Oglesby one step away from allowing cannabis growing

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Anyone in Oglesby worried about a giant field of legal marijuana where teens can pluck buds can rest easy: The proposed cannabis growing facility will be completely enclosed and under 24-hour surveillance.

That was enough for the Oglesby Plan Commission to unanimously recommend Tuesday that Green Thumb Industries get a special use permit to grow medical marijuana on more than 20 acres south of Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores.

After 30 minutes’ of nuts-and-bolts questions — and not a whisper of opposition — the commissioners passed the second-to-last vote GTI needs to set up shop in Oglesby.

“We’re excited about working with Oglesby,” GTI founding partner Ben Kovler said after the vote.

Well, not just yet. The state still has to pick a winning licensee — GTI is just one suitor — to operate in state police District 17, spanning La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties. Kovler said he and his partners estimate a winning applicant announced in late November or December.

The state, however, won’t give GTI a second look unless it has a host community willing to let them grow.

“So if you want to be a winner,” said La Salle attorney John Duncan, representing GTI, “you have to have a horse in the race.”

Oglesby has all but placed the bet. The only hurdle remaining is for the full city council to decide whether to accept Tuesday’s recommendation. A special meeting is set for Monday. At this stage, however, the final vote appears to be a formality. The council launched the approval process weeks ago and without dissent or public opposition.

Kovler fielded dozens of questions about the jobs to be created (about 100), the output of cannabis (an estimated 5,000 pounds annually) and the municipal electricity to be consumed (6,000 to 10,000 amps a year).

GTI would have workers in two shifts, with no graveyard shift expected, and work commences once GTI erects a prefabricated shell on a breakneck schedule. Kovler explained the state wants a facility up and running six months after the license is awarded, meaning GTI will hope for a mild winter to ensure they beat the construction clock.

Kovler said the facility would be environmentally-friendly and use solar panels to generate some of their power, prompting commissioner Dom Rivara to ask whether the city’s supply would be only a secondary source of power for GTI.

In response, Kovler assured him the plant’s vast amperage need is “not going to be powered by solar panels.”

The commission was interested especially in security. Kovler, who studied numerous growing facilities and dispensaries in Colorado, said the entire operation would be run indoors and with airtight security run by consultants retained from the ranks of retired state troopers — and this on top of spot checks by District 17 state police.

Employees would be screened coming and going and wear lab attire without pockets to ensure that all product doesn’t wander out the door. The finished product would be loaded into vehicles wheeled indoors through secured gates.

“There will not be people carrying boxes out to a car,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

He added later: “This is not stuff leaving in an 18-wheel semi but in a Ford Explorer or an Econoline minivan. (It will be) a very secure vehicle, but if you were driving on the highway you would not know what’s inside.”

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

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