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GALESBURG — With just over a month left before legalization, Galesburg is preparing to be a player in the world of recreational marijuana.

Work continues on the dispensary at the corner of Henderson and Main streets, also known as the former location of Aldi, where work is reportedly on track for a Jan. 1 opening. The dispensary will be owned by Nature’s Treatment of Illinois, who currently operate a medical dispensary in Milan.

After the state’s bill to legalize recreational use of the substance for adults 21 and older passed the state Senate and House in May, Knox County Area Partnership President Ken Springer says “our phones started ringing off the hook” even before Gov. Pritzker signed the bill in June.

Springer says his organization doesn’t want to relitigate the morality and health debates over legalization, but instead that as an organization devoted to economic development, they should maximize economic gains from whatever industry might offer that opportunity. In this case, it’s the quickly growing industry of legal cannabis sales.

“The logic behind whether Galesburg should allow it was based on a pragmatic view,” Springer said. “There’s nothing cities can do to prevent their residents from using cannabis or owning it. That’s a state law. Only thing we can do is restrict whether they buy it in your borders.”

With a limited number of licenses granted to dispensaries statewide, Galesburg has sought to be an early adopter of the program, which Springer and others within the community hope will bring jobs, business and tax revenue to town.

The city opted in to the program by July, and in September passed it through the zoning commission. According to Springer, the business will be a boon for Galesburg, not only bringing new jobs and funds through a 3% sales tax, but also filling a “hole” Springer says will exist between the other dispensaries in the region, making Galesburg a destination for those looking for their legal cannabis fix.

While some might expect a dispensary to be found in a more hidden place, the city zoning commission has allowed the properties to be built in general business districts, and Nature’s Treatment sought a well-trafficked area for its business. A clause regarding the former Aldi prevented a grocery store from taking up residence in the building, but through legalization, the building — vacant since the grocery store moved to the north side of town in 2013 — has finally found a new owner, with a coffee shop set to also fill the space.

“Someone coming through the north can drive through Henderson, or coming from the east drive on Main Street through downtown, so I think there will be an opportunity for consumers coming in to fill up on gas, get pizza or something. We definitely think the customer base is not solely going to be local.”

Marijuana is in something of a gray space legally, with the substance still illegal federally. This has a number of effects on the way the industry is regulated and run in the states where it’s legal. Businesses generally have to work off of cash sales, and the substance has to be cultivated and processed within the state. All of this work requires training as well.

A concern for the legal market will likely be supply.

Some states, such as Oregon, have seen an overabundance of marijuana after legalization, while others have struggled to meet demand. With Illinois’ limited amount of certified growers, and the inability to move the substance over state lines to create market balance, many are projecting a shortage as the program rolls out next year. Supply already being used for medical marijuana may become limited once it faces the demand of a new recreational audience.

After early snow and amid the untested waters of the new law, there remains uncertainty in how things will shake out statewide, and in Galesburg. Still, the dispensary’s sign says it will open Jan. 1.

“In full disclosure, I don’t think any state has had a smooth rollout,” Springer said. “Give it a couple years and the market will stabilize, and it’ll become part of the economic landscape.”

Still, Springer is clearly optimistic about the prospects, and the way Galesburg’s vacant properties could finally find themselves occupants. Springer notes that when Colorado legalized marijuana in 2013, one of the first impacts was an increase in occupancy rates of commercial real estate.

“I think it’s an industry that could potentially fill a lot of vacant real estate across Illinois,” he said.

The Register-Mail reached out to Nature’s Treatment of Illinois for this story, but did not receive a response by press deadline.

Matt Koester: (309) 315-6069; mkoester@register-mail.com

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