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CHAMPAIGN — Phoenix Botanical, one of the two medical-marijuana dispensaries in Champaign-Urbana, is preparing to sell marijuana products for recreational use starting Jan. 1.

Whether the current dispensary building at 1704 S. Neil St., C, will adequately accommodate both medical- and recreational-marijuana needs is still being determined, according to Jason Erkes, spokesman for the dispensary's owner, Chicago-based Cresco Labs.

"We'll certainly be expanding our dispensary for adult (recreational) use, but we're also evaluating all real estate opportunities," he said.

Under the lengthy recreational-marijuana bill approved by lawmakers at the end of May and awaiting a promised signature from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, all 55 medical-cannabis dispensaries in the state can take steps to begin selling recreational-marijuana products at the start of next year.

Plans for recreational sales at NuMed, a medical-marijuana dispensary in Urbana, are unknown. That company didn't respond to questions.

Cresco Labs, which operates in 11 states, plans to add recreational-use sales at all its medical dispensaries in Illinois at the start of next year, Erkes said. The company can also obtain an additional five dispensary licenses in the state and is in the process of evaluating where those shops would go, he said.

Cresco Labs is already in the process of ramping up its marijuana cultivation and manufacturing operations in Illinois and plans to double its existing employment in the state to 300 over the next year, Erkes said.

The company has the cultivation and manufacturing capacity to fill medical and recreational cannabis needs come next year, he said, but "we'll need more people."

That's not just to accommodate the new recreational users on the way. As of Thursday, the state's growing medical-cannabis program had 71,739 qualifying patients approved. A separate bill passed by lawmakers also expands the list of conditions that qualify for medical-marijuana use, adding things like migraine headaches, autism, chronic pain and ulcerative colitis.

As of the end of May, there were also another 1,713 patients registered for the state's new program allowing the use of medical cannabis for anyone who could receive a prescription for opioid medications, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Medical-marijuana customers shouldn't notice much of a change at dispensaries come next year, though they may see recreational-use shoppers on site, Erkes said.

"People who have been going to medical dispensaries will do things exactly the same," he said.

While the law allows for only medical users to grow up to five of their own marijuana plants, Erkes said, it's likely many patients will find it easier to continue buying the products.

Meanwhile, Parkland College is evaluating whether it wants to be involved in training the future marijuana-industry workforce in Illinois, according to Stephanie Stuart, Parkland's vice president of communications and external relations.

The law legalizing recreational-use marijuana also creates a pilot program for up to eight community colleges to add careers in cannabis courses.

The state Department of Agriculture will establish and administer that program and select up to eight cannabis-careers program licensees by Sept. 1, 2020. Students at those colleges could begin taking courses for cannabis-career certification starting in the 2020-21 academic year.

"We are looking at that opportunity and sort of examining if that will be a good fit for Parkland," Stuart said.

Reporter

Debra Pressey is a reporter covering health care at The News-Gazette. Her email is dpressey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@DLPressey).