Investors in a potential medical marijuana-growing operation are trying to persuade a city council in south-central Illinois to reconsider their zoning request, and they're offering money to local schools to show they're serious about helping the community.
But at least two commissioners in Effingham see the offer — up to $1 million over 10 years — as an attempt by Chicago investors to buy votes in the city of 12,000 residents.
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"This must be the Chicago way," Effingham Commissioner Brian Milleville told The Effingham Daily News. "They want to grease a palm, but because it is in a public setting, they call it legal."
Commissioner Matt Hirtzel said that if he changes his vote, he'll be "nothing more than a Judas... Instead of 30 pieces of silver, it would be a million dollars to the school."
Numerous other cities in Illinois have embraced the potential jobs, taxes and community investments promised by the medical marijuana entrepreneurs. The Effingham City Council last month narrowly rejected a zoning proposal for the cultivation center.
Investors in the prospective business, Effingham Medicinal Farms, want to get their plan back before the City Council next week so they can obtain zoning approval and update their application with the state. The state agriculture department plans to grant a limited number of business permits by the end of the year.
The Effingham proposal is the only application that the Chicago-based group has submitted to the state.
"If we meet benchmarks with the business — benchmarks we think we can meet — we will give half a million dollars to Effingham schools," said Chicago attorney Jon Loevy, one of the investors. "I believe the company will do well enough to up that to a million" over 10 years.
Loevy and his partners made the overture public in a story in the Effingham newspaper (http://bit.ly/1v3tsYm ), along with a more immediate offer of $75,000 for a vocational program if the council approves the zoning change and the state grants a permit.
Loevy told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his group wants to use profits from medical marijuana to open charter schools in Illinois. He said it makes sense for the company to give money to Effingham schools.
"We believe it is in the company's interest to fund vocational education because we need trained workers," Loevy said. "The group I represent is trying to partner with Effingham. ... If they want to reject that and try to characterize that as improper influence, I don't understand that logic."
Reversing the council's 3-2 rejection of the zoning request is still possible, Loevy said.
"We are hopeful this issue can be put back on the agenda for Nov. 18 and that at least one council member will change their vote," Loevy said.
Information from: Effingham Daily News, http://www.effinghamdailynews.com