When the Rauner administration said Monday they would begin issuing medical marijuana licenses “as soon as we can write the letters," they weren’t joking.
Winning applicants began receiving their approval letters Monday night, and on Tuesday, many were already mapping plans with how to proceed for what could be extremely lucrative franchises.
“We’ll break ground, we expect, in 30 days,” said Joseph Caltabiano, partner in Cresco Labs, which landed licenses to build cultivation centers in three Illinois districts. “We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on architects drawings already, we’re permit ready, and will be moving forward very quickly.”
Ditto for Matt Darin and Mitch Kahn, whose Greenhouse Group won three permits to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Morris, Mokena, and Northfield Township.
“They took it seriously, and we took it seriously as well, and addressed all of their issues,” Kahn said. “Our job is to build out our facilities in a first class manner, and provide patients who need it, with medicine, today.”
But before they can sell it, cultivators like Caltabiano have to grow it. He and his partners will build a trio of giant facilities which will be located in Kankakee, Lincoln, and Joliet.
“We’re building a 40,000 square foot fortified warehouse that will be protected, sealed, and ready to provide product to the state of Illinois,” he said. “We expect to be able to deliver product within 12 months, roughly from today.”
It’s been a long time coming.
The Quinn administration had promised to issue medical marijuana licenses by year’s end. But they zoomed past that deadline, and when inauguration day came for the state’s new governor, Quinn officials announced they still weren’t done vetting the applicants.
An angry Rauner accused Quinn of playing favorites in the process and announced Monday, based on consultations with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the highest scorers would receive permits immediately.
“As the lawyer for the state, we want to minimize litigation risk, we want to minimize cost to the state, and I think they looked at that and reviewed that on a timely basis,” Madigan said. “What you should probably take from this is as expeditiously as possible, medical marijuana law will be implemented.”
In their Northbrook offices Darin and Kahn said Tuesday their plans are ready to go, and they will commence the process soon to hire 12 to 15 staffers per dispensary.
“We’re hiring very experienced people with experience from both the cannabis industry, as well as locals,” Darin said. “Anybody who’s employed by any of these license owners has to go through a process to get screened and checked before they’ll be issued an authorization to be employed by one of our companies.”
For cultivators and dispensaries alike, it’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of what could be an extremely profitable enterprise. It will mark a sea change, socially, and legally, in Illinois, as a once-forbidden product goes into one branch of the mainstream. But Caltabiano suggested the social need for the drug should not be lost in that discussion.
“I was a cancer survivor at a younger age,” he said. I’ve been around cancer patients and this is not something new to the cancer world. And it’s an incredible relief to patients, and truly a medicine that is needed.”