WILL COUNTY – Like the hundreds of other medical marijuana business applicants that have poured in upward of $1 million vying for the state’s approval, entrepreneur Peter Ford is having to sit tight.
All the stakeholders – city and county officials included – expected to know something by now.
The hangup started when Gov. Pat Quinn left office earlier this month without approving medical marijuana cultivation center and dispensary licenses by the state’s self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline.
The decision is now in the hands of Gov. Bruce Rauner, who once called the selection process “rigged,” and subject to cronyism. Most recently, Rauner has said he wants to assess the program to make sure it’s being run and managed properly.
Under Illinois’ medical marijuana pilot program, which expires in 2017, the state is expected to grant up to 21 permits for cultivation centers and up to 60 permits for dispensaries.
Competition is fierce in the region. Fourteen applicants, including White Oak Growers, have filed to open a cultivation center in Illinois State Police District 5, which covers Will, Grundy and Kendall counties.
It’s the highest number of applicants in any one state police district in Illinois. Only one will win out.
But the program is in somewhat of a limbo for now, said Ford, chief financial officer and one of three business partners for White Oak Growers, a company interested in operating a cultivation center in Wilton Township.
“We’re obviously concerned, as are all of the hundreds of participants on both the cultivation and dispensary side are concerned,” Ford said. “But, at the end of the day, if there’s going to be a new set of eyes with the new administration, I think it increases the likelihood that the best applicants will be successful.”
White Oak Growers’ plan is to operate a marijuana growing center on a 35-acre site at the corner of Route 52 and Offner Road. The company held two public hearings late last year to answer residents’ questions and address concerns.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture made it clear during the application stage that it wanted applicants to be “shovel-ready,” Ford said, so the land is bought, and design and engineering work is complete. The Will County Land Use Department has given the company’s design plans the stamp of approval, too.
“There was this sense of urgency. This delay flies in the face of that urgency,” Ford said. “We’re ready to go. ... Realistically, though, once they award the permits, the crops are grown, the product is packaged, and the dispensaries are open, you’re looking at another year before it’s in the hands of patients.”
Just how long it will take before the state awards licenses is anybody’s guess.
Nick Palmer, chief of staff for the Will County Executive Larry Walsh, said county officials aren’t too concerned about the delay, given that it’s Rauner’s second week in the governor’s seat.
“Now, six months from now, if we’re still waiting, it’ll be a different story,” Palmer said. “We respect that it’s a new administration and that he wants things to be done right.”
In Joliet, City Manager Jim Hock said the delay is not creating any issues for the city. As for the impact on the business operators with proposed sites in Joliet, Hock said he has not heard from them.
Joliet approved zoning for two potential growers and three potential dispensaries.
“I’m sure they’re focusing their efforts at the state level right now,” he said.
Other businesses that have shown interest in unincorporated Will County include Green Point Botanical LLC, which has targeted a 55-acre parcel of undeveloped land in Plainfield Township, and Illinois Plant LLC, which is eyeing 27711 S. Frontage Road, a 21.6-acre parcel in Channahon Township. HortiMedicare Illinois LLC is interested in a location in Channahon Township.
In Grundy County, Medicann LLC has shown interest in building a cultivation center in Minooka and Bill and David Mennie, who own Mennie Machinery, a family-owned company in Mark, have applied for a cultivation center in Gardner.
• Bob Okon contributed to this report.