Naperville native can start his medical pot business
Some business strategies remain constant, no matter the generation.
As vice president of sales and marketing for a new company called Quantum 9, Naperville native Chris Bochenski, 42, talks about "stimulating the economy" and the "growth potential" for entrepreneurs. Phrases such as "process management," "business platform," "augmentation" and "optimization" roll easily off his tongue.
His father, Ken Bochenski, talked business during a career spent as a senior vice president of operations and technology for Spiegel and a stint as president of the Mail Order Association of America. But when the retired Bochenski phones his son these days, his booming authoritarian voice tells you just how much things have changed in one generation.
"What's new in the world of ganja?" the dad inquires lightheartedly.
Quite a lot, the son can say in all seriousness from his perch on the cutting edge of a blossoming medical marijuana business.
On Aug. 1, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill making Illinois the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana, and the business world is jumping onboard in an attempt to be ready to go when all the details are finalized.
"The legislators and lobbyists did their jobs, and now it's time for industry to do ours," Bochenski says. A weekend Midwest CannaBusiness Symposium in Chicago hosted by the National Cannabis Industry Association attracted a couple hundred potential growers, distributors and investors, he adds.
"Telling my parents I was going into the cannabis consulting and technology business, that was an awkward conversation," says Bochenski, who has worked on software projects for big businesses such as Microsoft.
Marijuana has a long link to jokes about stoners and the centerfolds of plants in High Times magazine, so the son brought along a copy of Fortune Magazine with the cover story "Yes, we cannabis" about the growing business of marijuana. He says his dad and mother, retired nurse Linda Scholle, understand his business motives.
Publicly launched in Colorado last April 20, the 4:20 "Weed Day" holiday in marijuana culture, Quantum 9 boasts a "Cannabis is our passion" mantra and a team of experts that includes Ed Rosenthal, an iconic California horticulturist whose books on growing marijuana have sold more than a million copies. But Bochenski says the Illinois medical marijuana business climate is far removed from recreational pot smokers. The Illinois law allowing patients with specific illnesses up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks goes into effect Jan. 1, but it is expected to take more time to gear up the four-year pilot program.
"The bill is not about hippies smoking pot in the park. It's about safe access to quality medicine for severely ill patients," Bochenski says. Still, it is hard to overcome the stereotype. Bochenski says voice-activated smartphones would automatically dial Quantum 9 for people who asked about buying marijuana.
"We get a lot of interesting phone calls from Siri. But we don't touch the product," Bochenski says about marijuana. "We're software and consulting."
Quantum 9's products can monitor temperature, humidity, energy use and even plant quality for growers; keep track of packing and shipping for dispensaries; and monitor the supply chain to make sure no company runs afoul of Illinois' strict rules for medicinal marijuana.
Hiring master gardeners and horticulturists, the company does occasionally get applications from people who say "they have this experience" growing weed on the sly, Bochenski says.
"You should see our career email," quips Michael Mayes, the 30-year-old CEO of Quantum 9 and owner of marijuana cultivation and retail distribution centers in Colorado.
Bochenski continually steers the conversation back to the dozens of cannabinoids found in marijuana, only one of which creates the "high" sought by recreational users. "With the prohibition gone," Bochenski says he hopes the International Cannabinoid Research Society and the medical community can find new and safe ways to use marijuana to help sick people.
"People have been working on this for decades," Bochenski notes. Many in Illinois testified in favor of the bill by telling how marijuana helps relieve pain, nausea and the suffering of cancer patients and those fighting crippling illnesses. Bochenski met his wife, Jacqueline, at a fundraising cancer walk on the anniversary of the death of her mother, Lois Methling, who died from pancreatic cancer.
Bochenski appreciates the business model. "Illinois can use a new billion-dollar industry," his business side says. But he adds that the medical marijuana industry is about more than new jobs, new tax revenue and new businesses.
"I know I'm doing the right thing," Bochenski says of his new career in medical marijuana. "And making the world a better place."