As legalization talk continues in Kentucky and Indiana, neighboring Illinois is making medical marijuana work

JOLIET, Ill. (WDRB) -- About three years ago, the breeze in the Windy City started blowing in a new direction. In Joliet, in the suburbs of Chicago, one of Illinois' first medical marijuana facilities opened its doors.

Today, it's a budding business called Cresco Labs, a massive warehouse of weed complete with a nursery, lab, six production rooms and several scientists.

"We do manufacture all products that would fit under the medical marijuana umbrella," Cresco's Jason Nelson said.

Joints, edibles and oils are all made at the factory. Not many people see the inside. Security is tight. Every door is locked, security cameras are perched around every corner, and WDRB News had to get permission from the state of Illinois just to be there.

"All these layers of security do put us in a place to confidently operate," Nelson said.

Illinois State Police have constant access to the cameras.

"They log on and check on us any time they want to," Nelson said.

Police show up, in person, every two weeks. The Illinois Department of Agriculture is also in weekly to make sure everything is being done by the book. Each plant gets its own bar code, allowing inspectors to keep tabs on it from the beginning until it's sitting on a shelf.

"All of our product does currently end up in dispensaries," Nelson said.

"The Greenhouse" in neighboring Morris, Illinois, is one of 54 dispensaries in the state.

Patients with conditions like cancer, glaucoma and PTSD show up often, but it can get expensive.

"You can spend anywhere from $20 for a basic item all the way up to $400 or more for an ounce," said Kyra Rowe from the Greenhouse dispensary.

Every customer has to go through a detailed process before getting anywhere near pot. A doctor diagnoses a patient, sends that information to the Illinois Department of Public Health, and then a cannabis card can be issued.

Illinois is one of 29 states with growing medical marijuana programs. Many of them went through the same heated debated among lawmakers we've seen in Indiana and Kentucky. 

Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour has been on the front lines of the battle in Indiana. 

"This is what I'm passionate about," he said.

He's even taken a road trip to see Illinois' program in action. Lucas said a similar model, using secure factories and dispensaries, could work in his state. He'd also like to make some tweaks, making medical cannabis more affordable and allowing users to grow a limited amount of weed on their own.

"Why couldn't they grow their own?" Lucas asked. "It's a simple process. There's tons of information out there, especially with the internet and technology."

Lawmakers in the Indiana House voted unanimously to do a summer study on medical marijuana. For Lucas, that's progress.

"The two biggest stigmas we have to overcome are stigma and ignorance," he said.

The reality is, turning over a new leaf in Indiana could still be years down the road.

"I'm just going to ramp it up more and more and more," Lucas said. "I'm either going to wear people down or there's going to be an all our brawl. But it's coming."

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