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Medical Marijuana Entrepreneurs Get Advice from 'Cannabusiness' Experts

By Kyla Gardner | August 25, 2013 8:36am
 Industry professionals gave advice to entrepreneurs hoping to start medical marijuana businesses at the Midwest CannaBusiness Symposium Saturday.
Midwest CannaBusiness Symposium
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NEAR NORTH SIDE — Don't store your cash and your marijuana in the same vault, a consultant warned medical marijuana entrepreneurs at a Near North Side conference Saturday.

Banks won't take your money if it smells like weed.

It was a beginner's mistake accountant Tom Marty saw clients learn the hard way in Colorado. Marty, along with other industry professionals from across the U.S., dispensed advice to 150 attendees of the Midwest CannaBusiness Symposium at the Embassy Suites Chicago, 600 N. State St.

"A lot of people think this is just: Throw a few plants in the ground, raise them, sell them and make a lot of money," Marty said. "It's actually quite difficult to turn a profit in this industry."

Gov. Pat Quinn signed Illinois' medical marijuana bill into law earlier this month. The Department of Financial and Professional Regulations will license 60 allotted dispensaries, and the bill goes into effect Jan. 1.

Lee Lockhart, a 34-year-old construction worker who wants to open a dispensary on the South Side, attended a panel that offered tips on on taxes, insurance, hiring and community outreach.

"The main challenge is the stigma associated with it," the Roseland resident said, adding that he hopes to soon reach out to Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) about his "cannabusiness."

Lockhart wants to open a dispensary to see those suffering get the kind of relief his aunt and uncle weren't able to feel at the end of their lives.

"It's a large opportunity to bring an alternative form of healthcare to those who need it," Lockhart said. "My aunt, she had suffered from diabetes, she had nerve damage, she was always in pain. My uncle had cancer. This kind of [medicine] would have helped them."

Patient need is the most common reason people enter the business, said Michael Mayes, CEO of a River North's Quantum 9, a cannabis consulting and technology firm.

"It will more resemble a nonprofit model than a windfall [profit] from selling drugs," Mayes said.

But it's not only the patients who will benefit from Illinois' soon-to-be-growing industry, Marty said.

"It creates a revenue stream to your local government that they're going to get hooked on."

Marty said medical marijuana generated $2.2 million in sales tax in Colorado from January to October in 2011. He said because the population in Illinois is so much bigger than Colorado, the state could expect to take in much more.