Illinois' budding cannabis industry has its own tech meetup

November 24, 2015

Cannabis tech is beginning to bud in Chicago.

Following the long-awaited opening of several legal cannabis dispensaries earlier this month, many Chicagoans can finally buy the medical marijuana they need to help treat their qualifying medical conditions.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2014, but until very recently, patients had no place to legally buy the drug — even with their physician’s prescription.

The recent news has caused quite a bit of buzz — little of which was lost on Chicago’s tech community.

That might be part of the reason why Canna Tech, a popular meetup for entrepreneurs interested in the intersection of cannabis and technology, has decided to host its very first event at 1871 on December 7.

“The whole point of [Canna Tech] is to bring together people who have an interest in building technology products and cannabis,” said Zach Marburger (pictured left), the event’s organizer. “The economy that’s built around cannabis — the ancillary businesses — is actually far more fruitful than business directly touching the plant.”

Marburger is the founder and CEO of Colorado’s Whaxy, an online cannabis resource, in addition to being the CIO of Cresco Labs, one of the largest medical cannabis cultivators and processors in Illinois. And he’s just relocated to Chicago from Denver to help rouse interest in the city’s blossoming cannabis tech industry.

Canna Tech, which launched in Colorado with just as much fanfare as you’d expect, has also found traction in the tech communities in San Francisco and Seattle. Marburger said he hopes to see it take off in Chicago, as well.

“People started looking at cannabis as a viable industry,” Marburger said about the event’s origins in Denver. “It formed into a group of talented people who were ready to make the transition on LinkedIn, saying they officially work in cannabis.

“That’s a big thing for a lot of people,” he added. “It verifies that there’s a lot of good opportunity here.”

But Marburger isn’t the only entrepreneur in Chicago who’s tuning into the potential of the city’s cannabis tech space. When he decided on 1871 as the monthly meeting spot for the Canna Tech, he met three home-grown Chicago cannabis tech startups —

, , and   — already using the tech hub as home base.

“They have super unique products, and they’re very early stage,” he said, adding that Chicago’s weed tech scene is also “fairly premature.”

Fairly premature, indeed. Illinois is far from the most progressive state on the issue of medical marijuana, but Marburger said he’s hopeful that both investors and lawmakers warm up to the idea.

At the moment, investors remain conservative.

“There’s still a risk inherent in the investment because of the legal status of cannabis, and that’s what prevents large institutional capital from entering the space,” Marburger said.

Still, Marburger was adamant that the national legalization of cannabis is on the horizon. In the meantime, some businesses are positioning themselves to be the leaders of the market — and are poised to make a pretty penny or two.

“People who are meeting real business needs will help shape the investment future of this space,” he said. “Not everything is a money-generating idea, but there are a lot of business in the cannabis space that are actually solving problems and making money today.”

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