When my husband called from work last August to announce he was going to quit his steady job to pursue his dream of starting a business, I wish I could say I was entirely supportive. That there wasn’t a pit in my stomach at the thought of him sacrificing his stable law career to work for a startup. A startup that we were unsure would ever open for business. A startup that might never get government approval to conduct business at all.
A startup selling pot.
At the time, Matt and his business partners were pursuing licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state of Illinois. In 2013, then-Governor Pat Quinn signed The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act into law – making Illinois the 20th state to legalize medicinal pot. The four-year program officially kicked off in January 2014, but applications for companies to actually grow and sell weren’t accepted until late September of that year – so when Matt decided to leave the legal world for what seemed to me like some real-life version of “Weeds,” we still didn’t know if his company, Green Thumb Industries (GTI), would be awarded any of the 21 coveted cultivation licenses. I knew they had a good shot – that he had partnered with smart, hard-working professionals who were committed to making this happen – but there was also so much that was out of their capable hands. What if the licenses were never awarded? What if the program just never took off? What if the person reading the applications was … I don’t know … high?!?
And what, I wondered, was our 1-year-old daughter going to someday tell her friends that her daddy did? “He’s a drug dealer”??
But, I also knew that Matt had been looking for a career shift. For years, he fantasized about joining a startup, but after nearly a decade as a lawyer, a switch seemed daunting. So when the GTI opportunity came along – in a new industry with a chance to get in on the ground floor – it was too good to pass up.
Ultimately, my desire to have a husband who was happy in his career outweighed my litany of concerns and hesitations. Matt gave notice at his law firm the next day, and two weeks later – on our five-year anniversary – he spent his final day as a practicing lawyer.
Six months later, GTI got the news they were hoping for – they won three cultivation licenses and one dispensary license, making them the most decorated group in the state. My husband would officially be selling marijuana for a living.
The eight months since have been a whirlwind. Sometimes, I forget entirely that Matt is working in an industry that was, until recently, illegal. GTI is run like a top-notch, ultra-professional business in any industry, with a focus on making sound business decisions that are best for their investors and clients – in this case, patients, and often very sick ones. Matt’s days are spent making sales calls, managing personnel and meeting with doctors. If there’s a difference between GTI and other non-marijuana companies, it might be that they know they’re under a microscope and make their decisions with perhaps even more attention to doing business by the book.
Other times, Matt’s job takes him to a hemp farm in Kentucky, and I’m reminded that we’re in uncharted waters. Like when I was working in my downstairs office one day, and overheard our daughter’s nanny on the phone. “Did I tell you what Maggie’s daddy does for a living?” she said excitedly to whoever was on the other line. “He sells marijuana!”
No one ever giggled over Matt’s law career.
When I started a new job recently, my coworkers asked me what my husband does for a living. The switch from “he’s a lawyer” to “he runs a medical marijuana company” took some getting used to – as did the wide-eyed reactions from my new colleagues.
There are plenty – plenty! — of jokes made about Matt’s “product,” which is to be expected. (Although, enough already. I get it. We’re in the weeds.) But I’ve also heard concerns that took me by surprise. Questions from friends like whether it would look bad to a future employer to “like” the GTI Facebook page, or whispers about what he does as if he’s a part-time dealer on the street corner. I’ve found myself reminding friends that this business is legal, and this product is medicine.
Nine years ago, my father died of multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood. I remember being in high school when he was first diagnosed in 1999, and my mother asking me about pot during dinner one night. “If dad needed marijuana, you could get it for him, right?” she asked. I laughed, awkwardly, and said yes. If dad needed weed, I could get it. It never occurred to me that one day marijuana would be the family business. Had my father’s sickness occurred 15 years later, he would have been able to get relief legally and safely. That’s a much better option than a 17-year-old hush-hushly asking the shady characters at school for a dime bag.
In July, GTI became the first cultivation center in the state to receive approval to start growing medical marijuana. They were the first dispensary in the Chicago area to get the official OK to open – the ribbon-cutting for The Clinic Mundelein, in Lake County, was on Sept. 21. (Though, I should note, those doors aren’t open to just anyone – the security at these medical pot dispensaries is at Pentagon levels.) By early November, patients with any of the 40 qualifying conditions – including cancer, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia and spinal cord disease – will be able to buy medicine, so long as they have a registration card. It’s been quite a year.
I’m glad Matt made the leap from law. He loves his job. He’s excited to be one of the few on the forefront of an industry unlike any other, never quite knowing what the next day will bring. And he’s helping people.
I still wonder about our daughter. When Maggie starts kindergarten, what will she say on Parent’s Day? “This is my dad, he sells marijuana”?
Yes, that’s exactly what she’ll say. We’re proud of it, and we want her to be, too. And anyway, by then medical marijuana will be old news. We’ll just be boring mom and dad again.