Cultivating opportunities within Illinois cannabis industries
In this Issue
Oakton expands cannabis course offerings as state plans for 63,000 new jobs in the sector

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker earlier today touted that 63,000 new jobs are coming to the state as a result of adult-use cannabis legalization.

Many of these specific new jobs were unfathomable only a few short years ago. However, healthcare workers, lab technicians, and substance abuse counselors - among other trained professionals -  are finding new employment opportunities with familiar functions. For those just entering the workforce, there are a lot of greenfields.

Accordingly, pioneering higher education institutions, like Oakton Community College, are developing curriculum and certificate programs targeted to individuals - of all adult ages and from all backgrounds - interested in working within cannabis-based industries.

Oakton, which has campuses in Skokie and Des Plaines, was among the first colleges in the country to provide accreditation for cannabis-focused job functions. The first cohort, which began last fall, included approximately 100 students.

Ruth Williams, Oakton’s Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, said the program is tripling in scope and doubling in size this spring. Through collaboration with industry partners like Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries and Oak Park-based PharmaCann, Oakton is providing cannabis-specific training for medical care providers, pharmacy workers and entrepreneurs.

Williams added Oakton is waiting on approval to provide a second certificate offering specific to cannabis transportation and supply chain logistics.

“It’s been nothing but positive energy,” said the 17-year Oakton veteran, who previously served as chair of the Biology Department.  “We really focused the cannabis curriculum on the medical industry to align with our health program. But these skills will also transfer to the adult-use market.”

In addition to the Oakton certificate and training programs, individuals interested in professional and social equity entrepreneurship opportunities can engage in a variety of public and industry functions.

On Thursday, January 30, Cresco Labs is hosting the next edition of its Entrepreneurial Roundtable Series at 1871 in Chicago.

This Saturday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the City of Chicago host the inaugural Cannabis Resource Fair at the UIC Forum.

Will weed be a wedge issue in 2020?

Bernie vows to legalize cannabis via executive order, while Biden prefers a more wait-and-see decriminalization approach that limits the potential for science and research.

Warren is a co-sponsor of The STATES Act, which protects banks and other businesses from federal interference when transacting in the cannabis trade. Mayor Pete hits Vegas dispensaries on the campaign trail while advocating for cannabis legalization, as well as the decriminalization of all drugs, in his Douglass Plan.

Klobuchar, true to her reputation as a beacon of the mainstream, recently evolved to support legalization. Yang is all in on mushrooms!

Will any of this matter come Monday when Iowans declare their favorites for the Democratic Primary?

Probably not, said a cross-section of politicos surveyed on the subject.

While there are growing industry and citizenry constituencies that are increasingly enthusiastic about the plant, campaign strategists are more focused on healthcare, jobs and foreign policy.

The distinction between cautious approaches like Biden’s stance on decriminalization (shared by Bloomberg) and commercialized legalization supported by the remainder of the field likely won’t factor into who becomes the democratic nominee.

And whoever that is will likely face an incumbent who retains the right to crack down on any commercial cannabis activity, but is proactive enough to switch sides and maybe even put his thumb on the scale if it helps him retain power.

A preoccupied and divided Capitol Hill is not expected to make much progress on any Act or initiative that normalizes an industry that is growing in most U.S. states.

Although legislation like The SAFE Act, which provides safe harbor for banks doing business with cannabis companies, passed last year with bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives, it stalled in the senate.

So without any kind of green light from Washington this year, expect to see Illinois entrepreneurs continue to transport mountains of cash in armored vehicles that purchased whatever amount of plant was grown within state lines over the last few months.

New York is probably next in line to legalize cannabis. If it can make it there… 

At some point, this reporter believes this election season, commercial cannabis industry normalization will bubble up from enough states that the federal government will be forced to confront a moment of clarity, and evolve beyond these hazy days.

Subscribe to Grown In: Illinois

People keep asking me to make a more personal call to action to subscribe to this weekly email newsletter. 

Here goes:

Please share this link to subscribe to anyone and everyone you believe to be interested in the innovation, investments and entrepreneurs who are creating a new industry in Illinois - somewhat on the fly. 

