The owner of Cannabis Central in Washington state and Cannabis Consulting Nationwide has put together some video resources to give you some insight into common aspects of the cannabis industry.
If you are thinking about applying for an Illinois cannabis license, you are in the right place. I have helped a number of businesses with the application process for adult-use cannabis in the great state of Illinois.
As many of you know by now, January 1, 2020, was the first day of adult-use cannabis retail sales in Illinois. The sales numbers were staggering, no surprise there, and Illinois is just getting started.
The stores which are open now, effective January 1, were themselves fast-tracked as they were previously and currently medical marijuana stores and much like Colorado, they flipped a switch on 35 medical outlets and began the sale of “recreational cannabis”.
I despise the term “recreational” as it pertains to legal cannabis, but that’s a story for another day. Now, here is a quick summary of the work I’ve been doing recently with three different businesses in Illinois.
If this is a path you are interested in following, there are a few things you should consider. I’ll outline them below. If after reading these considerations you are still set on venturing into this complicated industry, let’s chat.
What you need to consider before applying for an Illinois cannabis license
As it currently stands, the window for adult-use cannabis applications in Illinois is open. Many early applicants have already filed all their paperwork, so you may be a bit behind the curve. But it is not too late, as the winners won’t be released until May of this year. Before you start filling out your application, consider these points:
Do you qualify for Illinois’ cannabis social equity program?
The cannabis industry has a bit of an ugly past when it comes to how people who possessed or consumed the plant were treated. Specifically, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
Because of this, the state of Illinois is doing their part to right previous wrongs with their social equity program. 20% of available points are based on social equity status! Here are the qualifications:
- 51% of owners must live or have lived in a disproportionately affected area.
- 51% of owners must have an expugnable cannabis offense
- At least 10 employees must satisfy the previous two qualifications
If you are entering this industry, it’s on you to do your part to create opportunities for families, communities, and regions that were harmed by the war on drugs. But, if you or your team were affected negatively, you may have a leg up on the competition.
Can you get financing for your dispensary?
One of the toughest parts about starting a retail cannabis storefront is finding financing. We have an entire article talking about ways to acquire banking for your cannabis business.
If you don’t have access to startup funds, or even a way to store your cash and pay your bills, you shouldn’t consider applying for an Illinois cannabis license. You can reach out to me, Rob, if this is a particular area of your business plan you are struggling with, as I went through this myself.
Do you have any experience in the cannabis or retail industry?
Illinois is going to choose applicants that have the best chance of success. So, if you have any experience in the cannabis industry, or even with a successful retail business in general, that is going to go a long ways.
If you don’t have any experience, don’t worry. I was the exact opposite of the type of person that you would think would want to open an adult-use cannabis store, yet here I am, more than 5 years later.
It won’t make or break your success, as long as you check the last box of our considerations – passion.
Do you have passion to start a cannabis business?
At the end of the day, this will be one of your most trying, difficult ventures yet. This industry is still figuring itself out, and it won’t be easy.
Your “why” for getting into this industry needs to be big enough to help you get through the tough days. Because they will come.
But if you have true passion for helping people in your community, then you should definitely apply for an Illinois cannabis license.
Now, here is some of the work I’ve done in Illinois.
CCN Lends A Helping Hand To 3 Retail Cannabis Applicants In Illinois
The deadline for new applicants in the newly formed adult-use cannabis system was January 2, 2020. I had the great fortune to work alongside three (3) clients all vying for one of 75 new licenses to be decided upon by the State of Illinois sometime in May of this year.
In two (2) of these situations, I applied as a Principal Officer. This was an honor to be sure but it came with an enormous amount of responsibility and, given our lawsuit crazy society we currently live in, an extra measure of exposure as well. It means I am applying along with the applicants/owners themselves.
I have no ownership in said companies nor will I have any fiduciary rights or responsibilities but nevertheless, the real applicants are trying to present the most appealing package possible to the State of Illinois.
By having an individual thoroughly experienced in the world of legal retail cannabis operation, they are saying to the state in effect, “we are endeavoring to do the right thing”.
If these two applicants are fortunate enough to be chosen, then contractually I have insisted on being named as Compliance Officer in the companies going forward.
This is necessary in my view to protect myself and my company, Cannabis Consulting Nationwide. If they follow my counsel and heed my advice in the never-ending effort(s) to stay compliant, then I will stay on as their Compliance Officer.
If not, I have an exit strategy to legally extricate myself from a situation I am uncomfortable with moving ahead with and being a part of.
