CHICAGO – Patients with serious illnesses such as cancer will be able to legally use medical marijuana in Illinois when a new law takes effect next year. But that isn’t the only change the state is likely to see.
The 19 other states that already legalized the medical use of marijuana also saw thousands of new jobs and shifting attitudes about the drug, says Robert Calkin, a longtime medical marijuana advocate and president and founder of the Cannabis Career Institute. Calkin was in Illinois for a series of seminars for entrepreneurs interested in working in the industry. He spoke with The Associated Press about what Illinois can expect as its law rolls out in 2014. This is an edited transcript.
Q: What types of jobs does the medical marijuana industry bring?
We focus on people who want to start their own business or get involved in a number of capacities: growing, dispensary, delivery and edibles. Or maybe you’re a professional that just wants to service the cannabis industry: an attorney, electrician, an insurance agent, real estate agent. All of those people can do their own regular thing but now attract a whole new group of clients.
In Rhode Island a dispensary just opened, they’re paying their grow masters $96,000 a year as a minimum. Then there’s site supervisors, dispensary managers and “budtenders” who interface with the patient. All of that requires training.
Q: There’s a stereotype of these businesses being run by stoners. How does that jive with what you’ve seen?
A: I think you’d be surprised. The demographic of our class is mostly people over 40 who are trying to change courses in their career or want to do something new and exciting and can see it’s a lucrative opportunity. The younger stoner crowd might be out there, but they don’t have the business experience so they’re probably not going to be able to compete at the same level.
Q: Do people have to be worried about legal issues?
A: If you’re in a state that has regulated marijuana and get an attorney and an accountant and follow those rules, you’ll know how to do it. Illinois people should be feeling good because they’re going to have a way to do it legally.
Q: Have these laws changed attitudes about marijuana?
A: It’s definitely more mainstream. Once people even see one really informed presentation on it, generally there’s a sea change. A friend told me the other day about going to give a show (about medical marijuana) to a senior group. At the beginning they’re thinking one thing and at the end they’re demanding, ‘Where’s the doctor? I want my (medical marijuana) recommendation.’
It’s the same transition with any politician. They’re against marijuana until their wife or daughter or somebody has cancer and then they see how it works and all of a sudden they’re wanting to legalize it.
Q: What about people who say this is a slippery slope and will lead to more drug use and crime?
A: They just don’t know enough. That’s all. Unless it’s given to you by somebody with the right agenda, you’re not going to know.