PEORIA — The business outlook for the Illinois cannabis industry is sky high, with plenty of room for the little guy.
That was one of the key messages Saturday at the C3 Cannabis Expo and Job Fair, hosted at Illinois Central College’s North Campus by state Rep. Jehan A. Gordon-Booth. The Peoria Democrat, one of four lead architects of the state’s recreational-marijuana legislation, told several dozen attendees that the social-equity provisions of the law intend to spread opportunity beyond big-bucks investors. She stressed that residents of “targeted communities” — areas with above-average rates of marijuana-related arrests, convictions and jail sentences — will get special consideration regarding licensing for the growing, packaging, transporting and selling of marijuana products.
She said would-be entrepreneurs need to ask themselves this question: “Who is going to have ownership?”
Business already is booming, with $40 million in sales in January, the state’s first month of recreational pot, said panelist Ron Holmes, co-founder of the Chicago-based Majority-Minority Group, which aims to create more minority-owned businesses, especially in the cannabis industry. He said that by 2024, Illinois’ marijuana sales will blow past $1 billion, with 75% of that total in recreational usage.
Out-of-state vultures already have been swooping in to try to arm-twist possible entrepreneurs (especially those elevated by social-equity provisions) into bad-faith partnerships. Holmes warned attendees to do their homework and seek legal advice, as too much money is at stake.
“This opportunity is life-changing,” he said. “It’ll change you and your family for generations.”
He and other panelists said that some industry opportunities, especially cultivation and dispensing, require painstaking marijuana expertise and a daunting application process. However, such rigors are not demanded by some aspects of the industry, such as transportation.
“You don’t have to know anything about cannabis,” Holmes said. “You have to know about logistics.”
Growing and selling pot can demand start-up capital ranging (depending on location in Illinois) from $2.5 million to $6 million, speakers said. However, smaller-scale operations are possible, such as creating infused and vape products. A key with such businesses is setting up a solid plan and team, said Kareem Kenyatta, also a co-founder of the Majority-Minority Group. He said fledgling operations can’t just wing it.
“Their Uncle Louie used to cook brownies in the ’70s? This is different,” he said.
Meanwhile, some options involve no pot licenses or know-how. Holmes said there are almost innumerable ancillary businesses, including those in supply chain, marketing, law and accounting.
“Whatever you do well today, there’s room for you in the cannabis market,” Holmes said.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.