It should be a routine call, scheduling a visit from the cable guy to set up internet access. But nothing’s routine when you’re running a medical marijuana company.
“There’s this flurry of activity that starts with the account manager with a headset on in a cubicle,” said Jeremy Unruh, general counsel and compliance chief at PharmaCann, which operates two cannabis cultivation centers and four dispensaries in Illinois. “‘Can we do it? Can we not do it? How do we contract with a marijuana company?'”
Unruh has grown used to the uncertainty, the “let me ask my manager” responses. The cable company ended up working with PharmaCann, but Unruh said the extra steps it took are an illustration of what it’s like building a new industry, one that used to have to operate in the shadows.
“Engaging in normal business activities is made that much more complicated by the subject matter of what we do for a living,” he said.
State lawmakers approved Illinois’ pilot medical cannabis program in 2013, and dispensaries started opening two years later. Despite generating more than $42 million in retail sales so far, the nascent industry in Illinois is going through more than the normal growing pains of new companies. It’s marijuana, after all, and entrepreneurs are learning just how hard it is to shake off the stigma attached to a substance the federal government puts in the same class as heroin and LSD.
Illinois companies also are grappling with slower-than-expected growth of patient numbers, so while they wait for demand to increase here, they are eyeing other states for expansion.
And beyond all those nuts and bolts is the overarching fear the new administration will nullify the industry’s progress. President Donald Trump showed support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail but Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general nominee, has criticized the drug’s legalization, saying he won’t commit to disregarding federal law.