Navigating Cannabis Policy: A Deep Dive into Government Affairs and Industry Challenges

Welcome to Episode #19 of our podcast, where we dive deep into the intricate world of cannabis policy with a true industry expert, Christian Ficara, Vice President of Governmental Affairs at Cresco Labs. With a rich background spanning public policy, economic development, and legal affairs, Christian provides invaluable insights that resonate with cannabis industry leaders.

In this episode, we unravel the intricate regulatory landscape that shapes the cannabis industry. Christian shares his unique perspective on the urgent need for federal reform, highlighting the significance of safe banking legislation and its potential impact on reshaping the industry’s financial landscape.

Explore how the crucial components of access to capital, public safety, and equity intersect in the ever-evolving cannabis ecosystem. Christian delves into the challenges that entrepreneurs and businesses face, shedding light on the potential pathways to equitable growth.

Gain an insider’s view into the strategies and tactics utilized in effective lobbying. Christian emphasizes the importance of education, coalition-building, and tailoring approaches to match the priorities of lawmakers.

As we journey through this enlightening conversation, we uncover the transformative potential of federal cannabis reform, intricate details of safe banking legislation, and how these changes can foster economic growth and social equity within the cannabis industry.

Tune in to Episode #19 and join us in exploring the dynamic interplay between politics, policy, and the promising future of the cannabis landscape. This episode is a must-listen for cannabis industry experts seeking to stay informed, empowered, and at the forefront of industry developments.

Transcript:

00:01 Eric:
This is The Roots to Risk Podcast hosted by Eric Schneider, alongside Isaac Bach. Roots to Risk brings you insights, the latest stories, and long form discussions about the cannabis industry. You’ll hear interviews with industry leaders and their perspective on current and future trends, how they’ve built success and what challenges they have faced. Our goal is to facilitate candid conversations and provide informative content for the cannabis community at large. Let’s go.

00:30 Eric:
What is going on? I’d be first one. We got first. First

00:33 Isaac:
Live one. I got the first one.

00:37 Christian:
You’re from me, you guys. Man. Look at this spot. This place is crazy.

00:41 Eric:
Christian, what’s going on, my man? How are we doing today,

00:43 Christian:
Fellas? Good to see you guys in person.

00:45 Isaac:
I know. It’s been a while.

00:47 Eric:
I think the last time we were here, you came to that event. The holiday party. Yeah.

00:51 Christian:
Christmas party. What?

00:52 Isaac:
Great time. Cannabis Collective event. Yeah.

00:54 Christian:
Yeah. This place was packed.

00:56 Eric:
Yeah. We got some, uh, some additional events on the horizon, which, uh, we’re excited for. Well, keep me

01:01 Christian:
Posted. I’m right down the road. This space is awesome.

01:03 Eric:
No, absolutely. I appreciate it. Um,

01:05 Isaac:
Well, we’re overdue. Overdue for our, you know, biweekly beers,

01:09 Christian:
So, yeah. Yeah. We’re long overdue. Some things have been happening in your lives, though. Yes.

01:12 Isaac:
Well, I did get engaged since then. You know, he’s, he’s had some travel

01:17 Christian:
Time to have some honest conversations about how your wedding planning is getting in the way of our fun.

01:22 Isaac:
That’s fair. I mean, I don’t think Sarah would feel the same way since I’ve done literally nothing. Good luck

01:27 Christian:
To you.

01:27 Eric:
You just, you just gotta die on the hill on like two things and then just say yes to every day. I, I actually did that. I say like, if you wanna go food, like that’s what you care about, go for

01:37 Isaac:
It. I immediately, uh, Vigo the INB budget bands ’cause they were pretty terrible. So, you know, I cost us some money, but

01:45 Christian:
Yeah, we, I got married, boy, this is dangerous territory here, uh, over a year ago, coming up on two years, and we did the large band situation, and I think a, after kind of like the debrief of the wedding, we were going, probably just could have used a DJ that would’ve been just ridiculous.

02:05 Isaac:
You, this isn’t helping my anxiety with it, but I appreciate the honesty <laugh>

02:09 Christian:
Speech.

02:11 Isaac:
I love it.

02:12 Eric:
Oh, man. Well, well, let’s dig into it. Um, and, and really excited to have Christian on here today. I think it’s gonna be an awesome lens that you’re able to provide a little bit different than, you know, the operator side on the investor side, really like, you know, governmental affairs and, and really on the legal component. And, uh, really, really interested to hear your take on a lot of things. And just, just for everybody, quick background on Christian. Uh, he spent his career working to develop sound public policy and deliver critical economic development projects in his current role as vi our VP of governmental affairs at Cresco Labs, he works closely with the city and state and federal officials to shape and advance key legislation within the company’s multi-state portfolio.

02:53 Eric:
Prior to joining Cresco, Christian served as VP of External Affairs for New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, where he created and executed strategies to build public support for major city initiatives, including the city’s first public private cybersecurity hub and Brooklyn’s maid in New York campus. Um, he’s also served as chief of staff in Chicago City Council, working with Mayor Manuel’s administration and city agencies overseeing some of the city’s most ambitious projects, including the industrial Corridor modernization framework, Lincoln Yards, and one Chicago Square.

03:30 Eric:
Wow.

03:30 Isaac:
That’s an impressive, yeah,

03:32 Christian:
I useche PT for <laugh>.

03:35 Isaac:
I was gonna say, who does everyone have Right. In

03:38 Eric:
Their backgrounds? Because

03:39 Christian:
That sounds great.

03:41 Eric:
Whoever

03:42 Christian:
Wrote that, fantastic.

03:43 Eric:
It’s like, went to Johns Hopkins, went to Founder Shield, started an Alpha Root, and now we’re here. <laugh>.

03:48 Christian:
I I appreciate the streamlined approach. Sometimes the trajectory isn’t linear. Well,

03:52 Isaac:
On the C U B T thing, did you guys see that it actually tricked some, like a human being into working for it to click off a capcha? No. Yeah, it, the BT four literally tricked to human into checking off a capcha to like, build itself. We’re we’re heading towards, you know,

04:08 Christian:
I had just seen all the, the, the headlines this week where like the, the image, uh, development from some of these AI technologies for some of the things in, in recent news where people are like, was that really happening outside the federal courthouse? <laugh>? That’s a little bit scary.

04:26 Isaac:
We’re going way off topic. I love it. Oh, there’s

04:28 Eric:
No doubt there’ll be

04:29 Christian:
Some synergies with I’m sure chat G P T and cannabis know.

04:32 Isaac:
I would hope so. Although it’s so won’t, I’ve actually asked it to do some stuff for us at points, and it’s very finicky depending on like how granular it wants to get because of the federal legalization.

04:44 Christian:
I, I used it every now and then to like, see how accurate it would be on policy related stuff. And I would say maybe 65, 70 5% of the time it would hit. But every now and then it would come up with something blatantly off where it would, you know, yeah, you definitely

04:58 Eric:
Got

04:58 Christian:
It. Bill. You know, that year had a different sponsor than what it said. So trust but verify, I would say with, there’s

05:06 Eric:
No doubt GT

05:09 Christian:
And

05:09 Eric:
Other news, news what’s going on at Cresco. What, what are we, uh, what are we doing on a daily basis? What’s, you know, what are you most excited about, you know, in the, uh, the coming, you know, next 12 months. Obviously a lot’s been going on with, uh, with the acquisition of, uh, Columbia Care, I’m sure, you know, that’s, uh, you up a good amount of your time, so, we’ll, you know, let’s, uh, give us a quick update,

05:32 Christian:
Man. Exciting times, busy times. Um, you know, I think we were all, uh, really focused on, at least on the federal work stream last year, heading into Q four last year of getting safe banking across the line. And we had been working extensively with industry associations and grassroots, grassroots advocates, um, on the ground in dc and we feel like we were very, very close. Safe banking was there at the 11th hour in final negotiations with, with senate leadership. And one of the things that we left with in our minds at the end of the year, while disappointed that we didn’t get it over the line, it was like, we’ve got so much momentum after this year, we have to hit it hard in Q one.

06:14 Christian:
So, uh, this last, I would say these last three months, we’ve really been planning and plotting to make sure that we get federal reform done this year in one form or another. And that comes in the form, I think easiest, uh, with safe banking. Uh, that seems to be the low hanging fruit. The question seems to be as to how robust we can make it while keeping 60 votes in both, um, the Senate and then getting majority of that. Yeah. Moving it to the resident.

06:42 Isaac:
Anything in particular that you’ve noticed, like policy language wise that’s been made your hang up for one side or another? I mean, I, I know some things have been tried to be snuck in at the 11th hour.

06:52 Christian:
Yeah. There, there have been all these different kinds of combinations that have been floated over the last, you know, three, six months. The way it was going in Q four of 2022, they were talking about safe banking, but then adding in a couple of different components that included the Hope Act, which is a bill, uh, from Dave Joyce and, and a O c and then also the Graham Act. So there was a little social equity mixed in there. There was, there was gun rights mixed in there. Something that could achieve bipartisan support. And that seemed to be a good foundation that, that would’ve held 60 votes in the Senate.

07:23 Christian:
Um, I think this year the, the dynamics have changed with the industry, and you guys know this better than anybody, right? Like safe banking is great. It would’ve been great last year, it would’ve been great three years ago.

07:34 Christian:
But you’re seeing more and more throughout the industry at every level. Small businesses, entrepreneurs, larger employers like us. The the key factor right now is sustaining and scaling is access to capital, right? The loans are not out there. The, the private investment coming into companies is drying up, and that’s because they just need to see some kind of tangible progress at the federal level. It’s also the cost of capital, cost of capital interest rates when you’re working with small and, and community banks, right? It is very aggressive if you are a small business, if you’re a minority owned business, trying to scale, like coming in at a 40, 50% interest rate to do business with a bank is nuts.

08:14 Christian:
It’s like working with two hands, you know, tied behind your back and you pile on the inability to, to deduct business expenses. Two, it really is a combination to just, um, you know, restrain any type of potential and, and opportunities for investment within the space. So I think the focus has kind of shifted from last year, three, six months ago to now in the first quarter, safe banking really needs to include protections for private investors, institutional investors, capital markets, listing on the exchanges.

08:48 Christian:
’cause that’s where it becomes a more legitimized and professionalized industry. Uh, and if we can get that included in the banking protections, it’s a win-win for the industry. Small to large across,

08:59 Eric:
We even had that Mina from Merit Capital was saying the same thing. How like they have in investors and people that are really chomping at the bit waiting and just, they’re, they’re looking for those protections, right? Yeah.

09:11 Christian:
And a lot of folks don’t realize that, you know, cannabis is one of the most highly regulated industries in the country, right? Certainly, you know, at a state level, there are several hoops you have to go through in order to one, get licensed, but two, sustain yourself and grow and become profitable. And, you know, when you’re talking about, you know, securing real estate, for example, that’s not an easy thing to do. ’cause if the real estate is owned by a bank or if the real estate does business with a landlord and that bank doesn’t approve of any kind of cannabis related investment, you’re screwed.

09:45 Christian:
So it’s tough to one, find real estate two, cover the cost of that real estate while you go through the entitlement process, because you’re gonna need permits. You’re gonna need to be zoned correctly. You could be talking eight, nine months before you even open your doors. So if you don’t have that capital up front or lined up, forget it. Nobody’s got a shot at getting to the end of that process and then opening your doors without being in a serious financial burden place.

10:09 Isaac:
No, and I think what’s interesting right now, just given what’s going on with banks in general is like, has that been discussed down in DC and in the, the legal world of like how that’s impacted cannabis businesses, whether good or bad, because it might not be as big of an exposure. Yeah,

10:23 Christian:
I I don’t, I know we didn’t have any exposure to it. Certainly some cannabis companies did. Um, but what I will say is, you know, there is growing momentum for a Safe banking bill this year. There have been discussions between Leader Schumer’s office and banking committee chairman, uh, sheriff Brown, and then the leader on the senate Republican side, Steve Danes, and they’ve met several times and have spoken about getting this bill introduced and moving this through regular order, which is a good sign if you’re going through regular order. That means going through the banking committee and the S B D collapse.

