What sparks your interest in cannabis? 

Every individual has a unique point of view, but factors including economic advancement, health, social justice and a good time motivate our mission. 

Nobody, of course, could have anticipated the world as we knew it to change ten weeks after celebratory stoners scrummed together on January 1 to experience the new year novelty of purchasing pot legally in Illinois. 

When Grown In first appeared in email inboxes on December 3, consumption of the plant for most adults in Illinois was still against the law. Now smoking, eating or otherwise imbibing products derived from cannabis is considered a medically essential right by the state. 

As multi-billion dollar industries including hospitality, live entertainment and travel encountered unexpected hibernation, cannabis sales in Illinois grew 4 percent from March to April and totaled nearly $70 million through the first four months of the year. 

An industry that was established by pioneering activists, investors, medical professionals and elected officials less than a decade today is now largely run by more recent emigrees to the sector. Executives, professionals and investors from software, consumer packaged goods, healthcare, real estate, venture capital and scores of other fields are increasingly taking their talents to this nascent THC-based economic ecosystem. 

What should they or anyone currently active in Illinois cannabis industries expect to learn in the coming months? This is what we are following. 

Who’s winning cannabis licenses and why

Sometime this summer, 75 dispensary licenses across the state are expected to be awarded to social equity applicants. Nobody knows the exact date, as winners were originally slated to be announced May 1. Additionally, scores of licenses to craft grow, process and transport cannabis are scheduled to be awarded July 1. 

Applicants who meet the social equity criteria established by the State of Illinois have scoring advantages in this highly competitive process. Hundreds of investment groups each spent thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting, legal and other services fees knowing that even the most elegantly constructed application likely won’t win. 

Vertically integrated cannabis companies that operate in Illinois, typically owned and operated by those who do not meet social equity criteria, offer formal and informal incubators that provide capital and resources presumably to get some sort of toe-hold into their operations which will some degree compete with their incumbent dispensary, cultivation and processing business practices. 

Holding companies comprised of investors, subject matter experts and others hoping for a stake in licenses that have multimillion dollar economic potential are also jockeying for position. A sprawling network of family and friends on Chicago’s South Side pooled together $100,000 to apply for 60 dispensary and 21 craft grow licenses. The 40 Acres and Mule holding company’s name references a post-civil war proclamation by General William Sherman intended to give freed people rights to the land that they served as slaves. 

That proclamation was soon reversed reversed by Andrew Johnson . A century and a half later, we shall see who gets to own a good share of the legal cannabis trade in Illinois. Whether those applicants will ultimately be selected in a process overseen by Illinois pot czar and former state senator Toi Hutchinson remains to be seen. 

What will the state do in the event of a tie, for instance? We’re on the case. 

Expect supply shortages to last for the foreseeable future

Last fall Illinois cannabis executives were previewing a shortage of inventory as cultivators who were just expanding their growing operations needed time to meet recreational demand. Even pre-COVID, dispensaries often had to turn away recreational consumers in order to reserve product for card holding medical patients. 

Over the spring, as supply was scheduled to ramp up, COVID emerged. Inventory and operations continues to be impacted by societal change resulting from the virus. Most recently, dispensaries began moving product to secure locations to protect it from looters. 

Regardless of when and if society and public health return to some degree of normalcy, there is no guarantee that your favorite (or any) flower will be regularly available at your dispensary anyone soom. This is largely due to severe capital shortages that were infecting the cannabis industry months before COVID. Cultivation facilities require not only time to construct, but tens of millions of capital for an industry restricted from obtaining debt. Cannabis companies  still struggle with capital constrictions today, meaning production capacity is only a fraction of what it was estimated to be at this time six or twelve months ago. Further, there remain several dispensaries licensed to open in Illinois right now that haven’t – largely due to supply shortages. 

Do you think the situation will be any better when 75 more businesses come online in the next 12-to-18 months? Me neither. For those who seek flower, the illicit market will continue to be a possible option.

What it means to know your dose 

The canna-curious who maybe dabbled in college or never tried before because it was against the law now have legal permission to engage the green. Grown In co-founder Mike Fourcher, a first-timer over Memorial Day weekend, gave a thumbs up to his experience. He’s not alone. 

Everyone of course has their own entry point to the plant. Whether it be therapeutic, social or experimental, there is not enough quantitative and qualitative information related to dosage quantities and the effects they have on you, the individual. As cannabis consumption morphs from elicit to medically practical to socially comparable to wine and spirits, it’s helpful to knowthe strength of that gummy. Will it provide for a mellow sensation or rather have you reaching for a holy book or Allman Brothers playlist to help you cope with the unsettling sensation of being overly imbibed. Inquiring minds want to know. If possible, ahead of time. 

One of the most interesting cannabis companies in Chicago right now, Equlibria, sells subscriptions to personalized dosage advice for consumers of CBD plants it grows in Colorado. The hybrid technology/plant-touching company raised $2 million earlier this year. 

Professional development at cannabis companies 

Unless you are just coming out of school for the first time, it’s likely you developed professional expertise in an industry independent from cannabis. If you are still reading this column, you obviously have an interest in the industry. 

How can you apply your professional skills and competencies to this emerging industry, as well as learn about its unique scientific, cultural and regulatory aspects? Read. Network (albeit virtually, for now). Reflect. 

Early on in my career, a mentor taught me that “continual and perpetual education is the key to success” Nowhere is this principal more true than in the cannabis industry.

Your voice 

The information Grown In delivers to our growing community is predicated on conversations we have with the community. Your voice matters. We welcome all feedback, criticism, ideas and opportunities as we continue to share stories and information most pertinent to cannabis industries in Illinois and beyond.

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.