The Key to Doing Business in Any Newly Legalized State: Listen and Learn

In June, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation allowing recreational marijuana possession and sales starting January 1, 2020. In so doing, he gave final approval to a new opportunity for businesses to grow a potential $2 billion market. Residents of Illinois will be able to purchase about an ounce of cannabis flower, and there will be limits on cannabis-infused products such as edibles or tinctures. Out-of-state visitors will be allowed to possess half the amount residents may obtain.

In a tweet, Pritzker stated, “We’re also creating a $30-million, low-interest loan program to create the opportunity for entrepreneurs in the communities that deserve it the most.” The program could revitalize neighborhoods that had been criminalized during the war on drugs.


However, some Chicago neighborhoods are debating whether to keep marijuana out of their ZIP codes before the law even goes into effect. Naperville, Libertyville, and Bloomingdale moved to block cannabis businesses even if marijuana is legal in the state. North Aurora, Deerfield, Bannockburn, and Mokena plan to vote on whether to ban cannabis in the coming months.

The new rule opens a world of opportunity for those hoping to expand existing medical marijuana businesses or jump-start new, innovative companies that can meet the demand of the market. Currently, fifty-five dispensaries in the state sell medical marijuana. The stores will be eligible to sell cannabis recreationally, as well. In addition, Illinois plans to award permits for as many as seventy-five stores, forty processors, forty craft growers, and thirty cultivation centers when the law goes into effect. Current medical cultivators will be the first eligible to apply for an adult-use cultivation center license.

But based on the reaction of some outlying suburbs, the lesson is clear: No matter whether you’re a new venture or a well-established company, working through the proper channels of government is key to gaining a foothold in any neighborhood poised to say “no.”

Show up and shut up

The first step to positive advocacy in any newly legalized state is to listen and learn. Suburbs with a lot of children will be a hard sell, but more industrial areas could be looking for growth opportunities.

Research the areas that make sense and get involved in local government. Services like CannaRegs allow you to have the most up-to-date information about bills working through state legislatures, sort through government documents, and track legislation as it progresses. It’s imperative to “be in the know” before laying out your case for business expansion or new development in front of local committees.

Once you have done your research and created a targeted plan, attend community meetings and talk to influencers. Observe what’s driving decisions and attitudes. What are their concerns? Is this a place where schools are underfunded or are parks in disrepair? What compels people to visit the area?

In the book Getting to Yes, two children fight over who can have the last orange in the house. To solve the problem, a mediator cuts the orange in half. Each child gets 50 percent of what they wanted. But while one child eats the orange, the other uses the peel to bake a cake. They both could have gotten what they wanted if they had communicated with each other. The book is an excellent example of how communication is key to a successful resolution.

Never walk into a meeting using phrases like “give me” and “I want.” Instead, listen to what they want first and then return with an action plan that has both give and take for each side. Understanding the community’s concerns will give you the opportunity to educate. Let them know what cannabis can do for their area in the form of job creation, tax revenue, and education campaigns to keep usage safe and limited. 

Have a campaign and action plan already built

Once you understand the concerns, you can address how adult-use cannabis would be controlled in the community. If there is a concern about too much access, be ready to provide examples of how cannabis can benefit the community. Remind naysayers access to cannabis actually reduces the number of drug dealers on the street.

As an advocate, go further by having an education campaign developed for children while providing individuals over the age of 21 information about how to purchase cannabis legally and safely. It’s a lot of preliminary footwork but will help demonstrate you take the community seriously and strive to ensure the cannabis industry is represented in a professional, legal manner.

At the end of the day, communities must recognize cannabis is here, whether in the illicit or regulated market. Local governments can ban the regulated market, but they can’t realistically ban cannabis. However, working jointly, you can provide local residents access to safe, regulated cannabis that meets standards approved by the state. 

Amanda Ostrowitz CannaRegs web MGmagazine

Amanda Ostrowitz is founder and chief executive officer at CannaRegs, a web-based subscription service that provides cannabis-related rules and regulations from state, county, municipal, and federal sources. Previously, she was a regulatory attorney specializing in cannabis regulations and banking laws.