10:55 Christian:
What we’re seeing right now in recent weeks have kind of pushed out that timeline a little bit. Right. It hasn’t, uh, from all indications pushed out drastically. But, uh, the banking committee chairman, uh, Senator Brown, indicated that this will probably delay us from getting this ball moving for at least a couple of weeks.

11:12 Isaac:
Which, which is interesting because the F D I C is now technically inuring some cannabis depositors. So it’s, uh, it’s a backwards way of gagging it done,

11:20 Eric:
Whether they like it or not.

11:23 Christian:
Yeah. A little bit twisted. But at the same time, I think, um, senators on both sides, house members on both sides understand the urgency here because you read headlines every day, um, that really speak to safe banking in two different ways. One, there’s a public safety element to this, and two, there’s an investment and access to capital element to it. On the public safety side, everybody knows for the most part that cannabis businesses are forced to deal in cash. So if there’s some criminal looking to, to make a score, it’s pretty easy for you to go into a cannabis cannabis dispensary and hold ’em up or catch a customer or a patient walking in, right?

11:59 Christian:
It’s low hanging fruit. ’cause you know they’re gonna have cash.

12:01 Eric:
I mean, that’s a lot of the claims that we see, like honestly on the insurance side is, is theft of property and, and, and break-ins. You know,

12:07 Christian:
And, and just today, the Michigan Attorney General issued a letter to, to the Saint Senate banking leadership basically saying, we need to get this done. We’re, we’re moving on indicting at least 12 people who’ve been doing this in a serial way. That’s crazy. Um, so, you know, this is a public safety issue, first and foremost for a lot of states and a lot of people. Um, and then on the other side too, it’s about inclusion. It’s, it’s about equitability, right? Like you need to make sure that Americans state, legal American businesses are on the same playing field as every other state legal American business.

12:39 Christian:
And right now, we’re not, cannabis industry is not on levy playing field. We can’t bank, we can’t get loans, we can’t process credit cards, we can’t list on us exchanges like our foreign counterparts. So it puts us at a significant disadvantage from, from our foreign competition, which is Yeah, I know. It’s, it’s so backwards. We’ve, you know, going back to last year, we had met with a number of senators and and house members and told them that exact line.

13:06 Eric:
I remember we were talking about this, and they like their jaws at the ground. So

13:09 Christian:
The members and, and, and business advocates in, in Washington were like, you gotta be kidding me. You mean, you know, like foreign companies are listing on the stock exchanges, but you guys can’t, yeah, yeah. I mean,

13:20 Isaac:
American dollars are going outta the country when they could be staying here.

13:22 Eric:
It seems like such an obvious thing, right? Like I feel like we talk about, you know, and, and obviously it’s not as cookie cutter, there’s a lot of dynamics with politics, but is it, like, are there just a, like a lot of other initiatives like ahead of cannabis reform that, you know, it kind of gets pushed to the bottom of the pile? Or is it just very bipo? Like what’s,

13:43 Christian:
It’s a really good question, right? Because, you know, when you’re working within an industry, sometimes it feels like you’re in a bubble and you f forget kind of the, the, you know, external factors at play when you’re, when you’re working in politics and trying to drive legislation. And one thing you realized early on, at least last year, which was a good lesson for everybody as you’re pushing policy, whether it’s safe banking or anything else, cannabis, for most members of Congress, and this may change, but at this point in time, cannabis was never going to rise to the level of priority that Ukraine was or inflation was, or abortion.

14:18 Christian:
It, it just won’t. And so those things are, are top of mind. If those things are being heavily debated and those issues are, are front and center in Washington, um, you have to be very strategic about when you’re going to be pushing cannabis issues.

14:34 Christian:
Um, and it speaks to something we were talking about off, off, uh, off mic before this, which is, you can’t just go in and be asking for things right out of the gate. You’ve gotta educate people first on the issues. And if there are lawmakers don’t know anything about cannabis who don’t know anything about a banking bill or a tax reform, going in there and asking you to do something before educating them on the issues isn’t a very sound strategy. So, so it takes months, years to get coalitions together and champions in Washington to really understand the issues and then become the actual champion and, and the baton carriers if you’ll for the issue.

15:13 Isaac:
Well, I’ve never thought about it that way because I feel like lobbyists by the term gets such a bad rap. ’cause it’s tied to more controversial topics like guns, tobacco, all of that. But I think at the core is an education system for some very important things, especially for us in our industry.

15:28 Christian:
No, that’s a great, I got into this business ’cause I wanted to wear pinstriped suits and, uh, and smoke cigars, <laugh>. Um, I don’t any

15:37 Eric:
<laugh> any

15:38 Christian:
Of that these days. Um, I do like

15:40 Eric:
The turtleneck vibe you got going on with the hat, you know, little, little joby. I kind of like it. Pull it off.

15:46 Christian:
Yeah. Off, you know, it’s, it’s a little chilly out chillier than I thought. It was just like, well, I’m gonna go for it. Thankfully there’s a camera here for me to show it off <laugh>. Um, yeah, like lobbying, is that in a huge sense? Um, sometimes it’s influence and sometimes it’s access, but it’s also persuasion and it’s also education. And I said that actually backwards, it’s education first, right? A good lobbyist needs to be able to go in and build a relationship with staff or the member and actually let them know how this impacts them, their member and their constituents.

16:21 Christian:
Right? Tell me why this is important to me in my office. And I’m saying that as a former staffer. ’cause if you, if it doesn’t resonate as to how this benefits the member and why this should be in their policy platform, they’re probably not gonna pick it up with it.

16:36 Christian:
Um, so you need to do your due diligence before you go into these offices, see what these members care about, what committees they sit on, um, and then you strike it through certain points that, you know, will resonate with them. Some, some folks care about taxes. Some folks care about economic growth and development. Some folks care about social. It’s wrong to go into a, a more conservative member’s office and talk about social equity as opposed to public safety. And then you can kind of flip that reverse based on feeling safe sponsored. And it’s really just about adapting.

17:07 Christian:
You

17:07 Eric:
Need to be a chameleon

17:08 Christian:
Yeah. A little bit. And, and you find those push points. You find folks, um, you know, who have passions for certain issues. Um, and certainly within cannabis that exists there are certain, there are certain members who are like, I really care about the economic growth element of cannabis, right? There are so many jobs, um, to be had within this space. And there’s great economic opportunity. There are other members who like very staunch and advocates for the social equity community and making sure that communities that have or disadvantaged by the war on drugs for the last 20, 30 years have skin in the game and can be first in line to make sure they, they can be, um, successful in the space and have opportunities that every other company does too.

17:51 Christian:
Um, so it’s really identifying, it’s identifying where there are synergies within those members and then working with them on policies and, and making sure that they can drive it. For you In Washington, do you

18:02 Eric:
Find, do you find it’s easy to get in the door and like get meetings with a lot? Like, or is it really challenging to, to get their attention and get their time? Or is it something that they’re very eager to talk about? Yeah, you know, and

18:15 Christian:
You know, it, it depends. Um, you’ve gotta be a little bit savvy when you do that. It’s not exactly, well, some people will just do a cold email and expect to get a response and sometimes they won’t. Um, there are other things that you can do, obviously that would, um, that would signify you’re a little more valuable than any other lobbyists. For example, if you’ve got a client that does business in their district and employs a lot of people and generates a lot of tax revenue, that’s probably something that’s gonna be of interest to the staff and to the member member. So I know this, at least for Cresco, we do business in 10 states and we’re in a number of different districts throughout those states.

18:51 Christian:
Some of the best relationships we have with members and their staff are where we employ a lot of people.

18:56 Christian:
Yeah. And we invest a lot in those communities, and we do a lot of volunteerism, right? And so showing our commitment to the community, their constituents and the district is a great way to warm up that base and, and that relationship. Um, there are, there are other members who are just staunch staunchly opposed to, to cannabis in general. And they won’t ever respond. They won’t talk to you that you move on. You don’t waste a lot of time. You gotta keep moving and building those relationships. And that can be anything from talking in meetings virtually or in person or even going out for a cup of coffee with staff or grabbing a beer.

19:31 Christian:
Um, and being a resource. That’s another thing. Making sure that they feel that you’re an extension of the staff. They have a question on cannabis policy. I’m gonna call Christian.

19:41 Isaac:
Did, did your background as a staffer kind of help build some of that credibility and open some doors easier than other people who might not have had that background initially?

19:50 Christian:
Yeah, I think so. I mean, it, it definitely led a different perspective, right? When you’re sitting in city hall or when you’re sitting in, in, in know, um, you know, a state capital from a staffer perspective, you know how lobbyists and you know which ones are really good, you know, which ones are just, you know, on retainer and just collecting a paycheck, right? Um, from a staffer perspective, you’re always thinking in terms of a good staffer’s perspective. You’re always thinking in terms of how does this benefit my constituents? How does this benefit the member? Um, is this good policy? And that’s how from now lobby side, you kind of tailor your approach and your strategies, right?

20:26 Christian:
I need to be valuable. I need to bring something to the table when I’m going and meeting with a member. Um, and I need to understand them. I need to understand their priorities. Um, otherwise I’m gonna be wasting my time and I’m gonna be wasting their time, which is arguably worse. If you leave a meeting and they feel like you’ve wasted their time, you’re probably not getting invited back.

20:47 Eric:
I guess this, this takes me to, uh, you know, one of the questions that we, we really try to ask everybody is, you know, how did you get into the space? Like, when did you get in the space and, and move from, you know, traditional politics that you were kind of in and into the cannabis space and, and being on the other side at Cresco?

21:04 Christian:
It’s a great question and, uh, it’s a little foggy. The reason why is because, you know, I started out being, you know, typical staffer, right? Working in city hall, long days, crap pay. And, and you love it, especially when you’re young. ’cause when you’re young, ’cause you’re just, you’re just going a mile a minute. Nothing just matters. And you feel like you’re important in there. Um, and as you, as I grew with my career, I left City Hall in Chicago and I worked on so many great projects, um, in the city council and throughout the May administration.

21:37 Christian:
Um, and I got to New York City, uh, when I worked at the Economic Development Corporation and, and in my portfolio, so many, uh, interesting and emerging industries that I got, got projects put on my desk, whether it was artificial intelligence or blockchain or cybersecurity and cannabis started, wed wedging its way in there a little more. Um, and the reason why was we were anticipating legalization coming from Albany. And it didn’t happen the first year I was there. It didn’t happen the second year I was there.

22:07 Christian:
When was this?

22:09 Christian:
This was, uh, 2020, uh, or I’m sorry, 2018 to 2020. Um, and I left in 2020. Um, but every year we started talking about a little bit more, a little bit more from, you know, working for the Economic Development corporation. The MO is jobs, the MO is economic opportunity. Yeah. And we’re reading the tea leaves with, with cannabis going, okay, if and when this does go legal in New York, at least from a recreational perspective, we better be ready. They’re gonna be a lot of job opportunities out here.

22:40 Christian:
A lot of, uh, opportunities to generate, uh, good tax revenue, uh, and opportunities for incubation, small and minority owned businesses, partnerships with community colleges and state universities. So we knew there was a lot of potential. Um, and it just started growing more and more and more into my portfolio. And, um, one day a, a city councilman, um, back in Chicago had called me up, and this is where I kind of took the lead going into cannabis City.

23:10 Christian:
Councilman had called me up and he said, uh, you know, I’ve got a company, um, looking to set up a dispensary in my ward. Can you kind of sniff it out? ’cause I, he knew I was working in the campus space a little bit for the ebc and it was Cresco Labs. And, uh, I had ended up, uh, speaking with some leadership over at Cresco Labs and did my, my research. And I knew they were an incredibly reputable company. They were very strong in Chicago and doing a lot, working closely with City Hall and at Springfield. And it was just a very comfortable conversation.

