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There are several current and emerging markets in Illinois for cannabis-related products. Medical marijuana is already legal in the state, farmers are gearing up to grow industrial hemp, and lawmakers could consider a measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Whether or not recreational use becomes legal, the business of cannabis is already established in the Land of Lincoln and our reports are intended to bring you information related to these efforts."State of Cannabis" is a collaborative effort among public radio stations across Illinois.Special thanks to participating stations in reporting and editing:Illinois Newsroom, NPR Illinois, Tri-States Public Radio, WBEZ, WCBU, WDCB, WGLT, WILL, WNIJ, WSIU, WVIK-Reporter Roundtable-- Why are we doing this series now? Features WGLT's Ryan Denham, WSIU/Illinois Newsroom's Steph Whiteside, WNIJ's Sarah Jesmer -From Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Rich Egger visited a medical marijuana cultivation facility in west central Illinois to get their perspective.-From NPR Illinois in Springfield, Jaclyn Driscoll has been closely covering the issue. She sat down with Sean Crawford to give us an update on the legislative timeline of recreational marijuana.-When Illinois issued the first licenses for medical marijuana businesses in 2015, almost all the recipients were white. We look at what a more racially diverse marketplace might look like if the state legalizes recreational use. From WBEZ in Chicago, Susie An reports.-Existing rules around the Illinois medical cannabis program could make the rollout for recreational use a less daunting task. But there are plenty of unanswered questions at the federal level which could complicate the process. From WNIJ in DeKalb, Chase Cavanaugh reports.-Northwestern Illinois’ Stephenson County is one area where changes in the status of cannabis are being embraced. The people doing it are not necessarily the ones you’d expect. From WNIJ in DeKalb, Guy Stephens has more.-From WSIU and Illinois Newsroom in Carbondale, Steph Whiteside explains how some patients are considering marijuana as an alternative to opioids.-From WCBU in Peoria, Tanya Koonce brings us the view from Peoria with a doctor who talks abouthow health providers are navigating conversations with patients who are considering marijuana use.-In today’s legal market, there’s more than just your typical joint if you want to get high. There are cookies, gummies, weed-infused drinks and more... but how might these different products affect you? From NPR Illinois in Springfield, reporter Jaclyn Driscoll has more. (Audio available Wednesday 5/01)-The debate over legalization touches on so many thorny issues -- criminal justice reform, health care, and balancing a state budget coated in red ink. But it's also an economic issue. From WGLT in Bloomington/Normal, Ryan Denham visits a small town in central Illinois where medical marijuana has brought new jobs, new tax revenue, and a hope for more.-Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz says she’s concerned about how legalization could impact the juveniles she works with on a daily basis. She’s also concerned about how the state will address cannabis impaired driving. Illinois Public Media’s Lee Gaines recently interviewed Rietz. (Audio available Thursday 5/02)-Susan Stephens with WNIJ in DeKalb reports, attitudes are changing about cannabis use. (Audio available Thursday 5/02)-With conversations about legalizing recreational marijuana, you also may have heard about C-B-D. This is a very different hemp product and it’s completely legal. Sarah Jesmer with WNIJ in DeKalb reports, those in the CBD market are trying to prepare for possible changes on the horizon. (Audio available Friday 5/03)-Illinois Governor J.B.Pritzker wants legalize recreational marijuana to provide an economic boost for the state. At Rock Island’s Augustana College, students have different reasoning behind their perspective. Reporter Natalie Spahn from WVIK in Rock Island found out, many identify themselves in the "pro" category. (Audio available Friday 5/03)-Reporter Roundtable #2 There may be more questions than answers as state leaders consider their next step. (Audio available Friday 5/03) Features WGLT's Ryan Denham, WSIU/Illinois Newsroom's Steph Whiteside, WNIJ's Sarah Jesmer

Embracing Cannabis In Stephenson County

Northwestern Illinois’ Stephenson County is one area where changes in the status of cannabis are being embraced. The people doing it are not necessarily the ones you’d expect.

Head a couple of miles west of Lena, halfway between Rockford and Galena in the rolling hills of far northwest Illinois, then along an up-and-down road with patches of freshly laid gravel, and you’ll end up at Ron Fluegel’s farm.

Fluegel is the third generation to farm here. He raises beef cattle, and grows corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Now he’d like to add another crop—hemp—which contains virtually none of the psychoactive component found in medical or recreational marijuana, for producing cannabidiol, or CBD, oil. Fluegel thinks there's a market for the substance used in homeopathic treatments for pain and other conditions. It’s not the first time he’s undertaken a new venture.

This story is part of a weeklong series from Illinois public radio stations focusing on the potential impact of marijuana legalization.
This story is part of a weeklong series from Illinois public radio stations focusing on the potential impact of marijuana legalization.