I also was asked by the above-referenced applicants to help by reviewing and in a few cases, actually writing elements of the application, known as Exhibits.
The range and scope of information and plans the State of Illinois was inquiring about was amazing. I felt I was a tremendous help in the tone as well as the content of the required writings contained with the many exhibits, all required elements of the entire application.
In the third application, I was not asked to be a Principal Officer applicant, but I was much more involved in the writing(s) required as part of the application. I wrote in their entirety or very nearly all of the following Exhibits:
- Floor Plan
- Community Engagement
- Diversity Plan
- Operating Plan
- Business Plan
I contributed in other areas pf the application but the above were my purview and frankly, they were right in my “wheelhouse”.
Are You Thinking About Applying For A Retail Cannabis License In Your State?
If you are applying in your state to garner a license to retail cannabis, please contact a qualified consultant to help. I have been licensed and open and operating in Washington State since August 2014.
I have been successful and very proudly, infraction and violation-free. I have the boots on the ground, relevant experience many states are looking for when applying for cannabis retail licenses.
There is much value being placed on the presence of experienced cannabis operators, operators that is who have been in operating in a legal, compliance-driven regulatory framework.
There are very few individuals in the entire US who can claim the length of legal, violation-free operation in the heavily regulated retail cannabis industry that I possess and present via CCN.
So, do not be fooled, and do not rush to hire someone for the sheer sake of having experience in your corner. Hire someone who can help you in a real sense. Vet any cannabis consultant you encounter thoroughly.
My clients will attest to the fact I am a roll your sleeves up kinda guy who is the real deal and knows the ins and outs, the good and bad, the ups and downs of this still controversial and misunderstood business world that is legal cannabis.
Good luck to you all. Happy New Year!
Rob Hendrix, owner
Cannabis Central of Ellensburg
Cannabis Consulting Nationwide
This is Rob Hendrix. I am the owner of Cannabis Central of Ellensburg, a retail cannabis shop in Central Washington State. I have been open and operating, successfully and violation-free, since August 2014. I have had a wonderful relationship with the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) here in the Evergreen State and recently, my good record and great relationship paid dividends.
Today, I want to share with you an issue we ran into recently that does a good job showcasing just how complicated the cannabis industry is, and how high the implications are if you make mistakes.
The Monthly Cannabis Excise Tax Remittance and Payment Procedure
My admin manager has been with me for more than three (3) years, having come to Cannabis Central via the pharmacy industry. She was a wonderful addition. Among her other duties, she is responsible for remitting our excise tax collected and sending it to the Marijuana Tax Unit of the State of Washington every month.
Usually, I prefer to send off the taxes earlier in the month although it is not due until the 20th of the month following the month completed. We have been perfect in more than 60 consecutive months insofar as handling the excise tax collected and tax remitted. It was like clockwork and I never worried about this particular aspect of managing Cannabis Central.
You can imagine my shock and horror at an email I received 12/31/2019 that indicated I was in fact late with November’s excise tax remittance. Further, I was reminded in this email that this tardiness was in fact a violation of both WAC 314-55-089 and WAC 314-55-092. I had inadvertently broken the law. Also mentioned in this email was a statement to the effect, “Please pay ASAP to avoid having to start the process of suspending your license”.
Now, in all honesty, we had paid the taxes but the WAC(s) referenced above had to do with the accompanying form that was missing. But in the eyes of the LCB and the Marijuana Tax Collection Unit, the fact we were missing the necessary form was as bad as the taxes themselves not being remitted.
How We Quickly Fixed The Issue At Cannabis Central
We jumped on the problem immediately upon receiving the alarming email. We called and emailed the Marijuana Tax Unit and also emailed, called, and texted our Enforcement Officer with the LCB as quickly as possible. In addition, we scanned and emailed all supporting documentation to the Marijuana Tax Unit and our Enforcement Officer in a show of good faith that proved the taxes themselves had been paid days prior to the December 20 deadline. After all, we were just missing the accompanying form.
My message here is simple; we reacted with an “all hands on deck” approach and attitude. We humbly approached the responsible parties to demonstrate our acceptance of the seriousness of the situation and most importantly, we took responsibility for it 100%. We did not attempt to blame others. We made no excuses and we braced for the consequences of our actions which could have included a 2% late penalty, amounting to a potential $700 fine.
We received word a day later that due in no small part to our perfect track record of excise tax remittance and the total absence of infractions and/or violations of any kind, the people in charge agreed we deserved a break. We were informed of their decision not to penalize Cannabis Central in this matter. I took this as a great compliment and I let it be known to all concerned how appreciative we all were. Whew!