23:41 Christian:
And I was really impressed by it. And I called the alderman back and I said, well, listen, you know, I don’t know what your politics are right now, and if, if your constituent constituency is gonna like a dispensary in, in your ward, but I’ll say if you do, if you are interested in a dispensary in your ward, this is the company to do, right? You, you don’t wanna start out with a <inaudible>, start out with, with a company that knows what you’re doing, um, that’s gonna be a good partner to you and the neighbors. Um, and we just kind of hit it off from there, talking for a couple of more months. And, and, uh, eventually I was contacted by, uh, somebody in executive leadership and said, you know, we’re looking for somebody to run the government affairs shop.

24:18 Christian:
Would you be,

24:18 Eric:
Yeah. Did they have like a, like a government affairs division before or

24:24 Christian:
They had a public affairs division, but never, or a department, uh, of public affairs, but never a built out division for government affairs. Um, so they, they knew they wanted to build out a government affairs division within the company. Um, and so we had talked about setting up, uh, an office here in New York, and then Covid hit, uh, but that didn’t stop us, obviously from, from building out a division. So I have a, a great staff that I work with, um, that handles respective regions around the country, and I’ll oversee that portfolio.

24:56 Christian:
They drive everything on the ground. Um, and then I’ll work a lot on the federal work stream, um, as well. So it’s a lot to cover. But we knew obviously at states where we’re falling one by one when it came to, when it came to legalizing recreational cannabis, we needed people on the ground.

25:13 Christian:
We needed people to help drive the legislation, shape it, um, to make it industry friendly, make it friendly for small and minority owned businesses as well. You know, making sure that, um, these rollouts and these programs were inclusive, um, and set up for success. And so, uh, that’s what we did. And we’ve done a very good job. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. Super interesting. As you guys know, there’s so many dynamics to cannabis, right? It’s working on, on real estate or zoning or policy or social equity initiatives, right?

25:46 Christian:
All of it is just, there’s something new every day. There’s a <inaudible>.

25:49 Isaac:
Yeah. Are you, are you working like in close tandem with, you know, some of your peers from other companies? Or is it, you know, much more siloed? Yeah. <laugh>

26:00 Christian:
Situation depends on the state. Are

26:01 Eric:
There like a bunch of Christians at like the other, the other MSOs? Well, there’s only one Christian, my guy, but yeah. Uh, no, they like other like MSOs that you’re collaborating with. ’cause I think like the like unique thing about cannabis too, right? Is that obviously, you know, you’re competing for market share, you’re competing for, you know, retail locations in these highly competitive markets, you know, for licenses. But at the same time, there’s still this overarching goal, right? It’s, it’s legalization. So there is this higher sense of collaboration,

26:30 Isaac:
Us versus them basically.

26:32 Christian:
No, it’s a great question. And, and the answer is actually, it’s, it’s not, it’s, it’s a bit unique right? In, in certain states where there are policies that benefit the industry as a whole. Yeah, I think there, there are definitely opportunities where we collaborate and build coalitions and, and I work closely with my counterparts, and I’ll use an example, like in Ohio right now, they’re talking about introducing, um, a bill that eliminates two 80 e that would allow medical operators to deduct their business expenses. Well, that’s something I think every business in Ohio would get on board with. So let’s talk to each other, let’s make sure we’re aligned on making sure the assembly and the legislature and the governor governor’s office knows that there’s consensus across the board on this.

27:12 Christian:
And there’d be a lot of support. And then certainly when it comes to real estate, that’s where it’s more our own lane and, and everybody kind of goes off, um, in their own direction to kind of, um, suit their needs.

27:23 Christian:
But, uh, when it comes to policy, yeah, I mean, you find things that, you know, there would be consensus, um, on pretty much across the board, whether it’s with MSOs, we work a lot with small businesses, social equity applicants, um, and we find those spots. And if there are opportunities we can build a coalition or use a training association to speak with one voice, we do, it’s definitely more amenable that way. So what’s, so I feel like there’s just so much to unpack. Um, more hours.

27:55 Christian:
Yeah. I think it’s just super fascinating. There’s just so many nuances and

28:01 Isaac:
Well, I feel like this side of it doesn’t get discussed out in public a lot, you know what I mean? I feel like how often are you talking, I guess, to people outside of the circle, um, and internally about, you know, what’s going on in Washington and your conversations? Yeah.

28:16 Christian:
Um, that’s a good question. Probably not as much as we’re dedicating our time and resources to lawmakers right now. I, I mean, it really is a challenge of knowing how and when to spend your time. And right now the most important thing for the industry arguably, is getting federal reform done. ’cause that’ll be a massive shot across the bow to investors and to banks, um, and to state entities as well, that this is becoming a more professionalized industry. Uh, and so we’re spending most of our time developing strategies, um, talking points, educating lawmakers and their staff, and then also, um, evolving those educated staff members, um, and members to become advocates.

29:03 Christian:
Right? And we had talked about that earlier. You need to find champions who will be in the room when they’re negotiating to say, I’m holding the line. This bill is not in this package. I won’t vote for the package. Right. And that’s a tough thing to do for sure. Um, so you, you’re, you’ve gotta find those folks and, and turn ’em loose. And that’s what we’ve really been focused on. And, and earlier this year we started that process. It’s been refreshing because we’ve got a lot of advocates at the table in Washington to meet from the same songbook. So cautiously optimistic that we’re gonna get it over the line this year.

29:36 Christian:
Uh, but that’s where our time is at.

29:38 Isaac:
No, and that makes sense. I guess like from your perspective and from the kind of lawmaker’s perspective, like how is the grassroots, you know, efforts of cannabis advocates, like at an individual level impacted? Is it like helpful? Has it grown scale? Because I know it’s been going on forever, so I dunno how it’s been viewed over the last like, six years. Yeah,

29:57 Christian:
Yeah. I mean, again, i, I come from more of the school of, there needs to be some kind of strategy and, and what, who and why behind everything you’re doing. Um, you know, some of the most effective advocates we’ve seen, um, are patients and veterans and, and social equity licensees and applicants as well. And, and making sure you’ve got the right messenger to the right audience is, is critical, right? Um, there are folks who care about social equity more than anything else when it comes to cannabis.

30:29 Christian:
Um, so you wanna make sure that they’re hearing from the social equity community and entrepreneurs and minority owned businesses conveying what their struggles are, tell ’em what’s working, tell ’em what’s not, and what kind of federal reforms will help them get to the next level. Um, and uh, and same thing when it comes to veterans and, and patients, right?

30:50 Christian:
Veterans, there are a number of veterans out there, great groups, um, who really are advocating rightfully so for the ability, uh, VA to do research and be able to pres prescribe cannabis products instead of opioids. And one would think that’s kind of an easy argument to make. And it’s not saying the VA should be mandating they have to prescribe cannabis, but at least allow optionality. Um, there are plenty of veterans out there who don’t like taking pills, don’t like taking opioids. And if they had the option to cannabis and use cannabis products instead, they would, they don’t have that option,

31:25 Isaac:
Which is crazy. They should have, they should have the access to what everything they,

31:30 Christian:
I mean, I will say though, last year was, um, one piece of first standalone piece of cannabis reform, uh, was passed and signed by the president last last year, which was cannabis research. Yeah. Uh, which was Diane Feinstein bill. And that was a great step, right? It’s showing that we can at least agree that it should be studied and it results of a study, um, are positive and we know will bring benefits and positive impact to people that need help and need, um, need medicine and medical product in the form of cannabis. We can get to that level.

32:00 Isaac:
You mean not having 90% of the tested product come from the growing that Ole Miss <laugh>?

32:07 Christian:
You, you know, one of the things that I had worked on, um, extensively in Chicago with the mayor’s office there was building out, um, a research hub. And our thought was Chicago would be a great place to, to make, uh, or at least develop a, a cannabis research hub because there’s so many cannabis companies based in Chicago that could offer resource product, um, and testing support. And they actually launched, um, through, uh, an entity of the University of Illinois called, uh, discovery Partners Institute.

32:38 Christian:
Shameless plug, they’re a great outfit over there from University of Illinois, uh, to do cannabis research. But as you should speak, one of the toughest things about doing cannabis research is the ability to access product and get approvals from the federal government. And in order to do that, you have to go through the F D A, you have to go through D O J <inaudible>.

32:58 Christian:
I mean, it’s, it’s an extensive process application-wise, um, and it, it disincentivizes people from even applying ’cause nobody gets, gets approved for the most part. I also find it rich, sorry to keep going now. You know, um, I find it somewhat rich and ironic that the president issued a, an executive order last year saying that the A H SS secretary needs to make a recommendation to the D O J about scheduling.

33:29 Christian:
Well, the criteria for making such a recommendation is research science, but there’s barely any research out there because we’re not allowed to do any kind of research. So it was kind of like, okay, so what kind of data science can, can we offer to the, you know, h h Ss secretary to review? And he’s kind of looking around going, <laugh> how much,

33:53 Eric:
I guess from your stance and just like zooming out, like your professional background, are you frustrated by the lack of reform or do you think that it’s moving at a pace that it should based off of it being a very new and emerging industry?

34:16 Christian:
Yeah. Um, you know, it’s easy to get frustrated at times and working at different levels of government. You experience different processes, right? When it comes to cannabis reform or pushing bills in, let’s say, you know, Chicago or New York, things move quick every month. They’re meeting Yeah. And, and ordinances are getting passed. Federal government takes a very long time, right? You could be working on something for a year, two years and not get over the finish line. Say banking’s a perfect example. Uh, that doesn’t mean we don’t stop, you know?

34:48 Christian:
Or that means we don’t stop and, and we keep pushing. Um, it’s, it’s easy to get frustrated. But I would say this, when it comes to cannabis reform, it’s much more practical, in my opinion, to be aiming for incremental reform. The politics do not lend itself right now for the home run ball. Yeah, right.

35:10 Christian:
You’re not gonna get federal legalization next year. The, it’s just not there. Not with the Republican House and, and a divided Senate the way it’s, but there are pieces of cannabis reform that do have bipartisan support that we know we can get across the line. Safe banking is, is some of that low hanging. I think two 80 e is, is kind of in that mix a little bit as well. Um, so it’s, it’s, again, it’s a strategic decision on my part, um, company’s part to really dedicate the time and resources to things we know we can get done.

35:43 Christian:
Um, and if you chip away at it, eventually you’re gonna get there. But if you spend all your time, you know, swinging for the home run hall, you may not get anything. Can’t cut down a tree in one full swoop. You know, like you gotta gotta jam a waiting long time for that. Um, and I’d rather see progress, um, across the board for the industry as opposed to drawing hard lines in the sand and saying all or nothing.

36:08 Isaac:
I think, you know, one of the things I’ve kind of heard over the last few months, like having into young other election cycle is that Republicans might kind of start picking up the canvas issue more on their end because they see it as a missed opportunity from the Democrats. How, is that like a common feeling like in DC or is that more maybe overblown?

36:27 Christian:
I think there’s something to it. Um, so there’s been recent polling that shows 68 to 70% of, uh, Republican voters support cannabis, legal cannabis in form or another, whether, whether it’s medicinal or recreational cannabis. Those are pretty good numbers. Wow. Yeah, I was about to say front lawmaker, 68 to 70%. I mean, Kentucky just came online. It was coming out Well, that’s

36:51 Isaac:
What like this stems from, like, I think, you know, it, it, it does feel like somewhat of a missed opportunity over the last three years now.

36:58 Christian:
Yeah. And um, you know, I was speaking to, uh, uh, a lawmaker the other day and, um, she voiced frustration. Uh, she was a democrat and she voiced frustration that, you know, we, we had the White House for, for eight years under Barack Obama. Not we, but her party had the, the White House for eight years under Barack Obama and nothing got done. And now we’ve got the White House again, and we’ve had the White House Senate House for the first two years of this administration and nothing really got done either. Um, to your point about Republicans, I I think there’s a, a opening there where republicans are starting to fill a vacuum a little bit.

