Champaign CC Bruno

Champaign City Council member Tom Bruno poses for a photo in March 2019 at his law office in Urbana.

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CHAMPAIGN — When recreational marijuana becomes legal for adults in Illinois on Jan. 1, dispensaries will need pot to sell.

Initially, they’ll be buying their cannabis from one of 21 existing cultivators currently authorized to grow medical marijuana in the state, the nearest being in Shelbyville.

But after July 2021, the number of cultivators may eventually be opened up to 30, and Champaign City Council member Tom Bruno hopes one decides to build locally.

“I think Champaign County would stand a very good chance of getting a cultivation facility located in Champaign County, and these typically employ well in excess of 100 employees, maybe 150 employees. The jobs often pay well above the minimum wage, maybe $15 an hour,” he said. “If we’re welcoming to this industry, we could be lucky enough to land such a facility in Champaign County, and it would be a great economic boost for our area.”

He said the cultivation centers would be a “highly technical, indoor facility.”

“This is a very valuable crop, and they need production 365 days a year,” Bruno said.

Champaign Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight said the city council will begin discussing how it wants to regulate recreational marijuana Sept. 17, and council members would have to decide how they would want a cultivation center to be zoned.

“From an economic development standpoint, it certainly has the potential to be a positive employer in our community, if one wanted to come here,” Knight said. But that’s “all pending council’s decision on how they want to handle the new adult cannabis provisions.”

Bruno said he thinks a cultivation center should be able to go “anywhere else that we would welcome a quiet, clean indoor business.”

But he did have one concern: “It’s a fragrant crop,” Bruno said.

“There are technological ways to deal with odor,” he said. But “if you didn’t focus on dealing with the aroma, it would be something you’d smell in the community.”

Bruno lived for a year in Chapel Hill, N.C., and said he remembered being able to smell tobacco in the air.

“This would be one of those smells that, if unregulated, would be stuff that people in the neighborhood would smell,” he said. “But we’ve lived for a century smelling the odors of Kraft Foods, and Decatur lives with Archer Daniels Midland. And it’s manageable and managed.”

The state currently has one cultivation center for all but one of the 22 state police districts.

But the adult cannabis law says the ownership of these is not diverse enough.

“Those licenses are held by only a small number of businesses, the ownership of which does not sufficiently meet the General Assembly’s interest in business ownership that reflects the population of the state of Illinois and that demonstrates the need to reduce barriers to entry for individuals and communities most adversely impacted by the enforcement of cannabis-related laws,” Public Act 0027 states.

So, beginning July 1, 2021, the Illinois Department of Agriculture will be allowed to increase the number of cultivator licenses available up to 30 based on a number of factors, including the percent of weed sold on the black market and whether there’s an adequate or over-supply of cannabis.

The cultivation centers are required to have a security plan and can have up to 210,000 square feet of canopy space.

Reporter

Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is bzigterman@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).