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home : news : business   August 27, 2016

8/28/2014 6:02:00 AM
Rural grower joins medical cannabis contest

Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter

OTTAWA — A couple that farms in rural Ottawa won a key vote Wednesday needed to grow medical marijuana — or, rather, needed to apply to be the area’s lone licensee.

The La Salle County Zoning Board of Appeals voted (member Larry Bianchi recused himself, citing business conflicts) Wednesday to grant Keith and Anne McGinnis a special use permit to grow medical cannabis on their rural Ottawa farm.

The final vote was 4-1. Fred Seville voted “no” without comment or elaboration and member Larry Bianchi recusing himself, citing dealings with rival firms.

In a series of the votes, board members concluded that cannabis cultivation would be an approved use of the land (LESA score: 217.78) and would not conflict with the county’s comprehensive plan.

This is only a recommendation and the next hurdle is getting the full La Salle County Board to adopt the recommendation at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Ottawa Knights of Columbus.

And the final word on the subject belongs to Springfield: The Department of Agriculture will choose one applicant to grow regulated cannabis in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties.

Keith McGinnis told the ZBA that his proposed cannabis operation, located on North 30 th Road about 2 miles west of Ottawa, would be no different than the crops grown there now: The product would be cultivated and then shipped offsite for distribution.

McGinnis said he anticipated 25 jobs to start (with a commitment to hiring veterans) and noted the 10 acres allocated for cannabis production would be surveyed by “something like 240 cameras” paid through licensee fees.

Accompanying McGinnis was attorney Sandy Stein, a land use specialist who said the long list of diseases that cannabis could allay includes cancer, multiple sclerosis “and a whole bunch of things I can’t pronounce.”

“Marijuana has been used as 5,000 years as a medicine,” Stein said, paraphrasing language contained in preamble of the new state law, “and for some people it is the only medicine that gives them relief.”

There were objectors.

“I’m concerned we’re targeting ourselves by promoting this kind of business,” said Diane Funk, an area resident concerned with La Salle County’s current record of substance abuse.

ZBA chairman John Hughes halted that line of discussion, noting the ethical debate over medical cannabis was settled by Springfield. Others, however, objected to the impact a high-security growing facility would have on their property values.

“I’m not sure I want to live next to a Fort Knox,” said Deborah Duffey, a nearby resident.

As has been the case at municipal hearings, where rival companies have made their pitches, the majority of questions were operational in nature.

ZBA member Doug Stockley asked how the acreage would be subdivided. In response, the building and parking lot would occupy about 3 acres.

Following questions from the public, McGinnis said he anticipates digging a well (projected use: 3,000 gallons a day) and a septic system. The plants would be grown indoors and in hydroponic vessels.

“You can’t see inside,” said McGinnis, who would serve as operations manager and work onsite. “It’s not visible to anybody driving by.”

He further explained the product would be handled by a shipping company using secure vans loaded inside and tracked by GPS monitoring.

He anticipated two to three vanloads per day serving any of the 60 planned dispensaries to be approved by Springfield by routes designated by state police. Hours of operation will vary depending on demand — the state anticipates up to 30,000 patients seeking cannabis prescriptions — with finished products to include combustible, edible and topical forms of cannabis.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or Follow him on Twitter: @NT_Court.

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