37:38 Christian:
You’ve seen, um, some great leaders like Dave Joyce, uh, from Ohio has done a, a great job at leading on cannabis issue and, and really trying to advance for practical reforms, including safe banking and the Hope Act.

37:52 Christian:
Uh, Nancy Mace has introduced several bills, um, including the state’s reform bill and eliminating two a d e last year. Guy Resaler from Pennsylvania, uh, was one of the lead sponsors on the Clima Act last year. And, and he’s in a pretty, uh, senior position within the conference right now too. So I think the tent is growing, not not at a fast pace, but folks are realizing that they’re, they’re not being penalized for taking these positions from their voters, at least not on cannabis. Um, and so, uh, I think also too, it, it’ll put a lot of pressure on them if their state is legal from a medical or recreational perspective, they’re gonna see that too.

38:33 Christian:
They’re gonna know that there are hundreds of, of thousands of patients in their state. Um, and customers, if it’s, if it’s recreationally illegal, those are their constituents.

38:42 Eric:
That’s a great point.

38:45 Isaac:
It’s crazy to think about because, well, actually, it’s not just something you said earlier, like a public safety issue. You would think that’d be very much on top of mind for most Republicans based off of the history of the party, but I don’t think it’s viewed like that.

39:00 Christian:
Yeah, I I, I wish it was, but it’s a great point, right? Like that’s why safe banking is an attractive bill there, there’s kind of something in there for everybody. It, it not only protects the industry and advances us and it normalizes us a little bit more, but from a public safety perspective, it does exactly what we need it to do. Right? And it, and it will deter criminal activity that currently exists today. And you’ll meet with more conservative lawmakers who will tell you flat out, I’m not voting for legalizing campus at a recreational level anytime soon. Don’t ask me that.

39:30 Christian:
But I am for public safety and if this bill does it, I’m open to having that conversation.

39:35 Isaac:
It’s all about how you frame things, I guess. Yeah,

39:38 Eric:
Yeah. End result. It’s not always how we get there, right? That’s right. Um, do you think that that cannabis is gonna be a large, or not a large portion, but involved in, you know, midterm elections that are, that are coming up?

39:51 Christian:
I’d like it to be, yeah. <laugh>, I’d like it to be anything to draw attention to the issues. Yeah. Um, you know, I think, uh, the midterms are, well, we’re past the midterms,

40:02 Eric:
Not the midterms. I meant well the next, yeah.

40:05 Christian:
Um, no, it’s, it’s up to industries to make these issues, issues in these cycles. Um, it’s probably not going to be front and center as opposed to, you know, what the administration has been doing on Ukraine or inflation, um, or abortion rights. Right. Um, similar to what we talked about earlier, but, um, you know, I think what, what it can do is that certain pieces of, of good fodder talking points for the administration or for members, and I’ll use the president’s executive order as, as an example, which he mentioned in his state of the Union, right?

40:42 Christian:
He talked about, um, the federal expungements that he ordered through his, through his proclamation, and then he talked about directing the H h Ss secretary to make a recommendation schedule. So if you can kind of inject those key pieces into, into the narrative, I mean, that’s pretty good thing. Um, but I think too, given that there’s mostly, I say unanimous, but overwhelming cannabis in the country, you need to be careful to not make it a divide.

41:14 Christian:
70% of Republicans are polling saying they, and 90% of Democrats are polling and saying they support it. Just keep putting that out. Yeah. I don’t, I don’t wanna make it a more divisive issue than it’s, or signify to lawmakers that it, that it could be a potential, you know, hot potato.

41:31 Isaac:
If anything, it could be one of the, the only unifying issues the country has right now, <laugh>,

41:36 Christian:
You would think. I mean, we’ll get there. It’s, it’s gonna take time. And like I said, education and activation, a lot of folks just need to get educated on it. Some folks won’t pick up the ball and run with it ’cause it’s not their thing. Some will, some are already doing that.

41:52 Eric:
No, and I think, I think that’s a, a perfect place to segue. And, and is there anything else that, you know, we should be thinking about or, or things that you’re excited about in terms of, um, legislation that’s coming online or, or things that you’re doing individually or at Cresco?

42:08 Christian:
Yeah, I think, um, aside from the federal work stream, right, there’s a, there’s plenty to look forward to there, there’s plenty to, to be optimistic about. There’s a lot of time to really push safe banking, getting access to capital across the finish line. Two 80 E is another piece where I think there’s consensus, but also at the state level too. You’re seeing momentum in really key states that are moving to, to legalize recreation. Uh, Maryland is on the cusp right now. A bill is gonna be dropping or a bill is already dropped and and they’re already moving it through the house.

42:38 Christian:
Yeah. Uh, the Senate, um, Pennsylvania is getting really close. There are a couple of, uh, senators out there, bipartisan group of senators, um, who are working closely on introducing, uh, an adult use bill this year, which is gonna have momentum no doubt.

42:53 Christian:
Um, Ohio, they’ve got a, a ballot referendum campaign that’s gonna start up in May, Florida, same thing, ballot referendum, currently ongoing. Um, so it’s gonna be similar to what we’ve seen in 37 states right now that have legalized cannabis in one form or another. There are more dominoes that are gonna fall here. Um, and some of these states that we’re talking about, Pennsylvania, Ohio, these are purple states. It’s gonna force it folks on both sides to pay attention to this.

43:24 Christian:
If it comes down to getting their support at the federal level. If they’re seeing the poll numbers passing their ballot referendums, they can’t ignore that. Certainly when it comes to cannabis reform and policies that are on their desk.

43:36 Isaac:
Do you think those are probably the two that, like, which state I guess would be the most important domino, like the first one to kind of knock some of these other key states that are on the ballot? Yeah,

43:46 Christian:
I, I, that’s a tough one. I, it really does. Based on, it’s personally for a company, I could say one state based on where, where our footprint is, but, um, I think it really would say thing if either, you know, Ohio or Pennsylvania go, or both, those are two Midwestern states, purple states. Um, and I think that would go a long way. I also don’t want to ignore Indiana, which had a legalization bill introduced by two Republicans a couple of months ago too, which was kind of refreshing to see as well. So yeah, I, I think Ohio, Pennsylvania would be a huge deal.

44:21 Christian:
Florida, the market would be insane in Florida, but I don’t see Governor DeSantis doing that as he preps for, uh, the run for president.

44:32 Eric:
It’s a lot of, a lot of, lot of work to be done, but a lot of excitement too, right? I think stay

44:37 Christian:
On your toes, always something

44:38 Eric:
Happening. It’s, uh, exciting times. Yeah. And I, I always just try to, ’cause you know, there, there’s obviously frustrations in, in what we do as well, right? Like we’re super, what we’re here in New York, we’re super excited to start working with businesses and the rollout’s just not been great, right. Bump. But, um, I think it’s, you know, really important to take perspective as to like where we’re at today compared to two, three years ago. It’s, you know, it, it’s light years ahead, right. And I think, you know, when we look back where we’re at now, two to three years from now, it’s gonna be a drastically different story.

45:13 Eric:
And I think it’s always just important to keep that perspective, um, especially just, you know, in this very nuanced space.

45:22 Christian:
That’s exactly right. And listen, I don’t know of any state that has had a quote unquote perfect rollout. Sure. Um, everybody has had their challenges in one

45:31 Eric:
Form. Missouri’s looking pretty good right now, I’ll say pretty good.

45:35 Christian:
It’s keeping the Illinois on their toes. They

45:37 Eric:
Something crazy. I did the math the other day. They legalized recreationally, I think it was, I wanna say 20 or 30 months, maybe 20 months after New York, and they’re gonna eclipse a billion dollars in recreational revenue this year, probably.

45:55 Christian:
Their numbers were insane. I heard they’re already running out of product. Yeah. There was a story this morning that they were already running out of product the

46:00 Eric:
First month they did a hundred million 70 from rec in 30, pretty much from, from medical, which is fantastic. Yeah.

46:07 Christian:
Yeah. That’s great news. And, and the thing is, speaking of domino effect, Missouri’s performance out of the gate right now has got Illinois lawmakers going, we need to be a little more competitive if this is the trend. Um, you know, they, Illinois is one of the highest tax rates in the country when it comes to recreational cannabis. They also have two 80 e still in place. Missouri doesn’t have two 80 E and they have a much lower tax rate. So if they’re businesses in, in South Illinois, if they’re consumers in South Illinois,

46:36 Eric:
Top right up the border,

46:37 Christian:
They’re paying attention. New York, uh, you know, bumpy rollout from my perspective. But I, I do think the governor and the mayor have done a, a fairly decent job of acknowledging there are problems and tacking really quickly to try to address some of it, namely the illicit market right now. That’s gonna be their biggest issue in kind of standing up a legal, a legal, um, illegal program here. But they’ve moved quick. They’ve got some serious people involved. So hopefully, uh, things smooth out a little bit.

47:05 Eric:
We have like two dispensaries across the street from us.

47:08 Christian:
Oh, we

47:09 Eric:
You live on No, you live on 20, you live on what? 21st and seventh? Oh,

47:13 Christian:
Well I wouldn’t call them dispensaries. I would call them

47:15 Eric:
Retailers. Yeah, I’m just saying that I went in there and

47:18 Christian:
Asked for a state license, they

47:20 Eric:
Wouldn’t handle it. No, they would not. Yes, that is true. That is true.

47:22 Christian:
I mean, it’s a serious issue, but it’s also an argument, right? As, as a lobbyist, you try to find those, those touch points where you can say, how does this amplify my argument? The argument is when you go into one of these retailers, you know, it’s not lab tested product, it’s not childproof, right? You, you just don’t know what you’re getting. There’s a cloud of smoke that comes out the store. It was wild. I was

47:43 Isaac:
Seventh Avenue Larry Weed all the time. Now <laugh>,

47:48 Christian:
It, it’s dangerous. And, and we’ve seen bad cases though. People getting hurt or they’ve been intimidated product. And ultimately that undermines a legalized recreational program. So it’s, it’s all the more reason to enforce it and makes sure that legal, uh, state sanctioned dispensaries get up and running as soon as possible. That’s the best way to ensure safety and safety of product for customers. Yeah, I think we’re all excited for it. Isaac, let’s wrap it up. What do we, what do we got here?

48:17 Isaac:
All right. We got some fun, fun nine cannabis work related questions. So what, uh, what’s on the top of the playlist these days? What gets you outta bed in the morning or gets to go in the gym?

48:28 Christian:
Uh, this is gonna be a little embarrassing here. Whew. Uh, I’m not gonna lie, there was a, I mean, I have a playlist, but you know, on Apple, uh, apple Plus or whatever it is, when you get to the end of the playlist, it, it’s, it goes to something that maybe wasn’t on there, but it thinks similar genre. So I’ll just say the thing that came up was Taylor Swift, shake it off.

48:48 Isaac:
I mean, that’s a great song.

48:49 Christian:
So that’s which I actually, I was like on the treadmill, like fist bumping while it was going on, but on a, yeah, like on a serious day. Like, I’ll, I’ll go, I’ll go Springsteen, man. Petty Springsteen jewel. A little more old school. You’re,

49:03 Isaac:
You’re a tri, you’re a tri-state guy. So yeah. <laugh>. Um, next one. You know, what’s a, a book that you’ve read a few times or one that you would recommend everyone, you know, kinda looks into? We’re building this apparently, so

49:16 Christian:
We’re building and reading. Yeah, so I, I’m, I’m usually a big dork in the books I get are about history or political science and, and memoirs and stuff like that. And when I went on my honeymoon, uh, where I met a, a mutual friend of ours that Carl. Carl, that’s how we met you. Yeah. <laugh>. Um, I actually, my wife made take a, a fiction book. So it was not anything about work, it wasn’t anything about politics. And, uh, it was one of the best books I had ever read called The Light We Cannot See. Um, and it was written by a, a Gentleman by

49:50 Isaac:
<crosstalk>. That might be the first fiction book we’ve got

49:52 Christian:
On here. And, uh, I like it, one of Pulitzer. Um, and I, I loved it. It was a great book, but that might be the first fiction book we’ve got. Yeah, I like it. Um, I would say God, um, I read a really good one by, uh, Susan Glasser and, uh, Peter Baker from the New York Times, um, uh, about, um, Jim Bakker, uh, I’m forgetting the name of it all of a sudden, but, uh, Ronald Reagan’s former chief of Staff, treasury Secretary, commerce secretary guy was a legend.