What Can You Take From This Story For Your Retail Cannabis Store?
The lesson here is to be rule followers. Treat your regulatory agency and the men and women in it as partners, not as adversaries. Communicate, in fact, over-communicate with your enforcement folks. A good reputation is hard to create and it’s easy to lose. Build a great reputation, sustain it, work at it and never abuse it or over-rely upon it. Stay hungry and humble in running your business and this definitely should include your attitude towards your enforcement agency in your state.
Happy New Year to all. If you’re considering entering this still controversial and misunderstood industry, contact me, Rob Hendrix, owner, Cannabis Consulting Nationwide. We can help with state-legal retail cannabis set up, applications, vetting, build-out, hiring best practices, inventory and cash management, and most importantly, compliance. I am currently working with clients in Missouri and Illinois.
Dispensary branding is something that many entrepreneurs go about all wrong. This crucial aspect of starting your retail cannabis business will make or break your success in the industry. It can be easy to assume that you know how best to brand and position your storefront.
But, there are a lot of factors at play here, including your customer demographic, what nearby dispensaries are doing, and the image you as the business owner want to portray.
I’ll explain in depth why this is such an important area of your business, and then I’ll show you some examples of the best branding in the cannabis industry today.
What is branding?
Let’s quickly define “branding” in general.
Branding is the act of shaping your brand. It is what you represent, your values, and who you guys are as a company. Lots of things go into your branding, including:
- Store name
- Brand logo
- Store design
- Voice on social media
- How you conduct business (your marketing)
Your branding is what makes you, you. It’s what separates your dispensary from the dispensary down the street. Without branding, every store would look the same, and sell to the same demographic. Now, let’s discuss the importance of dispensary branding.
Why does dispensary branding matter so much?
Dispensary branding just as important as branding any other type of business. You need to be congruent with your branding at every level of your business. This means that your online presence/marketing, your dispensary design, and the interactions between you and your employees with your customers all need to be congruent.
One of the biggest reasons I preach branding so much is because you can get really specific with who you are talking to in your advertising and messaging. If you want your brand to represent young, social, hip people, you can communicate in their language and gear towards their interests. Or, if you want to speak to an older, more professional demographic, you can take that stance. It’s all about resonating with your market.
Know your market in the cannabis industry!
Let me paint a picture for you.
Let’s say there are two dispensaries near you.
One is called “The Pot Shop”, and you walk in to be greeted by loud Rastafarian music, and graffiti-covered walls. The employees are grungy, and appear to have no sort of dress code.
The other dispensary is called “Patient Care Collective”. You walk into a quiet, neatly designed building that is indistinguishable from a medical office. The employees greet you, and they are neatly dressed in matching uniforms that are consistent with the rest of the shop. The dispensary is well lit, and has a very modern look.
Which one are you more likely to go to?
The answer likely varies based on what type of customer you are. If you are a college student looking for cheap cannabis, you probably would prefer the more chill, laid back store.
But, if you are an older medical patient with a serious illness looking for legitimate care, you’ll choose the more professional setting.
That is why it’s important for you to do your research when branding your dispensary.
Use your branding to stand out in crowded cities
Think about the shops near you. If they are all geared towards the “stoner stereotype” you can really set yourself apart and resonate with a whole different market by entering as the “professional medical care” facility.
You need to do your research to figure out what type of cannabis users are going to be shopping with you and cater to their preferences. If you are in a small college town with tons of retail cannabis stores geared towards the “college crowd”, you can really set yourself apart by branding your dispensary to a different crowd.
Need help defining your brand?
If you are struggling with branding your dispensary, or any other aspect of starting or running a retail cannabis shop, let’s chat. My name is Rob Hendrix, and I am the owner of Cannabis Central, my licensed storefront in Washington State. We have been profitable, and more importantly, violation-free, for over five years. I started Cannabis Consulting Nationwide because I know how frustrating it can be on this wild journey. I help other entrepreneurs in this industry get their stores up and running, and keep them running!
If you have any questions about any part of the industry, please, don’t hesitate to reach out. I am happy to spend an hour on the phone with you for free, just learning about your business and figuring out a way to help you reach your potential. You can contact me here. Look forward to hearing from you!
Great news for those looking to start a cannabis business in West Virginia – the state will begin accepting dispensary applications. It has been long overdue, but entrepreneurs will be able to make their move beginning December 19, 2019. Medical patients will be able to access their medicine within 18 months.