Marijuana Business Magazine

GUEST COLUMN ¬ t was big news back in 2015 when my law partners and I left a promi- nent national law firm in Chicago to build a medical marijuana company, PharmaCann LLC. With six separate state administra- tive agencies regulating the business in Illinois, not to mention the various local and federal issues we had to keep in mind, we figured that we had a certain advantage as attorneys in managing all that legal complexity. Indeed, we did find some early suc- cess, raising $20 million from inves- tors and earning licenses from Illinois regulators to operate two cultivation sites and four dispensaries. But as we quickly discovered, in the cannabis industry nearly everything is more difficult than you think it’s going School of Hard Knocks Lessons learned by lawyers from launching a marijuana business by Jeremy Unruh to be. Our regulatory acumen did little to help us handle the daily challenges of starting and operating our business. Instead, we had to learn some hard lessons for ourselves, ranging from finding quality partners to improving the flow of communications within our new company. Lesson 1: Choose the Right Partners As we looked at vendors and contractors to work with, we met a lot of people who were incredibly enthusiastic about our venture but not experienced enough to understand the complexity of our undertaking. At the time, nobody in the Midwest had any cannabis experience whatsoever. Many assumed that our operation would resemble what the western U.S. cannabis industry looked like. And we briefly met a lot of very experienced people who had abso- lutely no enthusiasm for working with us because they were scared off by even the idea of being in the marijuana business. This included professional services providers, such as lawyers and IT consultants, and also vendors, like voice/data provid- ers. Indeed, even buying Post-it notes is more complicated when one has a cannabis company. That left us struggling to find people to work with us on building out our facilities and managing our opera- tions. At first, we leaned on friends and friends of friends, but eventually we figured out that we had to specifi- cally solicit recommendations from people with operational expertise and get their guidance on identifying sup- pliers who had both enthusiasm and competence. A referral from one of our board members, whose company had built out some complicated high-tech work spaces, led us to the team that eventually took on oversight of a lot of facilities challenges. Having someone who could corral the architect, contractors and boots on the ground to keep a project mov- ing forward and ensure that respon- sibilities were being divvied up to the right suppliers meant that we had more bandwidth to deal with other things, such as recruiting top tal- ent, navigating the whims of newbie 158 • Marijuana Business Magazine • November / December 2017 Jeremy Unruh. Photo courtesy of PharmaCann LLC