Let The Medical Marijuana Growing Begin

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There will be no public access or tours. Gawkers will be greeted with a secure fence. Certainly, there will be no free samples.

But Green Thumb Industries slightly lifted the proverbial curtain Friday to hold a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at its Oglesby cannabis growing facility — the first of its kind in the Illinois Valley.

On a parcel located south of Love’s, GTI managing partner Matt Estep and Oglesby Mayor Don Finley together took the handle of a decorative gold shovel. Though site development has actually been underway since mid-March, Oglesby has now begun a countdown to 100 new jobs and the largest new electrical consumer since Buzzi Unicem halted production.

Estep acknowledged that Friday’s brief ceremony will be the closest the public gets to an operations site that will be under tight 24-hour surveillance.

“It will be secured with a fence and visitors won’t be allowed,” Estep said.

NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson

NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson

“We feel great (to be in Oglesby),” he said. “Everyone’s been really supportive here. Mayor Finley has been incredible to work with and the city council has been great in helping us get zoning issues and getting electricity.”

Finley said he’s excited about the construction jobs, new taxes and employment opportunities GTI could bring.

“Throughout this process, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with GTI and learn more about their plans,” Finley said. “I firmly believe GTI is a great company and addition to our community. I look forward to working with them as this facility takes shape.”

It won’t be long before the project does take shape. Estep pledged to have the indoor facility erected by mid-June.

The first crop of medical cannabis will be planted by fall.

And despite the fact that GTI will operate within a four-year pilot program, Estep is confident they’ll be in Oglesby for years to come.

“We’re building a business for the long-term here and obviously we don’t have much say in the legislation, but we’re building the business as if we’re going to be here for 10 years.”

And what about the federal government, which has not relaxed its cannabis laws?

“Again, it’s a risk in the business which could change at any time,” Estep allowed, “but I think they’ve taken a stance where they allow highly-regulated state programs to run.”

In a release, GTI said the facility would initially employ approximately 10-30 people, though the expectation is demand for product will result in up to 100 hires.

“In addition to benefiting the local economy, our focus throughout this entire process remains on providing Illinois patients with access to the care they need,” Ben Kovler, GTI founding partner. “We intend to meet this need by producing safe, effective products in the most secure facility possible.”

That resonates with one of the visitors on hand for Friday’s groundbreaking. State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) has been diagnosed with a treatable form of esophageal cancer — his prognosis is good — since Gov. Bruce Rauner awarded the state’s first cannabis licenses.

Mautino acknowledged he had voted against legalized cannabis but said his concerns were regulatory and that he never doubted the drug’s potential to aid cancer patients.

“My concern has always been the regulation and misuse of it,” Mautino said, welcoming GTI with Oglesby officials. “There’s never been a doubt there’s been a medical benefit.”

by: Tom Collins – link to source

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NT_Court.