Members of the Bachman’s floral business are eying land in Cottage Grove to build a medical marijuana manufacturing facility as they seek approval to be one of two manufacturing wholesalers in the state, according to city officials.
The Cottage Grove Economic Development Authority approved a preliminary business plan Tuesday allowing Leafline Labs, founded by members of the Bachman family, to move forward with a proposal to build a roughly 50,000-square-foot facility on 20 acres adjacent to Renewal by Andersen in the Cottage Grove Business Park. Leafline Labs’ plan includes expanding the facility to 200,000 square feet within three years.
“What the EDA authorized, subject to (City) Council affirmation, is a land purchase from the fee owner and a development agreement with Leafline that resells that land to Leafline so that they can build their building,” City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said.
The EDA’s approval comes as the Minnesota Department of Health is accepting applications from prospective medical marijuana manufacturers. The application deadline is Oct. 3. Medical marijuana becomes legal in July 2015, but the production and distribution system must be established before then.
A Bachman’s representative could not be reached immediately for comment.
The city began talking with Leafline Labs representatives earlier this summer when they toured the Business Enterprise Center, Cottage Grove’s small-business incubator in the former city hall building.
Mayor Myron Bailey said initially Leafline Labs was looking to start in the BEC while it built its own permanent facility in the Business Park. However, he said those plans have changed.
“They would move so quickly to get this open,” Bailey said. “The plan would be, if they were approved, to have a winter build out and have the facility (in the Business Park) up and running by July of next year.”
Bailey said Leafline Labs submitted a letter of intent to acquire property in the Business Park, should it be chosen as one of the state-approved manufacturers. The city would broker the deal, Bailey added.
“They have not purchased the land yet but they have all the financial costs laid out and they will officially purchase the land when they know for a fact they will get the permit. They just want to have everything ready beforehand,” he said.
If approved, Bailey said the pharmaceutical distribution aspect of the operation would fit in with the Business Park’s overall goal and would generate as many as 150 “high-paying jobs” within three years.
“I would be shocked if they weren’t approved,” Bailey said. “They have assumed their due diligence, they have the financial means and they have the wherewithal to do it.”
“If the state license does not occur, we do not close on the property,” Schroeder added.
Minnesota became the 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law in May.The law allows those who are sick or in extreme pain due to certain medical conditions to use medical marijuana in pill or liquid form. The law prohibits patients from smoking it or obtaining it in leaf form.
Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, supported the new law.
“I think one of the biggest issues going forward with this has got to be support from local government and support in general of the community,” Schoen said.
Schoen said Cottage Grove would be a good host for the pharmaceutical marijuana wholesaler because of its Twin Cities location.
“Being in the metro we have access to a talented workforce,” he said. “(Cottage Grove has) transportation infrastructure that’s growing, the cost of doing business in Cottage Grove is really good, and we have some of the best value for land.”
As a Cottage Grove police officer, Schoen reiterated that safety and security issues related to the facility would be a priority. The law outlines security parameters that the distributors and wholesalers will need to meet, including being located away from schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries.
“This is not a street corner drug dealer,” he said. “The general public cannot walk into this facility. Public safety wise we have (officers) around, we have people close and it’s in a place where they aren’t near schools or playgrounds. It’s in the industrial park and meets all those criteria.”
Medical marijuana has supporters and opponents, and Bailey said he is sensitive to the views on both sides of the issue. He said that inviting this type of business into Cottage Grove was done with due diligence.
“We want to be careful with the message we’re putting out there because we don’t want to offend either side,” he said. “We want to respect the mom and dad with kids that need it, and the other side where people don’t want anything to do with medical marijuana.
“I think (people) will have to do their homework,” Bailey added, “and understand what it does and what it means. We’re not advocating or supporting the legalization of marijuana from a pot-smoking standpoint, we’re not talking Colorado here. But it will be a pharmaceutical use that can help people and help children and adults with pain.”
Interested distributors have until Sept. 19 to notify the state that they will be submitting an application, and state officials are expected to begin the process of narrowing down candidates in November.
The Minnesota Commissioner of Health must have the two manufacturers chosen by Dec. 1.
The Cottage Grove City Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the site plan and conditional use permit for the proposed medical marijuana manufacturing facility during its Sept. 17 meeting.