50:24 Christian:
He just a, a legend in Washington. Um, so, uh, that was another one that I really,

50:31 Isaac:
Hey, you can’t ask the food questions since you’re the resident of Food <laugh>.

50:36 Eric:
Last meal.

50:38 Christian:
Last meal, God,

50:41 Isaac:
First thing that pops in the head, they’re, they’re

50:43 Christian:
On different, the spectrum here. It’s either, it’s either McDonald’s or like <laugh>.

50:48 Eric:
That’s an interesting one, but not a bad or

50:51 Christian:
Total opposite end, which is linin and clam sauce and some garlic bread. Just old school Italian

50:57 Eric:
Meal. That’s why I was thinking we were going for Carla, you know, like, uh, you know. Yeah,

51:00 Christian:
Yeah. I mean, I probably should have said the Quinine.

51:03 Isaac:
No, no. Now we, now we gotta dig into this McDonald’s, the McDonald’s order <laugh>

51:08 Christian:
Driving the car over the cliff, get me a couple of big, big Macs and some fries. You know, something I don’t do on the re, but knowing that they’re, I wouldn’t have too much longer, who cares?

51:20 Eric:
I love that. Uh, it’s honest and I love it. Still have the

51:23 Isaac:
Best fries and it’s not close.

51:25 Christian:
Yeah. It’s like I, I know they’re delicious. I want them. I don’t touch them. So if it’s the last meal, why not?

51:32 Isaac:
I’m taking it off. I like it.

51:34 Eric:
Well, this has been an awesome time, Christian. I really appreciate it, man. And, and the insight’s been really, really valuable. I think just, you know, what we thought coming into it, we got like very different, very different perspective in a good way, right? I think, um, you know, a lot to unpack, um, you know, in terms of just a recap and what I gather a lot to be done, but exciting times and, you know, there’s, there’s people behind the scenes grinding it out, you know, in Washington, right? Um, you yourself, your, your staff and, and other organizations with, with similar type structures.

52:08 Eric:
And, uh, and it’s, it’s good. We, we need, we need more. Yeah.

52:13 Christian:
More to come, lots to do. Excited for the future.

52:15 Isaac:
Absolutely. I think you, you nailed it with the two words, educate and activate. That’s

52:19 Christian:
Right. That’s the mantra for this year. Love it.

52:22 Eric:
Appreciate.

00:01 Eric:

This is The Roots to Risk Podcast hosted by Eric Schneider, alongside Isaac Bach. Roots to Risk brings you insights, the latest stories, and long form discussions about the cannabis industry. You’ll hear interviews with industry leaders and their perspective on current and future trends, how they’ve built success and what challenges they have faced. Our goal is to facilitate candid conversations and provide informative content for the cannabis community at large. Let’s go.

 

00:30 Eric:

What is going on? I’d be first one. We got first. First

 

00:33 Isaac:

Live one. I got the first one.

 

00:37 Christian:

You’re from me, you guys. Man. Look at this spot. This place is crazy.

 

00:41 Eric:

Christian, what’s going on, my man? How are we doing today,

 

00:43 Christian:

Fellas? Good to see you guys in person.

 

00:45 Isaac:

I know. It’s been a while.

 

00:47 Eric:

I think the last time we were here, you came to that event. The holiday party. Yeah.

 

00:51 Christian:

Christmas party. What?

 

00:52 Isaac:

Great time. Cannabis Collective event. Yeah.

 

00:54 Christian:

Yeah. This place was packed.

 

00:56 Eric:

Yeah. We got some, uh, some additional events on the horizon, which, uh, we’re excited for. Well, keep me

 

01:01 Christian:

Posted. I’m right down the road. This space is awesome.

 

01:03 Eric:

No, absolutely. I appreciate it. Um,

 

01:05 Isaac:

Well, we’re overdue. Overdue for our, you know, biweekly beers,

 

01:09 Christian:

So, yeah. Yeah. We’re long overdue. Some things have been happening in your lives, though. Yes.

 

01:12 Isaac:

Well, I did get engaged since then. You know, he’s, he’s had some travel

 

01:17 Christian:

Time to have some honest conversations about how your wedding planning is getting in the way of our fun.

 

01:22 Isaac:

That’s fair. I mean, I don’t think Sarah would feel the same way since I’ve done literally nothing. Good luck

 

01:27 Christian:

To you.

 

01:27 Eric:

You just, you just gotta die on the hill on like two things and then just say yes to every day. I, I actually did that. I say like, if you wanna go food, like that’s what you care about, go for

 

01:37 Isaac:

It. I immediately, uh, Vigo the INB budget bands ’cause they were pretty terrible. So, you know, I cost us some money, but

 

01:45 Christian:

Yeah, we, I got married, boy, this is dangerous territory here, uh, over a year ago, coming up on two years, and we did the large band situation, and I think a, after kind of like the debrief of the wedding, we were going, probably just could have used a DJ that would’ve been just ridiculous.

 

02:05 Isaac:

You, this isn’t helping my anxiety with it, but I appreciate the honesty <laugh>

 

02:09 Christian:

Speech.

 

02:11 Isaac:

I love it.

 

02:12 Eric:

Oh, man. Well, well, let’s dig into it. Um, and, and really excited to have Christian on here today. I think it’s gonna be an awesome lens that you’re able to provide a little bit different than, you know, the operator side on the investor side, really like, you know, governmental affairs and, and really on the legal component. And, uh, really, really interested to hear your take on a lot of things. And just, just for everybody, quick background on Christian. Uh, he spent his career working to develop sound public policy and deliver critical economic development projects in his current role as vi our VP of governmental affairs at Cresco Labs, he works closely with the city and state and federal officials to shape and advance key legislation within the company’s multi-state portfolio.

 

02:53 Eric:

Prior to joining Cresco, Christian served as VP of External Affairs for New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, where he created and executed strategies to build public support for major city initiatives, including the city’s first public private cybersecurity hub and Brooklyn’s maid in New York campus. Um, he’s also served as chief of staff in Chicago City Council, working with Mayor Manuel’s administration and city agencies overseeing some of the city’s most ambitious projects, including the industrial Corridor modernization framework, Lincoln Yards, and one Chicago Square.

 

03:30 Eric:

Wow.

 

03:30 Isaac:

That’s an impressive, yeah,

 

03:32 Christian:

I useche PT for <laugh>.

 

03:35 Isaac:

I was gonna say, who does everyone have Right. In

 

03:38 Eric:

Their backgrounds? Because

 

03:39 Christian:

That sounds great.

 

03:41 Eric:

Whoever

 

03:42 Christian:

Wrote that, fantastic.

 

03:43 Eric:

It’s like, went to Johns Hopkins, went to Founder Shield, started an Alpha Root, and now we’re here. <laugh>.

 

03:48 Christian:

I I appreciate the streamlined approach. Sometimes the trajectory isn’t linear. Well,

 

03:52 Isaac:

On the C U B T thing, did you guys see that it actually tricked some, like a human being into working for it to click off a capcha? No. Yeah, it, the BT four literally tricked to human into checking off a capcha to like, build itself. We’re we’re heading towards, you know,

 

04:08 Christian:

I had just seen all the, the, the headlines this week where like the, the image, uh, development from some of these AI technologies for some of the things in, in recent news where people are like, was that really happening outside the federal courthouse? <laugh>? That’s a little bit scary.

 

04:26 Isaac:

We’re going way off topic. I love it. Oh, there’s

 

04:28 Eric:

No doubt there’ll be

 

04:29 Christian:

Some synergies with I’m sure chat G P T and cannabis know.

 

04:32 Isaac:

I would hope so. Although it’s so won’t, I’ve actually asked it to do some stuff for us at points, and it’s very finicky depending on like how granular it wants to get because of the federal legalization.

 

04:44 Christian:

I, I used it every now and then to like, see how accurate it would be on policy related stuff. And I would say maybe 65, 70 5% of the time it would hit. But every now and then it would come up with something blatantly off where it would, you know, yeah, you definitely

 

04:58 Eric:

Got

 

04:58 Christian:

It. Bill. You know, that year had a different sponsor than what it said. So trust but verify, I would say with, there’s

 

05:06 Eric:

No doubt GT

 

05:09 Christian:

And

 

05:09 Eric:

Other news, news what’s going on at Cresco. What, what are we, uh, what are we doing on a daily basis? What’s, you know, what are you most excited about, you know, in the, uh, the coming, you know, next 12 months. Obviously a lot’s been going on with, uh, with the acquisition of, uh, Columbia Care, I’m sure, you know, that’s, uh, you up a good amount of your time, so, we’ll, you know, let’s, uh, give us a quick update,

 

05:32 Christian:

Man. Exciting times, busy times. Um, you know, I think we were all, uh, really focused on, at least on the federal work stream last year, heading into Q four last year of getting safe banking across the line. And we had been working extensively with industry associations and grassroots, grassroots advocates, um, on the ground in dc and we feel like we were very, very close. Safe banking was there at the 11th hour in final negotiations with, with senate leadership. And one of the things that we left with in our minds at the end of the year, while disappointed that we didn’t get it over the line, it was like, we’ve got so much momentum after this year, we have to hit it hard in Q one.

 

06:14 Christian:

So, uh, this last, I would say these last three months, we’ve really been planning and plotting to make sure that we get federal reform done this year in one form or another. And that comes in the form, I think easiest, uh, with safe banking. Uh, that seems to be the low hanging fruit. The question seems to be as to how robust we can make it while keeping 60 votes in both, um, the Senate and then getting majority of that. Yeah. Moving it to the resident.

 

06:42 Isaac:

Anything in particular that you’ve noticed, like policy language wise that’s been made your hang up for one side or another? I mean, I, I know some things have been tried to be snuck in at the 11th hour.

 

06:52 Christian:

Yeah. There, there have been all these different kinds of combinations that have been floated over the last, you know, three, six months. The way it was going in Q four of 2022, they were talking about safe banking, but then adding in a couple of different components that included the Hope Act, which is a bill, uh, from Dave Joyce and, and a O c and then also the Graham Act. So there was a little social equity mixed in there. There was, there was gun rights mixed in there. Something that could achieve bipartisan support. And that seemed to be a good foundation that, that would’ve held 60 votes in the Senate.

 

07:23 Christian:

Um, I think this year the, the dynamics have changed with the industry, and you guys know this better than anybody, right? Like safe banking is great. It would’ve been great last year, it would’ve been great three years ago.

 

07:34 Christian:

But you’re seeing more and more throughout the industry at every level. Small businesses, entrepreneurs, larger employers like us. The the key factor right now is sustaining and scaling is access to capital, right? The loans are not out there. The, the private investment coming into companies is drying up, and that’s because they just need to see some kind of tangible progress at the federal level. It’s also the cost of capital, cost of capital interest rates when you’re working with small and, and community banks, right? It is very aggressive if you are a small business, if you’re a minority owned business, trying to scale, like coming in at a 40, 50% interest rate to do business with a bank is nuts.

 

08:14 Christian:

It’s like working with two hands, you know, tied behind your back and you pile on the inability to, to deduct business expenses. Two, it really is a combination to just, um, you know, restrain any type of potential and, and opportunities for investment within the space. So I think the focus has kind of shifted from last year, three, six months ago to now in the first quarter, safe banking really needs to include protections for private investors, institutional investors, capital markets, listing on the exchanges.

 

08:48 Christian:

’cause that’s where it becomes a more legitimized and professionalized industry. Uh, and if we can get that included in the banking protections, it’s a win-win for the industry. Small to large across,

 

08:59 Eric:

We even had that Mina from Merit Capital was saying the same thing. How like they have in investors and people that are really chomping at the bit waiting and just, they’re, they’re looking for those protections, right? Yeah.

