Entrepreneurs Getting Jump on Medical Marijuana Laws, Entering New Markets Quickly

Just days after the governor of Illinois signed off on the state’s medical cannabis law, a clinic focused on helping patients get MMJ cards when the program is up and running announced it was open for business.

Talk about hitting the ground running.

The opening of Good Intentions LLC and several other cannabis-related businesses in Illinois – including business consultancies and law firms – so soon represents a new trend in the MMJ industry.

Entrepreneurs are increasingly getting the jump on new medical marijuana laws, launching ancillary businesses almost immediately after measures pass (and sometimes before) in an aggressive bid to establish a customer base, develop a reputation, assist patients and gain a competitive advantage. This is particularly the case in Massachusetts and Illinois, both of which offer solid business opportunities.

It’s a marked turn-around from the past, when the business community was much slower to embrace medical marijuana opportunities.

Chalk it up to the growing acceptance of medical cannabis, the maturation of the industry as a whole and the unique characteristics of recent MMJ laws.

Several years ago, entrepreneurs were hesitant to dip their toes in the industry, and they certainly didn’t want to be one of the first out there advertising medical cannabis services and products given the stigma surrounding marijuana. Now, however, medical marijuana is much more mainstream, with 21 states and Washington DC having some type of MMJ law on the books. Public polls also find strong support for medical cannabis across the nation, and it’s no longer a questionable career choice among many professionals.

“One main reason you’re seeing businesses start quickly is that the perception is changing, in terms of this being actual medicine,” said Tammy Jacobi, who is president of Good Intentions and once ran a dispensary in Michigan. “People are no longer afraid.”

The decision to launch immediately after a law passes can pay big dividends. Good Intentions, for instance, received 5,000 phone calls the first week and has fielded another 5,000 since, Jacobi said.

One reason several consumer-focused businesses opened so quickly is because the law stipulates that patients must have an ongoing, “bonda fide” relationship with a physician who will recommend medical cannabis to receive an MMJ card. Good Intentions is working to help patients establish that type of relationship now so that they won’t have to wait when Illinois actually starts issuing medical cannabis cards.

“The thing that led me to get started so quickly is that I knew people desperately need medicine,” Jacobi said. “I knew that once this law passed, we needed to start helping people prepare immediately. Many of these patients have terminal illnesses, so the longer we wait the more suffering for them. A lot of them don’t have much time.”

Medical marijuana companies and organizations in other states – particularly Colorado and California – also are increasingly moving into these new markets quickly, setting up local offices, hiring sales employees or holding education events in the new markets as they look to develop a national brand.

Vicente Sederberg, a Colorado-based law firm, opened an office in Massachusetts the day after voters approved the state’s medical marijuana law last November. It had spent the previous six months training a local attorney to prepare for the launch.

The firm also held a seminar in Chicago last month focused on legal and investment issues tied to the Illinois cannabis law, drawing roughly 65 attendees and ranking as one of (if not the) first MMJ event in the state since the measure passed.

“The reason we like getting in on the ground quickly after a law is passed is that we like to influence the dialog and make sure it is focused on wellness and patient needs,” said Brian Vicente, By getting stakeholders in one room and sharing what we’ve seen be successful in Colorado and other states, we not only help patients but also business owners. And it gives you a real opportunity to get out there and drive clients your way.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association has noticed – and even participated in – this trend as well. The trade organization held a symposium in late August that attracted more than 200 entrepreneurs. It started planning and promoting the event months before the governor signed the bill.

The organization said it has already signed up nine businesses in Illinois (such as Midwest Cannabis Consulting, Miller Shakman & Beem and several prospective dispensary operators) as members, underscoring early entrepreneurial activity in the state.

“As time goes by and the market matures, the businesses in the industry mature along with it, which means they can anticipate opportunities more quickly and are building advocacy right into their initial budgets and business plans,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA.