Cairo may become the home of one of Illinois’ 22 medical marijuana grow operations.
Area 51 Growers, based in New Athens, Ill. and Sikeston, Mo., has reached an agreement with the city to install a $4 million medical marijuana cultivation facility on 10 acres of municipally-owned land. The company will lease the land from the city for 5 percent of its earnings, and put another 5 percent into a non-profit company that will fund community programs like drug treatment centers, food banks, school supply drives and high school dropout prevention.
A minimum of 40 percent of employees will be from Cairo and the company estimates it will have a yearly economic impact of $3 to $9 million on the community.
Roger Allen from Area 51 Growers said Cairo’s location makes it a perfect place to grow marijuana.
“It’s further south than Richmond, Virginia,” Allen said “Any place that can produce cotton or rice, compared to the middle of the state of Illinois or the upper part of the state of Illinois, is just a better place to grow plants.”
Everything hinges on whether or not the state grants one of its 22 licenses to Area 51. Allen hopes to begin production in early 2015, but that depends on how long it takes the state of Illinois to grant the licenses.
“As soon as the applications are available we will have ours filled out, the deposits in and be waiting for our license to come through,” Allen said.
Security at the facility will be tight, according to Cairo mayor Tyrone Coleman.
“I have no reservations whatsoever. The security and the regulations and all of that is just totally awesome,” Coleman said. “It will be like Fort Knox.”
Every marijuana plant will have a microchip that will allow the company to track its whereabouts. A representatives from the Illinois Department of Agriculture will count and scan each plant to ensure each one is accounted for, according to Allen.
“In addition to that, we’re not allowed to dispose of any stems, seeds or roots until we’re given the go by the Illinois Department of Agriculture,” Allen said.
Allen compared the facility’s security to that of a medium-security prison.
For Roger Allen, medical marijuana is more of a personal quest than a financial decision.
“The ability to be able to work with product that has the ability to stop seizures was very crucial to me,” Allen said.
A grand mal seizure caused Allen’s infant daughter to die in his arms, but she was soon resuscitated by emergency medical technicians. Allen said it was difficult to get her seizures under control and she was later prescribed phenobarbital which led to some learning difficulties.
“Now it’s clearly understood that one dose of … cannabis extract stops seizures cold,” Allen said. “If we had the ability to use medical cannabis, she would not have gone through all of those complications brought on by phenobarbital.”
Allen has a 50,000 square foot facility in Sikeston where he is a setting up a plant that will manufacture locks and ammunition, and a small facility that will convert buses into tour buses.