 

09:11 Christian:

And a lot of folks don’t realize that, you know, cannabis is one of the most highly regulated industries in the country, right? Certainly, you know, at a state level, there are several hoops you have to go through in order to one, get licensed, but two, sustain yourself and grow and become profitable. And, you know, when you’re talking about, you know, securing real estate, for example, that’s not an easy thing to do. ’cause if the real estate is owned by a bank or if the real estate does business with a landlord and that bank doesn’t approve of any kind of cannabis related investment, you’re screwed.

 

09:45 Christian:

So it’s tough to one, find real estate two, cover the cost of that real estate while you go through the entitlement process, because you’re gonna need permits. You’re gonna need to be zoned correctly. You could be talking eight, nine months before you even open your doors. So if you don’t have that capital up front or lined up, forget it. Nobody’s got a shot at getting to the end of that process and then opening your doors without being in a serious financial burden place.

 

10:09 Isaac:

No, and I think what’s interesting right now, just given what’s going on with banks in general is like, has that been discussed down in DC and in the, the legal world of like how that’s impacted cannabis businesses, whether good or bad, because it might not be as big of an exposure. Yeah,

 

10:23 Christian:

I I don’t, I know we didn’t have any exposure to it. Certainly some cannabis companies did. Um, but what I will say is, you know, there is growing momentum for a Safe banking bill this year. There have been discussions between Leader Schumer’s office and banking committee chairman, uh, sheriff Brown, and then the leader on the senate Republican side, Steve Danes, and they’ve met several times and have spoken about getting this bill introduced and moving this through regular order, which is a good sign if you’re going through regular order. That means going through the banking committee and the S B D collapse.

 

10:55 Christian:

What we’re seeing right now in recent weeks have kind of pushed out that timeline a little bit. Right. It hasn’t, uh, from all indications pushed out drastically. But, uh, the banking committee chairman, uh, Senator Brown, indicated that this will probably delay us from getting this ball moving for at least a couple of weeks.

 

11:12 Isaac:

Which, which is interesting because the F D I C is now technically inuring some cannabis depositors. So it’s, uh, it’s a backwards way of gagging it done,

 

11:20 Eric:

Whether they like it or not.

 

11:23 Christian:

Yeah. A little bit twisted. But at the same time, I think, um, senators on both sides, house members on both sides understand the urgency here because you read headlines every day, um, that really speak to safe banking in two different ways. One, there’s a public safety element to this, and two, there’s an investment and access to capital element to it. On the public safety side, everybody knows for the most part that cannabis businesses are forced to deal in cash. So if there’s some criminal looking to, to make a score, it’s pretty easy for you to go into a cannabis cannabis dispensary and hold ’em up or catch a customer or a patient walking in, right?

 

11:59 Christian:

It’s low hanging fruit. ’cause you know they’re gonna have cash.

 

12:01 Eric:

I mean, that’s a lot of the claims that we see, like honestly on the insurance side is, is theft of property and, and, and break-ins. You know,

 

12:07 Christian:

And, and just today, the Michigan Attorney General issued a letter to, to the Saint Senate banking leadership basically saying, we need to get this done. We’re, we’re moving on indicting at least 12 people who’ve been doing this in a serial way. That’s crazy. Um, so, you know, this is a public safety issue, first and foremost for a lot of states and a lot of people. Um, and then on the other side too, it’s about inclusion. It’s, it’s about equitability, right? Like you need to make sure that Americans state, legal American businesses are on the same playing field as every other state legal American business.

 

12:39 Christian:

And right now, we’re not, cannabis industry is not on levy playing field. We can’t bank, we can’t get loans, we can’t process credit cards, we can’t list on us exchanges like our foreign counterparts. So it puts us at a significant disadvantage from, from our foreign competition, which is Yeah, I know. It’s, it’s so backwards. We’ve, you know, going back to last year, we had met with a number of senators and and house members and told them that exact line.

 

13:06 Eric:

I remember we were talking about this, and they like their jaws at the ground. So

 

13:09 Christian:

The members and, and, and business advocates in, in Washington were like, you gotta be kidding me. You mean, you know, like foreign companies are listing on the stock exchanges, but you guys can’t, yeah, yeah. I mean,

 

13:20 Isaac:

American dollars are going outta the country when they could be staying here.

 

13:22 Eric:

It seems like such an obvious thing, right? Like I feel like we talk about, you know, and, and obviously it’s not as cookie cutter, there’s a lot of dynamics with politics, but is it, like, are there just a, like a lot of other initiatives like ahead of cannabis reform that, you know, it kind of gets pushed to the bottom of the pile? Or is it just very bipo? Like what’s,

 

13:43 Christian:

It’s a really good question, right? Because, you know, when you’re working within an industry, sometimes it feels like you’re in a bubble and you f forget kind of the, the, you know, external factors at play when you’re, when you’re working in politics and trying to drive legislation. And one thing you realized early on, at least last year, which was a good lesson for everybody as you’re pushing policy, whether it’s safe banking or anything else, cannabis, for most members of Congress, and this may change, but at this point in time, cannabis was never going to rise to the level of priority that Ukraine was or inflation was, or abortion.

14:18 Christian:

It, it just won’t. And so those things are, are top of mind. If those things are being heavily debated and those issues are, are front and center in Washington, um, you have to be very strategic about when you’re going to be pushing cannabis issues.

14:34 Christian:

Um, and it speaks to something we were talking about off, off, uh, off mic before this, which is, you can’t just go in and be asking for things right out of the gate. You’ve gotta educate people first on the issues. And if there are lawmakers don’t know anything about cannabis who don’t know anything about a banking bill or a tax reform, going in there and asking you to do something before educating them on the issues isn’t a very sound strategy. So, so it takes months, years to get coalitions together and champions in Washington to really understand the issues and then become the actual champion and, and the baton carriers if you’ll for the issue.

15:13 Isaac:

Well, I’ve never thought about it that way because I feel like lobbyists by the term gets such a bad rap. ’cause it’s tied to more controversial topics like guns, tobacco, all of that. But I think at the core is an education system for some very important things, especially for us in our industry.

15:28 Christian:

No, that’s a great, I got into this business ’cause I wanted to wear pinstriped suits and, uh, and smoke cigars, <laugh>. Um, I don’t any

15:37 Eric:

<laugh> any

15:38 Christian:

Of that these days. Um, I do like

15:40 Eric:

The turtleneck vibe you got going on with the hat, you know, little, little joby. I kind of like it. Pull it off.

15:46 Christian:

Yeah. Off, you know, it’s, it’s a little chilly out chillier than I thought. It was just like, well, I’m gonna go for it. Thankfully there’s a camera here for me to show it off <laugh>. Um, yeah, like lobbying, is that in a huge sense? Um, sometimes it’s influence and sometimes it’s access, but it’s also persuasion and it’s also education. And I said that actually backwards, it’s education first, right? A good lobbyist needs to be able to go in and build a relationship with staff or the member and actually let them know how this impacts them, their member and their constituents.

16:21 Christian:

Right? Tell me why this is important to me in my office. And I’m saying that as a former staffer. ’cause if you, if it doesn’t resonate as to how this benefits the member and why this should be in their policy platform, they’re probably not gonna pick it up with it.

16:36 Christian:

Um, so you need to do your due diligence before you go into these offices, see what these members care about, what committees they sit on, um, and then you strike it through certain points that, you know, will resonate with them. Some, some folks care about taxes. Some folks care about economic growth and development. Some folks care about social. It’s wrong to go into a, a more conservative member’s office and talk about social equity as opposed to public safety. And then you can kind of flip that reverse based on feeling safe sponsored. And it’s really just about adapting.

17:07 Christian:

You

17:07 Eric:

Need to be a chameleon

17:08 Christian:

Yeah. A little bit. And, and you find those push points. You find folks, um, you know, who have passions for certain issues. Um, and certainly within cannabis that exists there are certain, there are certain members who are like, I really care about the economic growth element of cannabis, right? There are so many jobs, um, to be had within this space. And there’s great economic opportunity. There are other members who like very staunch and advocates for the social equity community and making sure that communities that have or disadvantaged by the war on drugs for the last 20, 30 years have skin in the game and can be first in line to make sure they, they can be, um, successful in the space and have opportunities that every other company does too.

17:51 Christian:

Um, so it’s really identifying, it’s identifying where there are synergies within those members and then working with them on policies and, and making sure that they can drive it. For you In Washington, do you

18:02 Eric:

Find, do you find it’s easy to get in the door and like get meetings with a lot? Like, or is it really challenging to, to get their attention and get their time? Or is it something that they’re very eager to talk about? Yeah, you know, and

18:15 Christian:

You know, it, it depends. Um, you’ve gotta be a little bit savvy when you do that. It’s not exactly, well, some people will just do a cold email and expect to get a response and sometimes they won’t. Um, there are other things that you can do, obviously that would, um, that would signify you’re a little more valuable than any other lobbyists. For example, if you’ve got a client that does business in their district and employs a lot of people and generates a lot of tax revenue, that’s probably something that’s gonna be of interest to the staff and to the member member. So I know this, at least for Cresco, we do business in 10 states and we’re in a number of different districts throughout those states.

18:51 Christian:

Some of the best relationships we have with members and their staff are where we employ a lot of people.

18:56 Christian:

Yeah. And we invest a lot in those communities, and we do a lot of volunteerism, right? And so showing our commitment to the community, their constituents and the district is a great way to warm up that base and, and that relationship. Um, there are, there are other members who are just staunch staunchly opposed to, to cannabis in general. And they won’t ever respond. They won’t talk to you that you move on. You don’t waste a lot of time. You gotta keep moving and building those relationships. And that can be anything from talking in meetings virtually or in person or even going out for a cup of coffee with staff or grabbing a beer.

19:31 Christian:

Um, and being a resource. That’s another thing. Making sure that they feel that you’re an extension of the staff. They have a question on cannabis policy. I’m gonna call Christian.

19:41 Isaac:

Did, did your background as a staffer kind of help build some of that credibility and open some doors easier than other people who might not have had that background initially?

19:50 Christian:

Yeah, I think so. I mean, it, it definitely led a different perspective, right? When you’re sitting in city hall or when you’re sitting in, in, in know, um, you know, a state capital from a staffer perspective, you know how lobbyists and you know which ones are really good, you know, which ones are just, you know, on retainer and just collecting a paycheck, right? Um, from a staffer perspective, you’re always thinking in terms of a good staffer’s perspective. You’re always thinking in terms of how does this benefit my constituents? How does this benefit the member? Um, is this good policy? And that’s how from now lobby side, you kind of tailor your approach and your strategies, right?

20:26 Christian:

I need to be valuable. I need to bring something to the table when I’m going and meeting with a member. Um, and I need to understand them. I need to understand their priorities. Um, otherwise I’m gonna be wasting my time and I’m gonna be wasting their time, which is arguably worse. If you leave a meeting and they feel like you’ve wasted their time, you’re probably not getting invited back.

20:47 Eric:

I guess this, this takes me to, uh, you know, one of the questions that we, we really try to ask everybody is, you know, how did you get into the space? Like, when did you get in the space and, and move from, you know, traditional politics that you were kind of in and into the cannabis space and, and being on the other side at Cresco?

21:04 Christian:

It’s a great question and, uh, it’s a little foggy. The reason why is because, you know, I started out being, you know, typical staffer, right? Working in city hall, long days, crap pay. And, and you love it, especially when you’re young. ’cause when you’re young, ’cause you’re just, you’re just going a mile a minute. Nothing just matters. And you feel like you’re important in there. Um, and as you, as I grew with my career, I left City Hall in Chicago and I worked on so many great projects, um, in the city council and throughout the May administration.

