Cashing In On Cannabis: Companies, Individuals Look to Make Big Bucks With Legalized Marijuana

Recreational cannabis will become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2020, and in the days leading up to the big day, Illinois residents will hear a lot about equity, justice, freedom, and just about every other description of the societal change the new law represents.

Oh, and there’s one other thing: money.

People are literally lining up to get a piece of the Illinois pot pie. That includes not only the growers and dispensary licensees who stand to make millions on the state’s newest cash crop, but also thousands who hope to land jobs at dozens of new businesses statewide.

“Horticulture background is nice,” says Ashley Peterson, the CEO of the cannabis firm Justice Grown. “But whatever your desire is, we can train and teach.”

Indeed, at a recent job fair at Oakton Community College, hundreds were heeding that call.

“I thought it would be a good idea to get into another industry that is expanding,” said Oakton student Courtney Hoppman. “That way I can have a wide variety of what I can do and where I can work.”

Oakton is one of the Illinois junior colleges offering cannabis courses, and even Dean Bob Sompolski seems surprised at the response.

“I haven’t seen this type of response since the days of I.T.,” he said. “Classes are filled---and that comes at a time when community colleges in Illinois are seeing drops in enrollment!”

Antoine Hudson was among those lining up for an opportunity. He said he hopes to one day open a cannabis dispensary, but understands he needs to set his sights on a realistic beginning.

“I’m willing to start as a budtender,” he said. “And work my way up through the ranks, just to learn any type of information.”

Southern Illinois University is also planning courses in the area of cultivation. And with the anticipated need for employees, industry representatives say they welcome the training.

“It closes some opportunity gaps that exist,” Peterson told NBC5. “And it’s the wave of the future.”

That future is now in states like Colorado, which has seen over $7 billion in sales since marijuana became legal five years ago. The state offers a case-study in the secondary industries which sprout up around legal pot.

“I try to bring fine-dining to the cannabis industry,” says Denver chef Jarod Farina. “My typical clientele is the average person who’s in love with cannabis, and wants to see different uses for it.”

Farina, who goes by the moniker Chef Roilty, offers cannabis cooking classes, with preparations for everything from pastas, to spring rolls and souffles. THC has no flavor in his dishes, but it can have an effect.

“Whether or not you can get a buzz off of this depends on each individual person,” he told NBC5, as he prepared THC-infused shrimp alfredo. “It depends on the individual, and I think, learning your tolerance, and building from there.”

Colorado is also home to a significant industry in what has become known as “canna-tourism”. One company, 420 Tours, offers everything from all-inclusive vacations, to a sushi-and-joint-rolling class, and even a couples cannabis getaway with an available “marijuana massage”.

Back in Illinois, would-be budtenders packed a suburban hotel last weekend, as a company called HempStaff offered foot-in-the-door training for what is expected to be an exploding industry.

“It is a very competitive market right now,” says Farrah Vorhauer, HempStaff’s senior director of training. “And we want reliable people.”

Dozens of would-be reliables listened Saturday, as instructors walked them through the products which will go on sale in January, potential effects and benefits, even the do’s and don’ts of the hiring process.

“Most of these business owners have spent a lot of money to open up their shops,” Vice-President Rosie Yayielo told NBC5. “The last thing that they want to know is that the people who are working for them think this is a game.”

Far from a game, she warned, marijuana is a business, and candidates might not want to mention a background in illegal pot during the hiring process.

“Because what do they actually know about the plant?” she asked. “Even if they know how to grow it, do they know what’s in it?”

Bonnie Campbell travelled for the training from LaSalle-Peru.

“I’m a nurse and I love the idea of helping people and I’m getting close to retirement, trying to figure out what I’m going to do next,” she said. “And this might be it!”

Another student, Ivona Gal, told NBC5 she sees a big future for the industry.

“I just see all the medical benefits now and I’ve completely done a 180,” she said. “I just think it’s going to be everywhere.”

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