CHICAGO — Illinois' medical marijuana program reached an important milestone Monday with the announcement that at least one of the authorized companies has started growing plants.
Officials at Ataraxia in southeastern Illinois said the facility received state authorization July 10 and has started cultivating the genetic strains that will be the basis of their products.
"We'll have a range of products available in October," Ataraxia CEO George Archos said. The company plans to produce oils, edibles and creams in addition to marijuana for smoking and vaporizing.
When Ataraxia reaches full-scale production, it will grow cannabis year-round at its 52,000-square-foot facility in the Edwards County city of Albion. But with only 2,600 patients signed up for the state's pilot program, about one-third of the facility is currently in use.
"It's like a big warehouse and the first room they have ready to start is a big white, bright room with lights in it," said Albion Mayor Steve McMahel, who said he has visited the facility three or four times. "It's a clean environment. Everyone will wear white gloves and coveralls because they don't want any infection in the plants."
Ataraxia has hired 10 workers, including security staff. It won't be the largest employer in the area; that's an auto filter plant that has about 1,000 employees, the mayor said. Still, the jobs are welcome, he said, as will be the property taxes.
The state has authorized one other facility to start cultivating marijuana. Illinois Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Rebecca Clark would not say Monday which companies have received the go-ahead.
At least nine marijuana cultivation facilities have been approved to receive official ID cards for their workers, Clark said. That's half of the 18 grow centers that have received preliminary licenses from the state.
In northern Illinois, company officials at In Grown Farms said state inspectors visited their facility in Freeport on Monday. The company expects the state to allow them to start growing soon, spokeswoman Emily Wilcox said.
Security is tight in the industry and the state hasn't allowed news organizations inside growing facilities. The Illinois State Police has a real-time view into Ataraxia through its 24-hour video surveillance system, Archos said.
Illinois requires cultivation centers to have alarm systems and closed-circuit television surveillance of all entrances and exits, parking lots, alleys and the entire inside of the facility, except for restrooms and the executive office.
"Detailed security plans must be approved for each facility and all employees undergo extensive background checks," said Bresha Brewer of the newly formed Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, an industry group.
Albion's mayor said he has no concerns about security.
"The state has got pretty stringent rules on that. I don't think it's a really big problem," McMahel said.
AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson