The prominent Central Ohioans, best known for their namesake colleges, are diving into the state's new marijuana biz.

Linda Hondros admits she didn’t exactly have an open mind four years ago when she agreed to sit on an Ohio House task force charged with studying the issue of medical marijuana.

“I’m totally anti-drug. I was against it,” she says.

But the CEO of the Hondros Family of Cos. found herself going home after every meeting and sharing with her husband, John, thoughts about the testimony she heard from parents whose children suffered from seizures and veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“It opened my eyes,” she recalls. “It’s been so taboo that people don’t even want to listen. I was one of those. But when you see parents advocating for it because their kids have situations that really are daunting, you realize this is [about] quality of life. Everyone’s eyes are being opened to it.”

Linda, who represented the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on that panel, voted to recommend the landmark medical marijuana legislation that was enacted in September 2016. But when John suggested it as a new line of business for the family, whose other ventures range from for-profit colleges to wagyu beef, Linda was back on the fence.

The family’s name and reputation are linked inextricably to Hondros College, the chain of Westerville-based real-estate and insurance-licensing schools. How would signing that name to state applications for medical marijuana dispensaries affect what they spent their lives building?

“We’re the yin and the yang. I’m more the cautious one, and he’s the risk-taker,” Linda says. “I’ve been kind of the anchor, not necessarily always in a good way, but, ‘Hey, let’s slow down, let’s consider it, how does that really fit into everything else we’re doing?’”

They eventually invested in a big way, not only in marijuana but in CBD, or cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive cannabis extract that’s commonly derived from hemp and was legalized in Ohio last year. With five of the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries operating under the Hondros umbrella as Verdant Creations—in Columbus, Cincinnati, Newark, Chillicothe and Marion—and a line of over-the-counter CBD lotions and oils that just launched, cannabis is rapidly becoming the new family business.

Their daughter, Kelly Hondros, is spearheading a project that will see them enter hemp farming this spring. Her husband, Corey Poches, is the CEO of Motive CBD, the brand name for the family’s new CBD products targeting athletes, endorsed by the likes of former Ohio State lineman Nick Mangold. John says other goods in the works include a CBD-based foot cream for diabetics and products for seniors.

Sales of medical marijuana—in plant form, in prepared foods, for vaping, and in tinctures and topical creams—reached nearly $60 million across Ohio in 2019, a total the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily termed “good—not great” compared to those in the other 32 states that have legalized its use. More than 78,000 Ohioans have been deemed eligible to purchase medical marijuana based on recommendations from doctors. The state has approved its use for 21 conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Alzheimer’s, HIV, Parkinson’s and PTSD.

In terms of CBD, although many people swear by its use to relieve aches, pains, anxiety and stress, it is not FDA-approved and can only rely on testimonials in its advertising. John and Linda Hondros, with two back surgeries and two knee surgeries between them, are among those who say their Motive CBD products work for them.

The CBD line and medical marijuana dispensaries are just the latest joint ventures that excite the couple. Linda describes her husband as a serial entrepreneur—a lawyer by training, he got his start restoring houses in German Village—and John describes his wife as the one who takes ideas to the next level.

“I’ll be the backroom thinker, and Linda will take over and make things happen,” he says, sitting with his wife, Kelly and Corey in the Hondros offices in a former waterfront restaurant on Sunbury Road in Westerville. It feels more like a family hangout than a company headquarters. In fact, it’s a bit of both. Two of Linda and John’s four children still live in Central Ohio; all four have advanced degrees and are involved in the family businesses.

Although they’ve just entered a new line of work for which the rules are still being written, John says it feels like a good time, with their kids all coming into their own careers, “to slow down and do some things that we want to do.”

And what might that be?

“We’ll probably start another business. It’s just what we do.”

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