21:37 Christian:

Um, and I got to New York City, uh, when I worked at the Economic Development Corporation and, and in my portfolio, so many, uh, interesting and emerging industries that I got, got projects put on my desk, whether it was artificial intelligence or blockchain or cybersecurity and cannabis started, wed wedging its way in there a little more. Um, and the reason why was we were anticipating legalization coming from Albany. And it didn’t happen the first year I was there. It didn’t happen the second year I was there.

22:07 Christian:

When was this?

22:09 Christian:

This was, uh, 2020, uh, or I’m sorry, 2018 to 2020. Um, and I left in 2020. Um, but every year we started talking about a little bit more, a little bit more from, you know, working for the Economic Development corporation. The MO is jobs, the MO is economic opportunity. Yeah. And we’re reading the tea leaves with, with cannabis going, okay, if and when this does go legal in New York, at least from a recreational perspective, we better be ready. They’re gonna be a lot of job opportunities out here.

22:40 Christian:

A lot of, uh, opportunities to generate, uh, good tax revenue, uh, and opportunities for incubation, small and minority owned businesses, partnerships with community colleges and state universities. So we knew there was a lot of potential. Um, and it just started growing more and more and more into my portfolio. And, um, one day a, a city councilman, um, back in Chicago had called me up, and this is where I kind of took the lead going into cannabis City.

23:10 Christian:

Councilman had called me up and he said, uh, you know, I’ve got a company, um, looking to set up a dispensary in my ward. Can you kind of sniff it out? ’cause I, he knew I was working in the campus space a little bit for the ebc and it was Cresco Labs. And, uh, I had ended up, uh, speaking with some leadership over at Cresco Labs and did my, my research. And I knew they were an incredibly reputable company. They were very strong in Chicago and doing a lot, working closely with City Hall and at Springfield. And it was just a very comfortable conversation.

23:41 Christian:

And I was really impressed by it. And I called the alderman back and I said, well, listen, you know, I don’t know what your politics are right now, and if, if your constituent constituency is gonna like a dispensary in, in your ward, but I’ll say if you do, if you are interested in a dispensary in your ward, this is the company to do, right? You, you don’t wanna start out with a <inaudible>, start out with, with a company that knows what you’re doing, um, that’s gonna be a good partner to you and the neighbors. Um, and we just kind of hit it off from there, talking for a couple of more months. And, and, uh, eventually I was contacted by, uh, somebody in executive leadership and said, you know, we’re looking for somebody to run the government affairs shop.

24:18 Christian:

Would you be,

24:18 Eric:

Yeah. Did they have like a, like a government affairs division before or

24:24 Christian:

They had a public affairs division, but never, or a department, uh, of public affairs, but never a built out division for government affairs. Um, so they, they knew they wanted to build out a government affairs division within the company. Um, and so we had talked about setting up, uh, an office here in New York, and then Covid hit, uh, but that didn’t stop us, obviously from, from building out a division. So I have a, a great staff that I work with, um, that handles respective regions around the country, and I’ll oversee that portfolio.

24:56 Christian:

They drive everything on the ground. Um, and then I’ll work a lot on the federal work stream, um, as well. So it’s a lot to cover. But we knew obviously at states where we’re falling one by one when it came to, when it came to legalizing recreational cannabis, we needed people on the ground.

25:13 Christian:

We needed people to help drive the legislation, shape it, um, to make it industry friendly, make it friendly for small and minority owned businesses as well. You know, making sure that, um, these rollouts and these programs were inclusive, um, and set up for success. And so, uh, that’s what we did. And we’ve done a very good job. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. Super interesting. As you guys know, there’s so many dynamics to cannabis, right? It’s working on, on real estate or zoning or policy or social equity initiatives, right?

25:46 Christian:

All of it is just, there’s something new every day. There’s a <inaudible>.

25:49 Isaac:

Yeah. Are you, are you working like in close tandem with, you know, some of your peers from other companies? Or is it, you know, much more siloed? Yeah. <laugh>

26:00 Christian:

Situation depends on the state. Are

26:01 Eric:

There like a bunch of Christians at like the other, the other MSOs? Well, there’s only one Christian, my guy, but yeah. Uh, no, they like other like MSOs that you’re collaborating with. ’cause I think like the like unique thing about cannabis too, right? Is that obviously, you know, you’re competing for market share, you’re competing for, you know, retail locations in these highly competitive markets, you know, for licenses. But at the same time, there’s still this overarching goal, right? It’s, it’s legalization. So there is this higher sense of collaboration,

26:30 Isaac:

Us versus them basically.

26:32 Christian:

No, it’s a great question. And, and the answer is actually, it’s, it’s not, it’s, it’s a bit unique right? In, in certain states where there are policies that benefit the industry as a whole. Yeah, I think there, there are definitely opportunities where we collaborate and build coalitions and, and I work closely with my counterparts, and I’ll use an example, like in Ohio right now, they’re talking about introducing, um, a bill that eliminates two 80 e that would allow medical operators to deduct their business expenses. Well, that’s something I think every business in Ohio would get on board with. So let’s talk to each other, let’s make sure we’re aligned on making sure the assembly and the legislature and the governor governor’s office knows that there’s consensus across the board on this.

27:12 Christian:

And there’d be a lot of support. And then certainly when it comes to real estate, that’s where it’s more our own lane and, and everybody kind of goes off, um, in their own direction to kind of, um, suit their needs.

27:23 Christian:

But, uh, when it comes to policy, yeah, I mean, you find things that, you know, there would be consensus, um, on pretty much across the board, whether it’s with MSOs, we work a lot with small businesses, social equity applicants, um, and we find those spots. And if there are opportunities we can build a coalition or use a training association to speak with one voice, we do, it’s definitely more amenable that way. So what’s, so I feel like there’s just so much to unpack. Um, more hours.

27:55 Christian:

Yeah. I think it’s just super fascinating. There’s just so many nuances and

28:01 Isaac:

Well, I feel like this side of it doesn’t get discussed out in public a lot, you know what I mean? I feel like how often are you talking, I guess, to people outside of the circle, um, and internally about, you know, what’s going on in Washington and your conversations? Yeah.

28:16 Christian:

Um, that’s a good question. Probably not as much as we’re dedicating our time and resources to lawmakers right now. I, I mean, it really is a challenge of knowing how and when to spend your time. And right now the most important thing for the industry arguably, is getting federal reform done. ’cause that’ll be a massive shot across the bow to investors and to banks, um, and to state entities as well, that this is becoming a more professionalized industry. Uh, and so we’re spending most of our time developing strategies, um, talking points, educating lawmakers and their staff, and then also, um, evolving those educated staff members, um, and members to become advocates.

29:03 Christian:

Right? And we had talked about that earlier. You need to find champions who will be in the room when they’re negotiating to say, I’m holding the line. This bill is not in this package. I won’t vote for the package. Right. And that’s a tough thing to do for sure. Um, so you, you’re, you’ve gotta find those folks and, and turn ’em loose. And that’s what we’ve really been focused on. And, and earlier this year we started that process. It’s been refreshing because we’ve got a lot of advocates at the table in Washington to meet from the same songbook. So cautiously optimistic that we’re gonna get it over the line this year.

29:36 Christian:

Uh, but that’s where our time is at.

29:38 Isaac:

No, and that makes sense. I guess like from your perspective and from the kind of lawmaker’s perspective, like how is the grassroots, you know, efforts of cannabis advocates, like at an individual level impacted? Is it like helpful? Has it grown scale? Because I know it’s been going on forever, so I dunno how it’s been viewed over the last like, six years. Yeah,

29:57 Christian:

Yeah. I mean, again, i, I come from more of the school of, there needs to be some kind of strategy and, and what, who and why behind everything you’re doing. Um, you know, some of the most effective advocates we’ve seen, um, are patients and veterans and, and social equity licensees and applicants as well. And, and making sure you’ve got the right messenger to the right audience is, is critical, right? Um, there are folks who care about social equity more than anything else when it comes to cannabis.

30:29 Christian:

Um, so you wanna make sure that they’re hearing from the social equity community and entrepreneurs and minority owned businesses conveying what their struggles are, tell ’em what’s working, tell ’em what’s not, and what kind of federal reforms will help them get to the next level. Um, and uh, and same thing when it comes to veterans and, and patients, right?

30:50 Christian:

Veterans, there are a number of veterans out there, great groups, um, who really are advocating rightfully so for the ability, uh, VA to do research and be able to pres prescribe cannabis products instead of opioids. And one would think that’s kind of an easy argument to make. And it’s not saying the VA should be mandating they have to prescribe cannabis, but at least allow optionality. Um, there are plenty of veterans out there who don’t like taking pills, don’t like taking opioids. And if they had the option to cannabis and use cannabis products instead, they would, they don’t have that option,

31:25 Isaac:

Which is crazy. They should have, they should have the access to what everything they,

31:30 Christian:

I mean, I will say though, last year was, um, one piece of first standalone piece of cannabis reform, uh, was passed and signed by the president last last year, which was cannabis research. Yeah. Uh, which was Diane Feinstein bill. And that was a great step, right? It’s showing that we can at least agree that it should be studied and it results of a study, um, are positive and we know will bring benefits and positive impact to people that need help and need, um, need medicine and medical product in the form of cannabis. We can get to that level.

32:00 Isaac:

You mean not having 90% of the tested product come from the growing that Ole Miss <laugh>?

32:07 Christian:

You, you know, one of the things that I had worked on, um, extensively in Chicago with the mayor’s office there was building out, um, a research hub. And our thought was Chicago would be a great place to, to make, uh, or at least develop a, a cannabis research hub because there’s so many cannabis companies based in Chicago that could offer resource product, um, and testing support. And they actually launched, um, through, uh, an entity of the University of Illinois called, uh, discovery Partners Institute.

32:38 Christian:

Shameless plug, they’re a great outfit over there from University of Illinois, uh, to do cannabis research. But as you should speak, one of the toughest things about doing cannabis research is the ability to access product and get approvals from the federal government. And in order to do that, you have to go through the F D A, you have to go through D O J <inaudible>.

32:58 Christian:

I mean, it’s, it’s an extensive process application-wise, um, and it, it disincentivizes people from even applying ’cause nobody gets, gets approved for the most part. I also find it rich, sorry to keep going now. You know, um, I find it somewhat rich and ironic that the president issued a, an executive order last year saying that the A H SS secretary needs to make a recommendation to the D O J about scheduling.

33:29 Christian:

Well, the criteria for making such a recommendation is research science, but there’s barely any research out there because we’re not allowed to do any kind of research. So it was kind of like, okay, so what kind of data science can, can we offer to the, you know, h h Ss secretary to review? And he’s kind of looking around going, <laugh> how much,

33:53 Eric:

I guess from your stance and just like zooming out, like your professional background, are you frustrated by the lack of reform or do you think that it’s moving at a pace that it should based off of it being a very new and emerging industry?

34:16 Christian:

Yeah. Um, you know, it’s easy to get frustrated at times and working at different levels of government. You experience different processes, right? When it comes to cannabis reform or pushing bills in, let’s say, you know, Chicago or New York, things move quick every month. They’re meeting Yeah. And, and ordinances are getting passed. Federal government takes a very long time, right? You could be working on something for a year, two years and not get over the finish line. Say banking’s a perfect example. Uh, that doesn’t mean we don’t stop, you know?

34:48 Christian:

Or that means we don’t stop and, and we keep pushing. Um, it’s, it’s easy to get frustrated. But I would say this, when it comes to cannabis reform, it’s much more practical, in my opinion, to be aiming for incremental reform. The politics do not lend itself right now for the home run ball. Yeah, right.

35:10 Christian:

You’re not gonna get federal legalization next year. The, it’s just not there. Not with the Republican House and, and a divided Senate the way it’s, but there are pieces of cannabis reform that do have bipartisan support that we know we can get across the line. Safe banking is, is some of that low hanging. I think two 80 e is, is kind of in that mix a little bit as well. Um, so it’s, it’s, again, it’s a strategic decision on my part, um, company’s part to really dedicate the time and resources to things we know we can get done.

