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Article updated: 8/21/2013 5:43 AM

Kane County officials starting to plan for medical marijuana

By James Fuller

Though medical marijuana doesn't become legal in Illinois until Jan. 1, Kane County officials are already trying to figure out if they want to become involved with regulating the new businesses.

Kane County Health Department Executive Director Barb Jeffers said Tuesday she will meet with county forest preserve district and Illinois Department of Agriculture officials soon to discuss the value of the county forming zoning regulations specific to medical marijuana farms.

"Counties can weigh in on the zoning of cultivation or distribution of medical marijuana," Jeffers said. "But our county has not taken that position yet. So in terms of the health department today, we have no role."

That may change depending on how attractive Kane County proves to be for those in the medical marijuana business.

The new law allows for up to 60 marijuana dispensaries and 22 growers statewide. Dispensaries in the 19 other states that allow medical marijuana use often do sell edible forms.

If such an operation came to Kane County, Jeffers' health department could be involved in food inspections, she said.

Likewise, county board member T.R. Smith, chairman of the county board's Agriculture Committee, said Tuesday it is possible his committee might tackle issues related to grow operations if one or more came to the county.

"Right now, we just don't know," Smith said.

Other county board members, including Melisa Taylor, said they are more concerned with the county's enforcement responsibilities.

"I'm concerned about the financial ramifications of that," Taylor said.

The county's sheriff's department has been operating with fewer officers than permitted because of budget concerns in recent years. The county has also taken measures to reduce the daily population of the county jail to keep costs down.

Jeffers said she doesn't foresee medical marijuana use being abundant in the county because Illinois' new law requires patients to have one of more than 30 specific, serious illnesses to qualify for a medical marijuana prescription. Those conditions include cancer, HIV, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Prescription holders must also be at least 18 years old and register with the state. Medical marijuana use will be prohibited from public places (except hospitals), cars and at schools.

"I suspect it will not be in a pharmacy near you," Jeffers said.

Employers can't discriminate against employees who take medical marijuana, but the businesses are required to discipline registered marijuana patients if they come to work impaired by marijuana.

Should the county decide to develop zoning rules medical marijuana, Jeffers said those rules would go through the county board's Development Committee, not her office.

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