If you’re an event planner and your boss ever asks how to sell out a politically-relevant business conference, the answer is, plan it to begin just after a new and controversial bill is introduced.  

On May 7th, 2019, several hundred investors, media, and influencers convened at the Green Market Summit in Chicago, Illinois. Just three days prior, Illinois Governor Pritzker announced his plans for regulating adult-use cannabis.

Created by the Green Market Report, a New York City-headquartered cannabis-focused financial news site, the one-day symposium explored the economic landscape of the cannabis industry. From Farm Bill to formulation, an impressive line of speakers at the Green Market Summit spoke about the accomplishments and struggles within the industry.

Cannabis in Illinois

Illinois, a state with an existing medical marijuana regime in place since November of 2015, should theoretically have a relatively easier time implementing its recreational laws than states starting with nothing. Which is good for a state trying to get it right the first time, having learned from others.

Speaking for Illinois-based seed-to-sale cannabis company Cresco Labs, Cris Rivera, VP of retail marketing anticipates the next five years will see more dispensaries opening up as communities become more and more comfortable with the idea of having them.

“This is no longer the cannabis industry, it’s the compliance industry,” said Juli Crockett, director of compliance at MMLG, a full-service cannabis consulting firm. Panelists agreed that investing in compliance initially is “much more cost-effective than responding to a compliance crisis on the back end,” as Aaron Lachant, CEO of MMLG said.

Green Market Summit, Chicago, Illinois — home to a “mere” 55 dispensaries.

When it comes to the state itself, panelists agreed that Illinois has become one of the most restrictive and difficult to do cannabis business in. The medical program is run by two different agencies, regulates merely 55 dispensaries, and has accepted only 62,000 patients in a state with nearly 13 million people.

There’s an unfortunate clustering of these 55 dispensaries that leaves Illinois residents underserved. Chicago Tribune reporter, Ally Marotti, explained, “Part of that is because there were a handful of licenses that were never awarded or awarded but the dispensaries never opened.” To which Larry Mishkin, director of business development for Hoban Law Group replied, “I’m not sure that we can get by on 50 or 55 dispensaries for the entire state if we’re going to have adult use.”

Regardless, Illinois marijuana advocates and entrepreneurs I met were excited at the prospects for a successful recreational market. And strong brand builders have been positioning themselves for the day to come, so they have an edge on what’s assuredly to become a flooded market.

A market where great branding becomes that much more essential. Peter Miller, SLANG Worldwide co-founder and CEO, shared his brand strategy, “The best ability is availability. So if your brand is in a lot of places, that’s how you create subconscious relationships with people, ‘I’ve seen that before, I’ve seen it in a few places, I’m kind of trusting it a bit more…’.”

Employment

Want to get into the cannabis industry? The ideal candidate needs to be “incredibly agile and flexible,” according to Eunice Kim, VP of People at Green Thumb Industries, a manufacturer of several medical cannabis brands, and retail operator.

And if you do get into the industry, you may discover people who are “excited and have personality,” according to Josh Rothman, CEO of Cresta Management, an employment firm offering cannabis career transition services. “They actually enjoy the conversations.”

If you’re on the hiring side, the biggest ROI comes from hiring a woman into any executive-level position other than marketing, according to Christie Lunsford, CEO, The Hemp Biz Conference.

They were there

Summit attendee, Erin Dilber, called her experience both incredible, saying, “I spoke to marketing leads, CEOs, CMOs, and I really got a lot of education and knowledge on what it takes to be in this industry.”

The fresh version of Illinois’ potential recreational marijuana bill will look nothing like what’s formally introduced, of course. Shortly after its introduction legislators began what the Chicago Tribune calls, “retooling the measure to appease critics.”

The Economics of Cannabis in Illinois