JOLIET – You wanna marijuana? Some towns do.
“It’s kind of like gambling,” Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante said. “If it’s going to happen, I want it in Joliet so we get the sales tax and jobs.”
Giarrante said he initially was against setting up a medical marijuana cultivation center or dispensary within city limits, but changed his mind after meeting with those who would benefit.
“Relatives and friends [of severely and terminally ill patients] showed me and the City Council how it could be the only option to medicate the pain. If it brings them comfort, then it should be supported,” Giarrante said.
Its population entitles Will County to three dispensaries. One growing center will be allowed in each of the 21 state police districts.
Bryan Willmer, owner of Grand Prairie Farms, plans to apply for a cultivation license. The state will accept applications for farms and dispensaries during a 14-day window in September.
Though Grand Prairie Farms is based in Frankfort, it could seek a license to put a farm in another part of the state.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” Willmer said. “You have to have a large amount of capital in an escrow account so the state can see you can build the facility and have letters of intent from whatever city or county has to regulate the zoning requirements.”
Willmer said medical marijuana is a “tremendous” business opportunity that will also serve people who would otherwise “be forced to take things that are more harmful” to manage pain.
Will County Communications Director Anastasia Tuskey said Thursday there has been interest in a local farm by companies who have approached Will County Executive Larry Walsh’s office for informational meetings, but no proposals have been formally submitted to the County Board.
Plainfield recently approved zoning regulations for marijuana businesses, but Trustee Garrett Peck voted against the measure.
Peck doesn’t oppose marijuana as pain relief, but believes it’s better to address it federally before passing local legislation.
“Marijuana is still explicitly labeled as a controlled substance by the federal government and needs to be reclassified first,” Peck said. “While the Obama administration has told the DEA to turn a blind eye, that could change after his term.”
If federal enforcement is renewed, it could jeopardize the village’s funding and grants and see businesses raided, Peck said.
Peck said there is interest in operating a dispensary in Plainfield, but no one has brought a proposal to the Plainfield Village Board. Giarrante said Joliet has met with four prospective operators and two have submitted proposals.
The Joliet City Council approved one permit in July for the 3C Compassionate Care Center, which would be operated by Traci and Hugo Fernandez, Kathy Tucker and Traci’s father, Robert Livas. Traci Fernandez has transverse myelitis, which has left her paralyzed from the chest down and causes chronic pain.
About one year ago, Traci started researching the medical benefits of marijuana. She found a dispensary could be a good way to help people who had serious injuries or disorders.
It could also help raise money for her nonprofit charity – the United Paralysis Foundation – which researches a cure for spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
“City officials have been very receptive to the idea of a dispensary in the community,” Traci Fernandez said. “They recognize it’s not just about the money for us. We have a greater cause.”
If everything works out as planned, 3C will donate 20 percent of profits to the foundation. Five percent of the profits will go to the town the dispensary resides in.
3C plans to operate locations in Joliet and in the DuPage County section of Naperville. Livas, who intends to retire as a Will County judge in October, said he and Traci have looked at several municipalities to find a suitable site.
“The big part is finding the location and the attitudes of localities,” Livas said, adding that state and local restrictions, as well as concerns of nearby residents, make finding a site with the space and utilities to operate a dispensary a more difficult task.
“It’s a balance between making sure the security requirements are met without making it feel like a prison for customers,” he said.
But 3C has found a potential location in the Rock Run Business Park off Houbolt Road in Joliet.
“The hardest part in the whole process was making the zoning requirements for the city and state,” Traci Fernandez said. “But hopefully this will work out.”