.

"I expect to hear back from them fairly soon," Copas said. "It's possible it could come up (for further discussion by the county board) in June."

Zoning Administrator Gloria Schleef said the attorney's name is David Hayes, and he is semi-retired and splits his time between Arizona and Illinois. Neither Copas nor Schleef said they know the name of Hayes' client. Copas said he believes the client is "a former area resident."

Copas said he asked Hayes, "Why pick Iroquois County?"

"His answer had a lot to do with the client (being from the area), No. 1," Copas said, "and the other thing was they felt like, for security issues, they wanted to be as close to the District 21 headquarters as possible."

Copas said Hayes made it clear that his client would not put the facility in Iroquois County without the county's support.

"I got the impression they would not want to do it if there was a great objection in the county," Copas said. "I got the impression that, 'We want the support of the board if we do this.'"

Board member Lyle Behrends of Ashkum said he has not heard much feedback from residents of his farming community of 724 people situated along Interstate 57.

"I've talked to a couple people, but they haven't really given feedback positive or negative, so I'm not sure what people are thinking," Behrends said.

Board member Daniel Rayman of Clifton said his main concern with a medical marijuana cultivation center coming to the county would be the level of security.

"I know the state has pretty high levels of security for them, but that would be my main concern," Rayman said. "The sheriff's department is already stretched to the limit, let alone with something like that up in this area" of the county.

Copas said the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act requires that all marijuana be grown indoors and that cultivation centers have strict security measures and features in place, including a 24-hour surveillance system and personal identification systems. A cultivation center must also be located at least 2,500 feet from any schools and residentially zoned areas.

Sheriff Derek Hagen said he would like to find out more details about the Iroquois County proposal to determine if security measures are sufficient. Hagen noted that he has heard some conflicting information about the proposed facility, as some officials have said it would be several acres in size, while others said it would be "the size of our board room."

"I would be interested to see how big of a facility it is, how it's going to be set up, and, I guess, not necessarily who's going to provide security for it, but what potential issues there may be for us or any law enforcement agency as far as where this is located," Hagen said. "Is there the potential for break-ins or burglaries to happen there and stuff like that?

"As this moves along, if there's some serious consideration and there's some definite language as far as how big the facility's going to be and what type of security measures are going to be with it, then I could probably form a better opinion as far as whether it's going to be an issue for the sheriff's office or not."

Copas said he does not expect compliance with state regulations to be an issue if a cultivation center comes to Iroquois County. Meanwhile, Copas said he does expect some issues with people throughout Illinois using medical cannabis without obtaining the required prescription, but that "would not be within the county's purview" to regulate.

What financial benefit a marijuana cultivation center would bring to Iroquois County is not entirely clear. Board members said such a facility would surely bring in one-time building-permit fees, plus presumably some property tax revenue. Jobs would also be created. However, they do not know if the county can receive any sales taxes from locally grown cannabis sold at registered dispensaries.

Copas said he has asked State's Attorney Jim Devine to review the law to confirm any benefits the county would receive. Devine could not be reached for comment Friday.

The administrative rules that will apply to medical marijuana cultivation centers in Illinois have yet to be approved by the Legislature, according to Amanda Sutton of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which will regulate such facilities. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules is expected to adopt the administrative rules following the completion of a 45-day public comment period that ends June 2, Sutton said.

Because the public comment period is not finished, Sutton said she was not allowed to answer specific questions about the rules applying to cultivation centers.

Meanwhile, Sutton did confirm that licenses for medical marijuana cultivation centers are not being issued until the Legislature adopts the official rules. The Agriculture Department does not anticipate accepting applications for cultivation center licenses until this fall.

According to the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program's website, the Department of Agriculture will be awarding up to 22 permits to grow and cultivate marijuana, while the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will be issuing up to 60 permits for dispensaries. The Department of Public Health will be in charge of the patient registry.

Will Brumleve is editor of the Paxton Record, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit paxtonrecord.net.

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