MORRIS – Most of the lights are gone. The walls and ceilings have been torn out and there’s debris everywhere. The former Rockwell Inn looks like a place you would go to buy drugs.
And it will be, but the drugs are legal with a prescription and meant to help people in pain.
The closed restaurant is being converted into The Greenhouse, a 6,000-square-foot medical marijuana dispensary slated to open in February, according to CEO Mitch Kahn. It is one of four dispensaries in Will, Grundy and Kendall counties expected to open in the coming months to sell medical marijuana.
“We chose this location for the only dispensary in Grundy and Kendall counties because it is accessible on Route 6 and close to Route 47,” Kahn said. “But it really is just a neat building with character that we want to keep from the tin ceiling to the bar that’s over 100 years old and retrofit it to our purposes.”
Kahn said unlike other dispensaries, the Morris location has the space to become “a wellness center ... not a head shop or a pharmacy” and offer acupuncture, yoga and massage therapy.
In February, Gov. Bruce Rauner awarded 18 licenses to farm medical marijuana and 52 licenses to sell it. Cresco Labs LLC will be the designated growing center for Illinois State Police District 5, which includes Will, Grundy and Kendall counties. It is planning a facility in Joliet.
Dispensaries in Will County will be Midwest Compassion Center in Shorewood and 3C Compassionate Care Center in Joliet; besides its Morris facility, Greenhouse also will operate a dispensary in Mokena, as well as in Deerfield. Mokena manager Brandon Smith believes it will begin selling medical marijuana in January.
Doctors in Illinois now are allowed to prescribe cannabis to relieve pain in patients with cancer, glaucoma, ALS, multiple sclerosis, HIV, spinal cord disease and a number of other maladies. Dispensaries will sell marijuana that can be smoked and cannabis oil, which can treat seizures in children with epilepsy.
Greenhouse will host an informational presentation at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the community room at Morris City Hall. Kahn said previous sessions in other areas have brought up “every question imaginable.”
“People want to know about the law, the processes we have to go through with the state, who’s eligible, how they start,” Kahn said. “There was a patient who stood up and said ‘I use cannabis I buy on the black market for treatment, how will the dispensary’s prices compare?’ This is a benefit to people who are suffering.”
“These are medical patients coming in for relief,” agreed Robert Livas. “Some of these people are desperate. This is the ‘last stop.’ ”
The family began researching dispensaries after a neurological disease left Traci Fernandez paralyzed and in chronic pain. 3C plans to donate 20 percent of its profits to the United Paralysis Foundation and another 5 percent to community programs.
When the Joliet location opens, a customer will come in and show his or her state-issued card to a security guard before handing it to an employee behind a bulletproof window who will use a computer to check their eligibility with the state. Patients are allowed to buy two-and-a-half ounces of medical marijuana every two weeks.
The customer then goes to a waiting area to learn what products are in stock before going to the dispensary itself to make a cash purchase.
“This is where the staff can talk with someone about what they’re seeking relief for and what effect a different strain will have,” Livas said.
Marijuana will be delivered to a fenced-in loading dock, weighed and scanned right away for inventory before being put in a vault. The Joliet location has bulletproof walls, motion detectors and live camera feeds going to the local state police headquarters.
“The state has so many security-oriented regulations but I’m not aware of a burglary or armed robbery at any existing [out-of-state] dispensaries,” Livas said.
When state and city inspections are completed, 3C will begin hiring employees, who must pass a criminal background and fingerprint check, then be trained on the products available. Livas expects a small staff when operations begin, but hopes business will grow enough to coordinate an internship with a health or agriculture student at nearby Joliet Junior College.
“There are only about 3,500 eligible patients in Illinois right now,” Livas said. “Divide that between [about 50] dispensaries in different parts of the state and I think it’s going to be very lean for these businesses at the beginning.”