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County may ‘go to pot,’ and board doesn’t mind

The Lee County Board gave its support to a proposed cannabis cultivation center. It could mean jobs and tax revenue, which the area and state could sorely use. Here’s one time when “going to pot” could be helpful.

Published: Saturday, June 21, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

The possibility exists that Lee County could land one of the state’s new cannabis cultivation centers, which would operate in conjunction with Illinois’ new medical marijuana law.

Lee County Board members heard a presentation this week about a cannabis growing facility proposed for the Green River Industrial Park northwest of Amboy.

After the presentation, board members agreed, although not unanimously, that the county should sign a letter of support for the facility.

It would be operated by AgriMed, a new company that proposes to work in partnership with Kreider Services of Dixon. The business would be in a 20,000-square-foot, secure metal warehouse, where marijuana would be grown.

The facility would create jobs, about 50 of them, that would pay above minimum wage. Some jobs could be suitable for people with disabilities.

It would generate tax revenue; 7 percent of the sales price per ounce of cannabis would go to Illinois, according to law, as would license fees and other possible taxes.

We expect the facility would also be taxable as far as county real estate taxes are concerned.

And, according to Rick Ketchum, County Board chairman, the county is negotiating for a 4 percent share of the gross sales as a host fee. In 3 or 4 years, the annual fee paid to the county could reach a cool $1 million.

The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Project Act, which took effect Jan. 1, allows for one cannabis growing facility in each Illinois State Police district. Around here, District 1 takes in Lee, Whiteside, Ogle and Carroll counties.

County Board members must consider all job opportunities that come their way – as well as revenue generation possibilities for the county itself.

We recall a different economic development proposal 3 years ago. A developer asked Lee County to invest $1.3 million for infrastructure to support a planned truck stop at the interchange of Interstate 39 and U.S. Route 30.

The developer predicted that the county would receive $1.6 million in sales tax receipts from the truck stop over the first 10 or 15 years of operation, which would more than cover the initial investment.

Twice in 2011, board members voted against it. Both times, the proposal lost by one vote. After the second defeat, the developer pulled the plug.

County Board members seemed torn between supporting economic development and taking care of the county’s own finances.

Three years later, however, the proposed cannabis cultivation center appears to require no county funds to move forward, which probably made the board’s decision to leap to its support easier to reach (along with that $1-million-a-year revenue boost), even though some people who are opposed to marijuana on principle might disagree.

By the end of the year, AgriMed should learn whether its application to grow medical marijuana is approved by the state.

And Lee County will learn whether “going to pot” is a phrase that its leaders can happily embrace.

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