Medical marijuana growers see budding opportunity in legalizing recreational pot

on May7
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2019-05-06 18:40:33

A medical marijuana cultivation center in Elk Grove Village is financially banking on the state legalizing recreational marijuana — expanding its grow operation and building a lab to process marijuana products in anticipation of what will undoubtedly become a booming industry should it pass.

Illinois Grown Medicine in the northwestern suburb is confident it will — and planning accordingly.

“It would definitely start with expansion of the facility so that we have the capacity to actually grow more plants,” Patty Park, the cultivation center’s sales and marketing manager, said of their expansion plans. “I think that’s going to be our sort of our first kind of attack is creating more space to grow more plants.”

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Saturday gave a stamp of approval to newly filed legislation that will allow Illinois residents over 21 to buy cannabis from licensed dispensaries. It would allow Illinoisans over 21 years old to possess 30 grams, or just over an ounce of cannabis flower, and 5 grams, or less than a quarter-ounce, of cannabis concentrates such as hash oil. Additionally, Illinoisans would be able to carry up to a half-gram of edible pot-infused products.

Pritzker says he hopes dispensaries will be able to sell recreational marijuana products by Jan. 1. There are just three weeks left in the legislative session, and despite the governor’s push, there is some opposition and plenty of other legislative items to worry about, including a capital bill, a budget and the graduated income tax package.

Illinois Grown Medicine  — which has been in operation since 2016 and began selling medical cannabis late last year — is expanding its grow operation and also building a lab to be ready for the new marketplace. Unlike other states, Illinois allows licensed Illinois medical marijuana cultivators to process their own product, if they can afford it. In anticipation of marijuana legalization, the company is building its own lab to create concentrates and vape cartridges.

On Monday, the small cultivation center opened its doors to the media and said it hopes to both be a model — and make some money — off the new industry.

The company currently has two grow rooms: a vegetative room full of “mom” plants, clones and seedlings. The plants are grown until they’re ready to make it to the flower room, a yellow-lit room where the plant reaches maturity at eight weeks. The company makes 15 different strains. Both rooms are pungent with the smell of hops and earthiness.

Pat Hogan, who oversees propagation and research and development for the company, is a genetics expert. He said he started his last cannabis batch with 200 seeds and only kept five — based on the genetic makeup of the plant, or “whether it’s resilient, stable, if they like it here.”

Pat Hogan, propagation and research and development management at Illinois Grown Medicine, shows a tray of clones of medical marijuana plants in the vegetative room at the cultivation center in Elk Grove Village, Monday morning, May 6, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Pat Hogan, propagation and research and development management at Illinois Grown Medicine, shows a tray of clones of medical marijuana plants in the vegetative room at the cultivation center in Elk Grove Village, Monday morning, May 6, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“We make sure to give them all their stressful environments in the beginning to see if they don’t like it,” Hogan said.  “If they don’t, we get rid of them. We haul them and then we only keep the top contenders.”

The cultivation center currently operates 1,200 square feet of vegetative space and 4,500 square feet of flowering space. In a 90,000 square foot building, the company is only taking up 12,000 square feet and plans to try to take up more of the building with its grow operation.

Ericka Hogan, cultivation manager at Illinois Grown Medicine, spreads medical marijuana branches to allow light penetration for proper flower development in the cultivation center’s flowering room in Elk Grove Village, Monday morning, May 6, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“I foresee the beginning of it happening in a way where they’re saying that current cultivators should be able to also service the adult use market only because in the beginning, whoever is receiving those adult use licenses, they’re not going to be able to immediately just start growing and finishing that product for the market,” Park said. “I think there’s going to be an overlap.”

Park said the company feels “very confident that adult-use is going to pass.”

John Sullivan, a director for the Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, said the state set a “gold standard” when it comes to its medical marijuana industry.

Sullivan’s group represents many of the state’s cultivation centers and dispensaries, which is trying to limit the number of licenses the state doles out should legalization pass.

“We were the first ones to really regulate a highly regulated state. There have been no instances of diversion. There’s been no massive recalls,” Sullivan said.

The current legislation also includes a provision to grow up to five plants in homes. Sullivan said more than 80% of home grow products tested in Michigan failed when growers tried to sell the product to dispensaries.

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But he doesn’t oppose home grow if it means medical marijuana could be available to patients who need it.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to it. It’s just making sure it’s regulated, and I’m assuming you don’t want to get it out in the free market, only because it’s not tested,” Sullivan said “People don’t know what they’re getting. That’s our focus, is making sure quality products are sold to consumers right now.”

Medical marijuana grows in the flowering room at Illinois Grown Medicine in Elk Grove Village, Monday morning, May 6, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Medical marijuana grows in the flowering room at Illinois Grown Medicine in Elk Grove Village, Monday morning, May 6, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The state currently has permitted 21 cultivation centers to grow medical marijuana legally, based on Illinois State Police districts, and 20 of them are operational. The state has also granted licenses to 55 medical marijuana dispensaries across the state.

Speaking at an unrelated news conference on Monday, Pritzker said there are three reasons he’s pushing the measure to legalize recreational marijuana: its criminal justice elements, the ability to regulate a product that’s already widely available and to bring in revenue. And he said he anticipates tweaks to the bill.

Besides giving residents the right to legally buy marijuana, the bill would also expunge roughly 800,000 marijuana convictions. It would also create a designation for “social equity applicants” hoping to obtain licenses and provide minority-owned businesses support.

“I think before May 31, we’ll have it in place,” Pritzker said.



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