By John Marx
ROCK ISLAND — The thin man wearing the gray baseball cap politely chuckled at the word “typical.”
Daily — between 8 a.m. and long after “typical” quitting time — Ryan Suma leaves the 45,000-square-foot medical cannabis cultivation center just off Andalusia Road that holds the key to his future.
“I usually leave when my girlfriend calls to remind me it’s time to come home,” said Mr. Suma, a partner in Green Thumb Industries and the on-site manager/owner for the center. “Sometimes, time gets away from me.”
Bright, energetic and eternally optimistic, Mr. Suma — a 20-ish-looking 30-something — oversees the site. In February 2015, GTI and it’s nine-person leadership team won the state permit to grow medical cannabis at the Rock Island-based facility.
Inside the fenced, nondescript site, 18 strains of medical cannabis are grown, dried, trimmed, cured, packaged and delivered. There is no part of the operation Mr. Suma, a Chicago native with deep roots in Boulder, Colo., does not have a share in.
“I like it that way,” he said. “You cannot help if you do not know.”
While living in Colorado and working in the hospitality industry, Mr. Suma witnessed the dawning of the medical cannabis industry. Today, 40 qualifying health conditions are covered under Illinois law for medical cannabis use.
So far, the Illinois Department of Public Health has approved 4,000 patients for the pilot program. That’s up 400 from December. Since sales started Nov. 9, Illinois patients have legally purchased nearly $1.7 million worth of medical cannabis.
“I was able to see things up-close while in Colorado,” Mr. Suma said. “Truth is, the train was going — leaving the station — and the group I am so lucky to be a part of stepped forward.
“The growth, we believe, is unlimited,” he said. “To have product leave the facility and be distributed is huge. It means we are aboard the train and it is running.”
In a not-so-typical world on a not-so-typical day, Mr, Suma said he works side-by-side with each team member to complete the grow-dry-trim-cure-and-deliver process. He is part horticulturalist, part artist, part warehouse man and part shipping agent.
“That’s why typical is never part of the conversation,” he said.
“The process and having a job in this industry — for all of us — is not run-of-the-mill,” Mr. Suma said. “There are so many standards to which you are held, and the state monitors — in a good way — everything that goes on.
“It’s new. It’s unique. And it’s a great, cutting-edge opportunity,” he said. “I cannot wait for the staff we have here to grow by many.”
A huge music fan, Mr. Suma lives locally and speaks with great delight about the Quad-Cities, especially the city of Rock Island.
“There is nothing the Quad-Cities lacks,” he said. “It has everything you need and an amazing music scene. I am impressed with Daytrotter and all it’s about, giving bands that first real break. There’s a ton of music talent locally, and the area is huge for bringing in great music.
“And Rock Island — I cannot say enough about its leaders,” he said. “They were progressive enough to understand what we are about and what we are trying to do. They gave us the opportunity and we are doing our best to make sure we do everything we can to prove the right decision was made. I cannot say enough about their progressive spirit.”
While the future continues to evolve, Mr. Suma said he knows the first order of business is a successful cultivation center.
“This is where it starts,” he said. “The bottom line to all this is having an impact on those whose symptoms are eased by what we produce. Helping others is a big part of what we do.”