Cannabis industry could create thousands of jobs for Illinois

Photo of J.B. Pritzker by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

A recreational cannabis bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign could bring hundreds of new jobs to Illinois even before the law goes into effect and retail sales begin.

The owner of two medical cannabis dispensaries said there are likely to be hundreds of jobs created even before the adult-use, recreational cannabis bill is in full effect.

House Bill 1438 creates the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. The measure has been sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk. He has yet to sign the measure, but when he does, HCI Alternatives owner Chris Stone expects to have the medical dispensary continue and to expand to offer recreational sales. He said he expects 15 to 20 new customer service jobs for his operations.

“You’re going to be seeing patient care consultants … which are going to turn out to be customer service reps,” Stone said. “They’re going to be trained over the course of the next six months.”

He said there would be even more jobs created for existing cannabis cultivators.

“Anything from cultivation managers, meaning veg managers, flowering managers, trimmers, extraction, production packaging,” Stone said.

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And that probably won’t wait for the adult-use program because another bill expanding and making the medical pilot program permanent, Senate Bill 2023, could soon be signed by the governor, though that measure has yet to be sent even though it passed both chambers.

“So I think you’re going to see probably increases between now and the end of the year with regard to the expansion of the medical program as well trying to accommodate for that,” Stone said. “You got two programs that are going to see really good growth here.”

Marijuana Policy Project Senior Legislative Counsel Chris Lindsey said the number of jobs created in the first year in Colorado’s legal cannabis industry was 18,000. He said it’s a safe bet thousands of new jobs will be created in Illinois.

“No question about it,” Lindsey said. “We’ve probably had thousands of jobs created just on the medical cannabis program and that’s been pretty limited. So now we’re going to see a much, much bigger system in place.”

Lindsey said there will be a lot of ancillary economic activity associated with the cannabis industry such as landlords, consultants, contractors, printers, packaging companies, lawyers and more.

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Additional jobs are expected once the state opens up more cultivation, dispensary and cannabis transportation licenses, something that will be based on a demand study that’s part of the adult-use measure pending the governor’s signature.

The jobs at HCI Alternatives would offer start at $14 an hour, Stone said, and will include benefits. He said applicants will get the necessary training.

“You would think you might need someone [with] maybe like a pharmacy background, or maybe some type of medical background, we actually like the idea of people that are customer service oriented, people that have a good way about them and that are quick either on their feet or with their head in terms of being able to learn product,” Stone said. “Not necessarily having any experience is maybe a good thing for us in terms of how we run our training.”

Stone said he doesn’t require drug testing for employees because some are medical cannabis patients already.

“We obviously do background checks and are provided fingerprints for our employees, but we don’t necessarily do drug testing,” Stone said. “We are looking for people that can use the product if they’re a patient, but at the same time aren’t using the product as they’re working.”

The adult-use measure now on the governor’s desk gives local governments control over whether to allow recreational sales in their jurisdiction. Stone said the areas that don’t allow retail sales could miss out on new jobs.

“If they decide that they don’t want to green light us to be able to do an adult-use secondary license and an adult-use at our current licensed facilities then we’re going to have to look elsewhere and then we’ll have to get the state involved for a variance to look elsewhere,” Stone said.

Chris Stone, CEO of Springfield and Collinsville medical cannabis dispensary HCI Alternatives.

Greg Bishop The Center Square