QC Insusion

Nic Balzer is using his savings to start a marijuana-related business – before the drug is even legalized in Ohio.

It’s a risk Balzer and partner Robert Ryan started taking on last year, prior to a failed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

They attended a marijuana business conference the day after the failed November initiative from ResponsibleOhio. There, they got an idea: “We don’t have to wait another year for a ballot initiative,” Balzer said. “We can start producing something that’s derived from hemp.”

They’re biding their time, hoping Ohio lawmakers approve state legislation – House Bill 523– or voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow sick Ohioans to use marijuana for medicine. The bill at the Statehouse has passed the Ohio House of Representatives, while the Senate amended it this week. One key sticking point is while some hope to add more privileges for employees who legally use marijuana, business groups are pushing for protections to be able to drug test and fire workers who use the drug.

The duo’s Cincinnati company, QC Infusion, is indicative of the delayed promise for the marijuana business: Many are waiting for new opportunities related to the drug, but even when legalized there will be no gold rush, since only a small percentage of adults with debilitating illnesses will be eligible.

At this early stage, legalized marijuana is likely to attract passionate backers like Balzer, who quit his job in research and development shortly after the birth of his daughter to work full-time on QC Infusion. These are the people who ardently believe in the healing powers of the drug.

He and Ryan decided one of them would have to dedicate themselves full-time to the startup.

“It was no doubt the scariest thing I’ve done so far,” Balzer said of broaching the subject with his wife. “It’s hard even now, because there’s a lot of stresses and it’s coming from all angles.”

The company is unveiling its first product Friday, an oil extract derived from hemp. Hemp is a cousin of marijuana that doesn’t contain intoxicating levels of THC, the chemical that makes marijuana users high, and it’s legal to possess in Ohio. Its supporters promote it as having similar medical benefits as marijuana without as much stigma.

You can make things with hemp but you can’t grow it in Ohio, so Balzer and Ryan have to import it from other states. They’ll only sell online for now, but if or when medical marijuana is legalized – and polls show overwhelming support for it in Ohio– they hope to expand into a physical space and create other ways for people to incorporate hemp and marijuana into everyday life, from coffee to patches.