BLOOMINGTON — A medical marijuana grower and supplier may be planting seeds of a different kind with a $20,000 donation to the city of Bloomington to create summer jobs for at-risk youth.
The City Council this week accepted the donation from Curative Health Inc., a subsidiary of Columbia Care LLC. The New York-based company provides medical marijuana products and services in Massachusetts, Arizona, Nevada, Illinois and Washington, D.C.
In applying for a medical marijuana dispensary license in Bloomington, Columbia Care committed to providing $20,000 to help at-risk youth — an initiative suggested by Mayor Tari Renner.
The firm was not awarded a contract locally, but it does operate a dispensary in Chicago and is still being considered by state officials for a cultivation center permit in Elgin-based Illinois State Police District 2, said Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita.
The source of the donation had at least one alderman, Kevin Lower in Ward 1, asking questions before he eventually agreed to approve its acceptance.
“I would just like a further explanation of what this is and if there any strings attached,” said Lower. “I am afraid that we may be asked to do business with this firm at some point in the future and feel beholden to them for licensure or some extenuating circumstances.”
Curative Health is not likely to be doing business in the city because other businesses already have been awarded the dispensary and cultivation center permits for Pontiac-based ISP District 6, which includes Bloomington, said city attorney Jeff Jurgens.
The city does not grant the licenses or permits, but state guidelines encourage applicants for both cultivation centers and dispensaries to develop ways to give back to local communities and how they would fight substance abuse, Jurgens said.
After being approached by the company through its attorney, Jason Barickman, Renner told the company that he wanted to start a program similar to a pilot project in summer 2013 that had several west-side churches and the city banding together to serve at-risk youths.
“Every U.S. Conference of Mayors has at least one major panel on at-risk youth jobs programs,” said Renner. “They realize that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It's not just keeping (at-risk youth) busy during the summer as kind of a recreation program. It's learning the value of work."
The company said it would be willing contribute, but atfer it did not get the local dispensary license Renner did not expect the city to receive any funding.
"To my surprise, they said they would make good on this," he added.
“We view our business as being stewards of programs for the state where there is unmet need," said Vita. "And Mayor Renner's program really resonated with us. It was an unmet need and it seemed to be timely.”