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Pursuit of medical marijuana permit is a personal mission for Joliet woman

Potential operator tells her experience with pain

JOLIET – Traci Fernandez has a unique perspective on the need for medical marijuana.

Fernandez, a Plainfield native who now lives in Batavia, has transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disease of the spine that has left her paralyzed from the chest down.

Along with being confined to a wheelchair, Fernandez also experiences chronic pain on a daily basis.

“It’s a constant pins and needles, like your legs are asleep,” said Fernandez, one of the founders of 3C Compassionate Care Center, a group that hopes to operate a medical cannabis facility in Rock Run Business Park. “As the day progresses, the pain gets more intense and it starts to feel like those pins and needles are on fire.”

Fernandez started 3C several months ago with her husband, Hugo, a media marketing specialist; her father, Will County Circuit Judge Robert Livas; and a friend, Kathy Tucker.

The company, currently based in Naperville, is seeking to operate dispensaries in Joliet and Naperville.

The state will allow 60 dispensaries statewide, including three in Will County. The 3C Compassionate Care Center would operate in a facility being developed by Fire Management Services, which was the first company to apply in Joliet for the special-use permit needed for the facility. The City Council approved the permit July 1.

For Fernandez, 3C is both a business and a personal mission.

“I started to look into the medical marijuana dispensary business when I first started hearing about it several months ago,” Fernandez said. “Our mission is really to help people with conditions like mine.”

Before her paralysis, Fernandez said she ran three to four miles a day.

“I was never sick at all,” Fernandez said. “Then I went to bed one night and woke up ... with significant chest pains. I woke up again and the pain was just terrible. As I went to get out of bed, my legs got heavier and heavier. When I got to the hospital, I couldn’t walk at all.

“It is crazy and shocking to think that it is possible to go to bed healthy and wake up a paraplegic.”

Spinal cord disease and injury are among the conditions Illinois will allow to be treated with medical marijuana. The list also includes cancer, glaucoma, ALS, multiple sclerosis, HIV and a number of other maladies.

If it wins state approval to operate a dispensary, 3C plans to donate 20 percent of its profits to the United Paralysis Foundation, a nonprofit charity founded by Fernandez and her husband a year after she became paralyzed in 2008. The foundation raises funds to research a cure for spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

3C will donate another 5 percent of profits to the communities in which it resides, according to company literature.

Livas, director of the Will County Courthouse’s felony division, said he plans to retire from his judgeship at the end of October to help run the company.

Livas said he brings a good understanding of police and security issues to 3C.

Getting past the stigma of the word “marijuana” was the first step, he said.

“It’s that term, marijuana, that grates on people ... until you look at the research and see the effects” on the sick and those with terminal illness, Livas said.

Livas visited a medical dispensary in Rhode Island, where medical marijuana was legalized in 2006. He said he was impressed by the security and recordkeeping, as well as the knowledge the operators had of their patients and the specific products their diseases required.

But Livas said his primary impetus for joining the company was to help his daughter raise money for spinal cord injury research.

“She has a pretty simple goal,” Livas said. “She wants to be standing on her own when her son graduates from high school in about 10 years. If this can help do it, then it’s something I want to be involved with.”

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