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Deal may bring green to Cairo

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

Cairo, Illinois, has struck a deal with a medical marijuana grower in hope of reviving its wilting economy.

Five of the six members of the Cairo City Council recently voted in favor of a lease agreement with Area 51 Growers to build a growing facility for medical marijuana on the north side of the town. One council member was absent for the July 22 vote.

The roughly $4 million proposed facility could bring 35 to 50 jobs to the beleaguered town, with 40 percent of those positions reserved for qualified Cairo residents, Area 51 Growers Operations Manager Roger Allen said.

"Alexander County has had financial needs over the years. In particular, the city of Cairo needs a cash infusion," he said. "And if you look at the weather in the state of Illinois, can you get any better? It made common sense."

Salaries range from $30,000 to $50,000 a year, with full-time positions to include basic farm laborers, security personnel, pastry chefs, pharmacy assistants and others, Allen said. He estimated that the operation will have an economic impact of $3 million to $9 million a year for Cairo, which is home to around 3,000 people.

He emphasized that the facility, which will cover between 50,000 and 60,000 square feet, will be dedicated only to the production of medical marijuana and cannabis-infused foods.

"Some people have brought up that medical marijuana will bring in a seedy crowd. In all actuality, no product will be dispensed or sold from a Cairo location. It's just a production facility that will deliver to one of the legal 60-plus dispensaries in the state of Illinois," he said.

Allen added that the company will share a total of 10 percent of its gross profits with the city, 5 percent of which will go to a 501(c)3 to benefit Cairo.

Mayor Tyrone Coleman said there was little hesitation within the city government over accepting the deal, adding that the city had been in talks with two similar entities.

"To me, it's just a win-win situation for the community," he said.

But, he added, "just like anything else, some people are for it, some people are against it."

The next step is for Area 51 Growers to file for one of the state's 22 available licenses to grow medical marijuana, Allen said, but the state has yet to issue the applications. The company wants to have the facility up and running by early 2015.

The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act passed in 2013 and went into effect Jan. 1 of this year, making Illinois the 21st state to enact such legislation. The law provides that patients whom a physician has diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition may legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis during a 14-day period. The cannabis is to be derived solely from an intrastate source.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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