Listen to the radio version

“I like to look at whatever that new opportunity, new experiences," he said. "You know, back in '96, I jumped on the ethanol bandwagon and was part of a plant to be built in Lena, Illinois. And then in 2005 then I was a part of a group that put together a biodiesel production plant that ended up being built down Danville, Illinois.”

The reason is simple: It’s hard to make a steady living as a farmer on a few hundred acres. He and his son have outside jobs to supplement farm income.

Hemp might help, but it has its own headaches. Fluegel says seed is expensive. He had to buy specialized machinery to plant and harvest the plant from Australia and Finland for around $300,000. That's on top of regular farm equipment. There aren’t any CBD oil processors in Illinois, so he lined up one in Kentucky to make sure he has a salable product.

He says banks won’t lend money for anything related to cannabis, even hemp, and other lenders he's used won't because they don't have a model to predict a return from this new crop. So he's had to turn to private investors. Still, he thinks there’s the potential to make money—and maybe help some folks, too.

For Fluegel this is just about business, not any desire to advance marijuana. He was on the Stephenson County Board when In Grown Farms proposed a growing facility for the then-new medical marijuana program in Illinois.

“I'll be honest," he said, "at first I was not in support of it. I guess what swung me was when I learned that it could it could eliminate up to 98% of seizures for children with epilepsy. And I thought if that was available to me, as a parent, I would go anywhere that I could in this country to do that for my children.”

CHANGING MINDS

The man who helped change Fluegel’s mind is himself an unlikely advocate. Stephenson County Board Chairman Bill Hadley is a lifelong resident with deep roots in the area. He’s a self-professed conservative Republican.

“My dad was a big Eisenhower man, Nixon man and so on," he said. "Got my start in politics back in 1976, working for Jim Thompson's campaign and worked on Jim Edgar’s campaign and George Ryan, some fine Republican governors we had over the years.”

As county board chairman, Hadley’s had to listen to—and work with—all sides to get things done. But he had to do the research and be convinced himself that there was a real benefit in medical marijuana. Then it became just good economics to push for a growing facility in Stephenson County.

“And when they did announce one of the applicants, In Grown Farms, was picked," he said, "we were delighted because that was our first person in our industrial park. And they did put up a small building and an 80,000-square-foot building.”

But the larger building is just a shell, with a gravel floor. The promised boom in medical marijuana failed to materialize, at least in part because of the tight restrictions on it by the Illinois Department of Public Health under former Gov. Bruce Rauner. The company says it will expand if that changes, or if recreational marijuana became a reality in Illinois. Hadley’s against that.

“I don't believe we need to go down that avenue," he said. "I know some are legislators are interested because of tax revenue. But I think we need to expand the medical part of it.” 

Stephenson County Board Chairman Bill Hadley
Credit Guy Stephens
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Stephenson County Board Chairman Bill Hadley

Illinois is actually doing that with the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program, and a move to make more conditions eligible for the medical marijuana program.

Still, he admits that the facility’s expansion for any reason, including recreational use, would be a plus for the county.

“That would mean good-paying jobs and more revenue to the county," he said. "In reference to the property taxes out at In Grown Farms right now, approximately, they're paying about $30,000 in property taxes.” 

That would more than double with expansion. And Hadley hopes any additional revenue generated for the state by recreational marijuana will be shared with counties like his. He’d love to be able to lower property taxes. But at least, he says, there must be more money for county and local law enforcement. He says they’ll need more resources and training to handle problems caused by overuse. That’s been seen in other states that have legalized recreational use.

Back on the farm, Ron Fluegel’s focused on making his hemp operation a reality. He knows it may take a while, but he’s thinking long-term.

“I’ve got a grandson," he said, "so if he'd like to do that I'd sure like to be able to have the opportunity there for him to farm if he desires.”

In the meantime, Fluegel, Hadley, and others like them will keep trying to figure out the changing state of cannabis in Illinois, and how to handle it. As Fluegel put it: "new day, new challenge."

Data provided by Illinois' Medical Cannabis Pilot Program 'Monthly Updates'.  Voided sales are not reflected before 2017.
Done in collaboration with Spring 2019 Data Visualization Course, School of Art and Design, Northern Illinois University /
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Data provided by Illinois' Medical Cannabis Pilot Program 'Monthly Updates'. Voided sales are not reflected before 2017.

Copyright 2019 WNIJ Northern Public Radio

Guy Stephens is the local host for NPR's All Things Considered on WNIJ. He also produces news stories for the station, and coordinates our online events calendar, PSAs and Arts Calendar announcements. In each of these ways, Guy helps keep our listening community informed about what's going on, whether on a national or local level. Guy's degrees are in music, and he spent a number of years as a classical host on WNIU. In fact, after nearly 20 years with Northern Public Radio, the best description of his job may be "other duties as required."