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Changing marijuana laws lure investors to growing businesses

Some call it the “Green Rush.”

As state legislatures across the country peel back marijuana prohibitions, pot enthusiasts are rushing to stake their claim in the emerging business.

The same holds for Illinois, where entrepreneurial hopefuls attended the Chicago Cannabis Conference, held last weekend at one of the city’s premier tourist destinations: Navy Pier.

Owners of cannabis-friendly businesses from far and wide attended the two-day symposium and trade show, seeking a piece of the state’s burgeoning medical pot industry. They hawked everything from grow lights and hydroponic equipment, to security consultation for large-scale grow operations.

“It’s a gold rush. Everyone wants a piece,” said Jacob Walter, a sales rep for Aerostar Global Logistics, a Lombard-based distributor of plant supplements.

Also for sale at some of the roughly 50 booths were wares more traditionally associated with marijuana-themed events: glass pipes and pot leaf apparel.

With two signs pinned to his torso reading “Cannabis Investors Wanted,” Michael Sparks, a 74-year-old real estate investor from Elk Grove Village, wandered the aisles seeking partners with start-up cash for a grow operation.

“The race is on since they passed the law,” said Sparks, the finance director for a group called Cultivating Compassion Inc. He indicated he’d had several productive conversations, but no firm financial commitments.


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The state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, signed last year by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, will license upwards of 21 grow operations and 60 dispensaries under a four-year trial program.

The exact rules have yet to been finalized by state officials. But by 2015, those with a qualifying medical condition could use pot legally to ease their symptoms.

Because the power to grow and distribute pot will be in the hands of relatively few people, that could mean a big payday vendors landing contracts, said Matt Johnson, who owns Lush Lighting, a Niles, Michigan company that sells LED grow lights,

He praised the organizers of the event, sponsored by HempMeds, for the business-centric theme.

Johnson said he’s attended events in Colorado — where recreational weed use is legal — and many attendees there seemed more interested in consuming copious amounts of “high grade cannabis.”

“This is one of the better crowds. Usually there are a lot of potheads. Here there are a lot of business-oriented people,” Johnson said.