St. Clair County officials delay vote on Marissa pot farm

News-DemocratJune 16, 2014 

A budding proposal for a medical marijuana farm in rural Marissa will need to mature a bit longer before facing its first hurdle in St. Clair County.

Members of the St. Clair County Zoning Board tabled a vote for a special use permit Monday allowing a medical cannabis cultivation center to be built on 14-plus acres along Illinois 13. Concerns about runoff from neighboring farm fields contaminating the medical marijuana and other issues caused the board to continue the public hearing until a meeting scheduled for July 14.

The permit must also be approved by the County Board and receive final approval from state officials as well.

The proposed center, called "Nature's Care," would be housed in a locked and enclosed facility and sell marijuana to dispensaries as part of a pilot program signed into law last August by Gov. Pat Quinn. The law allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions such as HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy and others.

Norwin Heimos and Mara Meyers, of Glen Carbon, would operate the center, which is proposed to be across the street from the Marissa Masonic Lodge. Heimos owns greenhouses in Millstadt and St. Louis.

Meyers said she sincerely believe this is a good business opportunity providing jobs for local residents while growing medicine that will help people in Illinois.

"We want to be good corporate citizens. We're not drug lords flying in from Colombia (South America)," Meyers said. "We live here. We raise our children here and are going to stay in this community. We think this is a good business opportunity and we need a place to put it."

The six-partner company hopes to file an application with the state in August, begin construction in January 2015, and begin sales to dispensaries in July 2015.

The $7 million center would grow up to 15 strains of cannabis and sell it to dispensaries in dried "bud" or edible form, such as cookies, hard candies or drinks.

One member of the Zoning Board, Gene Rhoden, said he would not be voting in favor of the center because he believes marijuana is the "weed of the devil." Rhoden said he believes cannabis is not a medical cure and worries about the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

"What if the medical society begins prescribing heroin for Rheumatoid Arthritis? We will become a nation of drug addicts," Rhoden said.

Meyers said medical marijuana contains strains that have virtually no psychoactive effects but many medical benefits.

About 30 employees would work at the site, which would have security patrolling the fenced area. Meyers said the company would also provide financial support to the county's Sheriff's Department to pay for additional patrols near the site and a substation for deputies inside the building. Armored vehicles would deliver the product to dispensaries three times a week from the site.

The proposal includes a 20,000-square-foot building connected to a 1-acre greenhouse. The $1 million-plus greenhouse would be state-of-the-art, Meyers said.

Cultivation centers must not be within 2,500 feet of a school, day care or area zoned residential. Likewise, dispensaries must not be within 1,000 feet of schools or residential areas.

Only one cultivation center will be permitted per state police district. The local state police district includes St. Clair, Madison, Bond, Clinton and Monroe counties. The company is also applying to operate a cultivation center in Washington County.

State officials may allow the creation of 22 marijuana growing centers and 60 dispensaries during the four-year program.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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