Talk of the town: Will marijuana farm come to Marissa?

News-DemocratJuly 15, 2014 

A proposal for the first medical marijuana farm in the metro-east to be built near Marissa was all the chatter at The Chatterbox restaurant in the village Tuesday.

The proposed $7 million medical cannabis cultivation center would grow up to 15 strains of cannabis and sell it to dispensaries as dried "bud" or cookies, hard candies and drinks. On Monday, the St. Clair County Zoning Board recommended the County Board approve the proposal.

Peter Enge, an Edwardsville resident who works at the nearby Prairie State Energy Campus, was having lunch Tuesday at The Chatterbox. Enge said he didn't see a problem with the proposal.

"I'm not against it, but I don't know if making it legal will make harder to sell (illegally). I don't think it's any different than alcohol," Enge said.

Others, such as longtime Marissa resident Joanne Warren, were adamantly against the proposal. Warren said she believed the proposal would draw illegal drug-users to the village and cause a spike in crime.

"Marissa has always known as a family town of church-going people. We don't want the marijuana farm or druggies in our town. Even if they are selling it elsewhere, that doesn't make it better," Warren said. "The County Board should be fired if they support this. If our board brings marijuana into our town, we need a new board."

The County Board will likely consider approving the proposal July 28. If approved locally, the proposal still faces final approval from state officials.

The center would be housed in an enclosed facility with heavy security measures, such as armored trucks delivering products to dispensaries. The proposed center, called Nature's Care, also has agreed to pay for additional patrols from the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department near the site.

The company hopes to begin construction in January 2015 and begin selling to dispensaries in July 2015. Nature's Care expects to employ about 30 people with hourly workers making double the state's minimum wage of $8.25 per hour, according to one of the center's owners Mara Meyers.

Debbie Smith of Marissa said she supported the proposal, adding she only favored marijuana used for medical purposes.

"People think it will give a bad name to Marissa, like we'll become the marijuana capitol of the world. But it will financially help the area, bring a few jobs in, more tax money for the state, which we desperately need. I don't see how it's going to hurt us," Smith said. "It's going to be secure. People are worried marijuana is going to run rampant on the streets. I just don't think it is."

Marissa Mayor Jerry Cross said he had no concerns the site would need additional patrols from village police. Cross sent a letter in support of the project to county officials, and said one of the reasons he hoped the proposal succeeded was because of the anticipated economic boon to the town.

"First and foremost the state of Illinois has legalized marijuana. They are going to do it someplace and the way I see it medical marijuana is no longer a drug. It is no different than any other medication you take," Cross said. "It is no different than putting a factory out there to produce the current medicine we take.

"Based on that, I don't have a problem with it. The information I've read shows it helps people, especially kids. I've had family members with cancer and it may have helped some of them when they had treatments."

Marissa is one of the areas represented by County Board member Ed Cockrell, of New Athens. Cockrell said he has not yet decided on how he will vote on the issue.

"I haven't dug my heels in one way or another. I'm going to leave it up to residents' feedback. It may be the best thing since sliced bread but I don't live there," Cockrell said.

The center is part of the state's 4-year pilot program allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions such as HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy and others. Up to 22 marijuana growing centers and 60 dispensaries will be created in the program.

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.

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

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