Metro-East News

Medical pot farmers yet to start work on East St. Louis facility

Two months after being granted a state license to grow medical marijuana in East St. Louis, Progressive Treatment Solutions LLC has yet to apply for either a city business license or a construction permit to work on its building.

Nonetheless, Mayor Alvin Parks Jr., who leaves office in May, predicted that Progressive will plant its first crop of medical cannabis in the weeks ahead.

“So you’re probably looking at mid-June before they start actually cultivating anything,” Parks said.

Progressive Treatment Solutions owns a vacant fiber-optic facility at 737 Locust Ave., off Illinois 3, north of downtown.

Parks said Progressive executives have told him they expect to produce a crop for sale to state dispensaries by the autumn of 2015.

“I think they have every intention of doing that,” he said.

Dr. Christine Heck, a suburban Chicago podiatrist who heads the group that received the cultivation license for the five-county area that includes Madison and St. Clair counties, did not return four calls seeking comment.

The clock is ticking on Progressive Solutions. The law that created the pilot program mandates that those awarded licenses must be producing product within six months of receiving their license or face a $2 million penalty.

Progressive Treatment Solutions paid $700,000 on April 1 for the vacant telecommunications center.

In 2001, at the peak of the dotcom bubble, a Canadian telecommunications company called 360networks spent $4.5 million to construct the building the 20,000-square-foot data collection center, and then surrounded it with an 8-foot-high fence.

But when 360networks went bust after the dotcom bubble burst, U.S. Cellular bought the fiber-optic networks site at 737 Locust Ave. in 2003 for $1.3 million, St. Clair County real estate records show.

Delays in getting the marijuana cultivation centers in operation are cropping up across the state, which worries state Rep. Lou Lang, the author of the state’s medical cannabis law.

Lang believes the delays could kill the program, which has also been hurt by the length of time it took the state to draft rules governing patient, cultivator and dispensary owner applications.

Lang told Quincy TV station WGEM that the delays could inflate costs for patients, while by the time the program is finally available to patients, only two years will remain of the four-year program.

“Because the entrepreneurs, who have put hundreds of thousands of dollars in building these buildings, growing marijuana, hiring these experts and filling out these applications, just like any other business, people want to make their money back,” Lang told the TV station. “It will force prices up.”

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, which awarded the licenses to 18 cultivation centers statewide, will not release reports regarding the centers’ progress in planting their first crops.

News reports indicate uneven progress of licensed cultivation centers. A firm called ACE Revolution has been licensed to grow medical cannabis at sites near Quincy and Peoria. Ground has been broken on both sites, with the steel going up for indoor facilities that will support indoor cannabis cultivation centers covering at least 75,000 square-feet apiece, said Brad Vallerius, a company spokesman.

Vallerius credited the swift progress to the firm’s preparation.

“It was how well-prepared and competent we are,” he said, noting the firm didn’t waste time while it waited to hear if its cultivation applications would be approved earlier this year. “Maybe everyone else was sitting on their hands waiting for answers. But we anticipated winning. We were able to hit all these benchmarks without delay.”