After covering dot-coms 20 years ago, apps 10 years ago and edtech 5 years ago, I personally believe cannabis - with its profound economic and social potential - is the most interesting business beat around right now. It's also an industry that is hiring!  

Thank you for reading. -Brad Spirrison

Cannabis Company Tracker: Kadens sells GTI shares, Cresco obtains 9-figure loan, PharmaCann's South Loop plans, Revolution to triple Delavan workforce

Each week, Grown In: Illinois shares a thing or two about the largest cannabis companies in the country that just so happened to be based in The Land of Lincoln.


Green Thumb Industries
Slater Sentinel reports that serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Pete Kadens sold approximately $655,000 of his interest in Green Thumb Industries, a Chicago-based company he co-founded with in 2014 with the company’s current CEO Ben Kovler.  

Kadens, who previously founded and sold SoCore Energy, was GTI’s first CEO. He left the company’s board of directors in February, and currently is a Board of Director of the Cannabis Trade Federation.

GTI, one of two publicly traded cannabis companies in Illinois, currently has a $2 billion market cap.


Cresco Labs
Cresco Labs, also publicly traded at around a $754 million market cap, on January 23 signed up a bunch of lenders that will kick in between $100 million and $200 million over a term of 18-to-24 months with an interest rate up to 13.2 percent.

The company also secured $10.5 million via the sale and lease back of a cultivation and processing facility in Ohio. 


Oak Park-based PharmaCann, a big winner in the Chicago dispensary lottery, is eyeing South Loop locations at 418 S. Wabash and and 900 S. Wabash, reports Block Club Chicago. 


Revolution Global
Elmhurst-based Revolution Global is planning to hire 50 employees in its Delavan cultivation facility, reports the Pantagraph in Bloomington. The company’s CEO Mark de Souza told the Pantagraph that Revolution anticipates employing 300 people for it a facility that will expand to 600,000 feet by the end of 2022.

Salvo Day One Documentary: Take Two!

Editor's Note: I included the wrong link to this video last week. Mea Culpa! Here is the item with the correct link to the mini documentary.


Salvi Media, a video production agency based in Ravenswood, chronicled a bit of history on January 1.

This 90-second "man on the street" video curates a few colorful conversations from those who stuck it out in line for hours at the Cresco Labs Sunnyside dispensary in Wrigleyville.

Salvi Media, started by Chicago entrepreneur, investor and former Notre Dame safety Christopher Salvi, is producing longer-form documentaries to focus on the societal transitions communities across Illinois and other states are making due to the normalization and decriminalization of cannabis consumption.

Roll Call: Don Harmon, Julie Knudson, Nonna Knapp

A few words about three pioneers and personalities impacting Illinois-based cannabis industries.


Don Harmon

President, Illinois Senate
Newly sworn in Illinois Senate President Don Harmon played a significant role in advocating for and crafting adult-use legalization in the state. This includes, according to the Chicago Tribune, accepting about $120,000 in campaign donations from cannabis industry executives and lobbyists. This includes $5,600 donations from PharmaCann co-founder and board director Steven Schuler as well as Schuler’s spouse.

Senate website


Julie Knudson
Chief People Officer, Green Thumb Industries (GTI)

A veteran human resources executive with leadership positions at Accenture, Yesmail and Echo Global Logistics, Julie Knudson is in charge of recruiting, culture and employee best practices at Chicago’s largest publicly traded cannabis company. She also spent two years as Country Director, Rwanda for the Clinton Foundation. She joined GTI in 2019.

Company Bio



Nonna Knapp
Co-Founder New Age Care and the Knapp Center for Cannabinoid Research 

After spending five years co-founding and running New Age Care, a medical marijuana dispensary based in Mt. Prospect, Nonna Knapp in 2019 started the Knapp Center for Cannabinoid Research. Among other things, the center curates articles and videos focused on clinical trials related to the treatment of cancer, migraines and Parkinson’s Disease among other ailments.


The Knapp Center