Would-Be MediPot Growers Spend a Fortune With Zero Guarantee

Applicants who've spent $250,000 could lose entire investment if state officials don't grant them a license

Think you’d like to try your hand as a grower in the state’s budding medical marijuana business?

Better bring a boatload of money.

Any day now, the State of Illinois is expected to award the licenses for growers and dispensaries in the state’s new medical marijuana program which will officially begin serving patients next year. Out of more than 150 applicants, 21 licenses will be granted to growers.

"There is a financial risk that you take with any business that you have," said Garrett Bruns, an applicant from downstate Onarga. "We don’t know what the market will be."

Bruns and the five others in his investment group hope the market will be substantial. They have already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in his would-be enterprise. And if they win the licensing lottery and are awarded a growing franchise, their investment will run into the millions.

"It’s a learning process, just like everything else," Bruns said. "Something completely different that intrigues us."

So far, Bruns’ group has spent $250,000 on the application alone (it runs 713 pages). If he gets a license, he will immediately have to pony up an additional $2.2 million in the first two weeks, part of which is a $200,000 license fee. The rest of the money goes into escrow, with $500,000 returned each year of the state’s pilot program.

And the marijuana? It will have to be grown indoors in either a warehouse or greenhouse to guarantee security and provide healthy plants during Illinois’ tough winters. Bruns’ cost? About $7 million.

"Everyone in life has to take chances," he said. "And this is one of the chances we’re willing to take."

After the regulatory disasters some states have encountered with almost comically lax programs, Illinois officials insist this medical marijuana system will be airtight. Growers are required to provide intense security. All packaging must be childproof, smellproof, resealable and bar-coded. Chains of custody are required for every plant, proving how it is harvested and where the pot went.

"I think if anyone knew the true numbers of how astounding it is financially to get this started and follow it to the end, with no understanding of how many patients are going to be there, we have a huge opportunity for loss," Bruns said. "Before an opportunity for gain."

One of the more than 200 applicants trying to get a dispensary license said she’s already spent more than $150,000. Phil Rogers reports.
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