The St. Clair County Board has given its OK for a medical marijuana farm to be hosted near Marissa.
The proposal was the first to be considered in the metro-east and would sell cannabis in dried "bud" form and as edible products. The center still must receive final approval from state officials.
The County Board voted 21 to 4 in favor of the cultivation center during a meeting Monday. Dissenting County Board members included Republicans Ed Cockrell, of New Athens; Craig Hubbard, of O'Fallon; Nick Miller, of Lebanon; and Democrat Larry Stammer, of Belleville.
The $7 million center, called Nature's Care, would grow up to 15 strains of cannabis in a greenhouse attached to a 20,000-square-foot building. The building would include a commercial kitchen in order to make the edible products, such as cookies, hard candies and drinks.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said board members are intended to consider zoning issues based upon the county's zoning code.
"We may have personal likes or dislikes about the issue but all we are voting on is whether the site is suitable for this business," Kern said. "The state will vet the people who apply. The state has passed this legislation saying medical marijuana is allowed in Illinois. What we are saying is this site is suitable for this process in St. Clair County on a zoning basis."
Cockrell, who represents the area the center would be located, urged fellow County Board members to vote against the proposal.
Cockrell said most of the people directly impacted by the proposal are against it and he believed the state had a "lot of loose ends" to address in the pilot program.
The enclosed, locked facility would employ about 30 people and be located on 14-plus acres along Illinois 13.
The center's operators, Mara Meyers and Norwin Heimos, hope the farm will become one of 22 marijuana growing centers in the state allowed under a 4-year pilot program. The program allows doctors to prescribe marijuana to treat debilitating conditions such as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and others.
Products grown at the Marissa center would be sold at 60 dispensaries spread throughout the state. Nature's Care hopes to begin construction in January 2015 and begin selling to dispensaries in July 2015.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation July 20 that added adults and children suffering from seizures to be able to use prescribed medical marijuana. The law also allows children under 18, with a parent's consent, to be treated with non-smokable forms of medical marijuana for the same conditions now available to adults.
"This new law will help alleviate the suffering of many adults and children across the state," Quinn said in a statement. "Epilepsy is a debilitating condition, and this much needed relief will help to reduce some of its symptoms for those who endure seizures. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act is now designed to help our fellow citizens of all ages by allowing its strictly controlled use for specific medical conditions."
Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago President Kurt Florian said the legislation was initiated by families with children that experience hundreds of seizures a day.
"Many of these families have uprooted for treatment in Colorado and have experienced dramatic reductions in seizures from oil based, low to zero THC medical cannabis," Florian said. THC is the psychoactive element of cannabis, without which cannabis has little recreational effects.