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AgricareLabs founder and CEO Ethan Ruby was struck by a car 14 years ago. He says of the drugs he took, “the least side effects from any medications were from medical marijuana.” Ruby’s company has a growing plant in Connecticut and hopes its next facility in Illinois.
A marijuana growing company pitched a plan Monday to Peru City Council to cultivate medical cannabis inside the former Yellow Freight terminal on the north end of town.
Agricare LLC, doing business as AgricareLabs, is seeking a special use permit from the city to operate in a manufacturing zone at 22 Unytite Drive east of James Hardie Building Products. It also has applied to the state for a license to grow. The request goes to the Plan Commission.
If all goes as planned, the marijuana plant will open next year.
“By the end of 2015 patients in Illinois will have access to this medicine,” said Ethan Ruby, CEO.
The city passed an ordinance in April to comply with state passage of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. The act restricts cultivation centers to one per each state police district. Peru lies in District 17, which includes La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties.
“We’ve looked at every possible location in District 17,” Ruby said. “This is our first choice.”
The company searched for sites in Illinois and will submit “two or three applications” to the state of Illinois, with Peru being one of those, Ruby said.
During construction and build-out of the existing building, the company said it will create 100 jobs for trades including for plumbers, heating-ventilation-air conditioning and electrical. The company anticipates expanding the site as patient count climbs, employing 35-50 in the first year and 100 after three years. Jobs for engineers, cultivators, clinicians and middle management will pay between $30,000 and $120,000.
“I believe in paying my employees more than minimum wage,” Ruby said. “You get what you pay for.”
Ruby attended the meeting in a wheelchair, saying he was struck by a car 14 years ago in a pedestrian crosswalk. Of the drugs he took, “the least side effects from any medications were from medical marijuana,” Ruby said.
Agricare operated in Colorado until that state decriminalized marijuana, effectively ending the market for prescription cannabis in the Rocky Mountain state, said Glenn Taylor, president.
However, the company recently opened a plant in Watertown, Conn., where it employs 35. Agricare looks for states with strict laws and mandates in which to operate and hopes to make Illinois its new headquarters, Ruby said.
Agricare hopes to eventually produce a variety of products that are targeted for specific medical conditions.
“I’d like to see people get the medicine they need for relief,” Taylor said.
The industry has moved away from “here’s a joint and you’ll feel better,” Ruby said.
“That is not the future of this medicine,” Ruby said.
In addition to marijuana for smoking the company hopes to research and produce tinctures, lozenges, vapors and oils but not edibles, Taylor said.
“Other countries are still way ahead of us (United States) in research,” Taylor said.
The plant will be devoted 100 percent to making medicine, not recreational drugs, Taylor said.
The plant will be fenced off from the public with one entry point. There will be security guards and live video surveillance. No product will be sold on site. Finished product will leave via armored vehicles for wholesale distribution to licensed Illinois dispensaries. All of the current building’s multiple entry points and docks except one will be closed off.
“We don’t want visitors,” Ruby said. “We are not open to the public.”
Products leaving the facility will go to a laboratory for quality testing before going to a dispensary, Ruby said.
Aldermen asked questions about the facility.
Air will be filtered to reduce odor. Water used to grow plants will contain no harmful chemicals or compounds. The site might use the water for outdoor grass and it will consider use of renewable energy such as solar power and geothermal energy, Ruby said.
The company chose Peru because of access to Interstate highways for transportation, favorable business and community climate, skilled labor, and “a clear commitment to clean and renewable energy sources,” according to a press release. Peru has a hydroelectric plant on the Illinois River.
The state law limits dispensaries to 60 in the state. Agricare LLC will not operate a dispensary, Taylor said.
The owner of the 33-acre site, Estes Terminals LLC, purchased the property in 2012. It entered into a purchase and sale agreement on June 20 with Agricare.
Up to 17 companies inquired about establishing a medical marijuana growing plant in Peru, said Bob Vickrey, Peru community development director.