35:43 Christian:

Um, and if you chip away at it, eventually you’re gonna get there. But if you spend all your time, you know, swinging for the home run hall, you may not get anything. Can’t cut down a tree in one full swoop. You know, like you gotta gotta jam a waiting long time for that. Um, and I’d rather see progress, um, across the board for the industry as opposed to drawing hard lines in the sand and saying all or nothing.

36:08 Isaac:

I think, you know, one of the things I’ve kind of heard over the last few months, like having into young other election cycle is that Republicans might kind of start picking up the canvas issue more on their end because they see it as a missed opportunity from the Democrats. How, is that like a common feeling like in DC or is that more maybe overblown?

36:27 Christian:

I think there’s something to it. Um, so there’s been recent polling that shows 68 to 70% of, uh, Republican voters support cannabis, legal cannabis in form or another, whether, whether it’s medicinal or recreational cannabis. Those are pretty good numbers. Wow. Yeah, I was about to say front lawmaker, 68 to 70%. I mean, Kentucky just came online. It was coming out Well, that’s

36:51 Isaac:

What like this stems from, like, I think, you know, it, it, it does feel like somewhat of a missed opportunity over the last three years now.

36:58 Christian:

Yeah. And um, you know, I was speaking to, uh, uh, a lawmaker the other day and, um, she voiced frustration. Uh, she was a democrat and she voiced frustration that, you know, we, we had the White House for, for eight years under Barack Obama. Not we, but her party had the, the White House for eight years under Barack Obama and nothing got done. And now we’ve got the White House again, and we’ve had the White House Senate House for the first two years of this administration and nothing really got done either. Um, to your point about Republicans, I I think there’s a, a opening there where republicans are starting to fill a vacuum a little bit.

37:38 Christian:

You’ve seen, um, some great leaders like Dave Joyce, uh, from Ohio has done a, a great job at leading on cannabis issue and, and really trying to advance for practical reforms, including safe banking and the Hope Act.

37:52 Christian:

Uh, Nancy Mace has introduced several bills, um, including the state’s reform bill and eliminating two a d e last year. Guy Resaler from Pennsylvania, uh, was one of the lead sponsors on the Clima Act last year. And, and he’s in a pretty, uh, senior position within the conference right now too. So I think the tent is growing, not not at a fast pace, but folks are realizing that they’re, they’re not being penalized for taking these positions from their voters, at least not on cannabis. Um, and so, uh, I think also too, it, it’ll put a lot of pressure on them if their state is legal from a medical or recreational perspective, they’re gonna see that too.

38:33 Christian:

They’re gonna know that there are hundreds of, of thousands of patients in their state. Um, and customers, if it’s, if it’s recreationally illegal, those are their constituents.

38:42 Eric:

That’s a great point.

38:45 Isaac:

It’s crazy to think about because, well, actually, it’s not just something you said earlier, like a public safety issue. You would think that’d be very much on top of mind for most Republicans based off of the history of the party, but I don’t think it’s viewed like that.

39:00 Christian:

Yeah, I I, I wish it was, but it’s a great point, right? Like that’s why safe banking is an attractive bill there, there’s kind of something in there for everybody. It, it not only protects the industry and advances us and it normalizes us a little bit more, but from a public safety perspective, it does exactly what we need it to do. Right? And it, and it will deter criminal activity that currently exists today. And you’ll meet with more conservative lawmakers who will tell you flat out, I’m not voting for legalizing campus at a recreational level anytime soon. Don’t ask me that.

39:30 Christian:

But I am for public safety and if this bill does it, I’m open to having that conversation.

39:35 Isaac:

It’s all about how you frame things, I guess. Yeah,

39:38 Eric:

Yeah. End result. It’s not always how we get there, right? That’s right. Um, do you think that that cannabis is gonna be a large, or not a large portion, but involved in, you know, midterm elections that are, that are coming up?

39:51 Christian:

I’d like it to be, yeah. <laugh>, I’d like it to be anything to draw attention to the issues. Yeah. Um, you know, I think, uh, the midterms are, well, we’re past the midterms,

40:02 Eric:

Not the midterms. I meant well the next, yeah.

40:05 Christian:

Um, no, it’s, it’s up to industries to make these issues, issues in these cycles. Um, it’s probably not going to be front and center as opposed to, you know, what the administration has been doing on Ukraine or inflation, um, or abortion rights. Right. Um, similar to what we talked about earlier, but, um, you know, I think what, what it can do is that certain pieces of, of good fodder talking points for the administration or for members, and I’ll use the president’s executive order as, as an example, which he mentioned in his state of the Union, right?

40:42 Christian:

He talked about, um, the federal expungements that he ordered through his, through his proclamation, and then he talked about directing the H h Ss secretary to make a recommendation schedule. So if you can kind of inject those key pieces into, into the narrative, I mean, that’s pretty good thing. Um, but I think too, given that there’s mostly, I say unanimous, but overwhelming cannabis in the country, you need to be careful to not make it a divide.

41:14 Christian:

70% of Republicans are polling saying they, and 90% of Democrats are polling and saying they support it. Just keep putting that out. Yeah. I don’t, I don’t wanna make it a more divisive issue than it’s, or signify to lawmakers that it, that it could be a potential, you know, hot potato.

41:31 Isaac:

If anything, it could be one of the, the only unifying issues the country has right now, <laugh>,

41:36 Christian:

You would think. I mean, we’ll get there. It’s, it’s gonna take time. And like I said, education and activation, a lot of folks just need to get educated on it. Some folks won’t pick up the ball and run with it ’cause it’s not their thing. Some will, some are already doing that.

41:52 Eric:

No, and I think, I think that’s a, a perfect place to segue. And, and is there anything else that, you know, we should be thinking about or, or things that you’re excited about in terms of, um, legislation that’s coming online or, or things that you’re doing individually or at Cresco?

42:08 Christian:

Yeah, I think, um, aside from the federal work stream, right, there’s a, there’s plenty to look forward to there, there’s plenty to, to be optimistic about. There’s a lot of time to really push safe banking, getting access to capital across the finish line. Two 80 E is another piece where I think there’s consensus, but also at the state level too. You’re seeing momentum in really key states that are moving to, to legalize recreation. Uh, Maryland is on the cusp right now. A bill is gonna be dropping or a bill is already dropped and and they’re already moving it through the house.

42:38 Christian:

Yeah. Uh, the Senate, um, Pennsylvania is getting really close. There are a couple of, uh, senators out there, bipartisan group of senators, um, who are working closely on introducing, uh, an adult use bill this year, which is gonna have momentum no doubt.

42:53 Christian:

Um, Ohio, they’ve got a, a ballot referendum campaign that’s gonna start up in May, Florida, same thing, ballot referendum, currently ongoing. Um, so it’s gonna be similar to what we’ve seen in 37 states right now that have legalized cannabis in one form or another. There are more dominoes that are gonna fall here. Um, and some of these states that we’re talking about, Pennsylvania, Ohio, these are purple states. It’s gonna force it folks on both sides to pay attention to this.

43:24 Christian:

If it comes down to getting their support at the federal level. If they’re seeing the poll numbers passing their ballot referendums, they can’t ignore that. Certainly when it comes to cannabis reform and policies that are on their desk.

43:36 Isaac:

Do you think those are probably the two that, like, which state I guess would be the most important domino, like the first one to kind of knock some of these other key states that are on the ballot? Yeah,

43:46 Christian:

I, I, that’s a tough one. I, it really does. Based on, it’s personally for a company, I could say one state based on where, where our footprint is, but, um, I think it really would say thing if either, you know, Ohio or Pennsylvania go, or both, those are two Midwestern states, purple states. Um, and I think that would go a long way. I also don’t want to ignore Indiana, which had a legalization bill introduced by two Republicans a couple of months ago too, which was kind of refreshing to see as well. So yeah, I, I think Ohio, Pennsylvania would be a huge deal.

44:21 Christian:

Florida, the market would be insane in Florida, but I don’t see Governor DeSantis doing that as he preps for, uh, the run for president.

44:32 Eric:

It’s a lot of, a lot of, lot of work to be done, but a lot of excitement too, right? I think stay

44:37 Christian:

On your toes, always something

44:38 Eric:

Happening. It’s, uh, exciting times. Yeah. And I, I always just try to, ’cause you know, there, there’s obviously frustrations in, in what we do as well, right? Like we’re super, what we’re here in New York, we’re super excited to start working with businesses and the rollout’s just not been great, right. Bump. But, um, I think it’s, you know, really important to take perspective as to like where we’re at today compared to two, three years ago. It’s, you know, it, it’s light years ahead, right. And I think, you know, when we look back where we’re at now, two to three years from now, it’s gonna be a drastically different story.

45:13 Eric:

And I think it’s always just important to keep that perspective, um, especially just, you know, in this very nuanced space.

45:22 Christian:

That’s exactly right. And listen, I don’t know of any state that has had a quote unquote perfect rollout. Sure. Um, everybody has had their challenges in one

45:31 Eric:

Form. Missouri’s looking pretty good right now, I’ll say pretty good.

45:35 Christian:

It’s keeping the Illinois on their toes. They

45:37 Eric:

Something crazy. I did the math the other day. They legalized recreationally, I think it was, I wanna say 20 or 30 months, maybe 20 months after New York, and they’re gonna eclipse a billion dollars in recreational revenue this year, probably.

45:55 Christian:

Their numbers were insane. I heard they’re already running out of product. Yeah. There was a story this morning that they were already running out of product the

46:00 Eric:

First month they did a hundred million 70 from rec in 30, pretty much from, from medical, which is fantastic. Yeah.

46:07 Christian:

Yeah. That’s great news. And, and the thing is, speaking of domino effect, Missouri’s performance out of the gate right now has got Illinois lawmakers going, we need to be a little more competitive if this is the trend. Um, you know, they, Illinois is one of the highest tax rates in the country when it comes to recreational cannabis. They also have two 80 e still in place. Missouri doesn’t have two 80 E and they have a much lower tax rate. So if they’re businesses in, in South Illinois, if they’re consumers in South Illinois,

46:36 Eric:

Top right up the border,

46:37 Christian:

They’re paying attention. New York, uh, you know, bumpy rollout from my perspective. But I, I do think the governor and the mayor have done a, a fairly decent job of acknowledging there are problems and tacking really quickly to try to address some of it, namely the illicit market right now. That’s gonna be their biggest issue in kind of standing up a legal, a legal, um, illegal program here. But they’ve moved quick. They’ve got some serious people involved. So hopefully, uh, things smooth out a little bit.

47:05 Eric:

We have like two dispensaries across the street from us.

47:08 Christian:

Oh, we

47:09 Eric:

You live on No, you live on 20, you live on what? 21st and seventh? Oh,

47:13 Christian:

Well I wouldn’t call them dispensaries. I would call them

47:15 Eric:

Retailers. Yeah, I’m just saying that I went in there and

47:18 Christian:

Asked for a state license, they

47:20 Eric:

Wouldn’t handle it. No, they would not. Yes, that is true. That is true.

47:22 Christian:

I mean, it’s a serious issue, but it’s also an argument, right? As, as a lobbyist, you try to find those, those touch points where you can say, how does this amplify my argument? The argument is when you go into one of these retailers, you know, it’s not lab tested product, it’s not childproof, right? You, you just don’t know what you’re getting. There’s a cloud of smoke that comes out the store. It was wild. I was

47:43 Isaac:

Seventh Avenue Larry Weed all the time. Now <laugh>,

47:48 Christian:

It, it’s dangerous. And, and we’ve seen bad cases though. People getting hurt or they’ve been intimidated product. And ultimately that undermines a legalized recreational program. So it’s, it’s all the more reason to enforce it and makes sure that legal, uh, state sanctioned dispensaries get up and running as soon as possible. That’s the best way to ensure safety and safety of product for customers. Yeah, I think we’re all excited for it. Isaac, let’s wrap it up. What do we, what do we got here?

48:17 Isaac:

All right. We got some fun, fun nine cannabis work related questions. So what, uh, what’s on the top of the playlist these days? What gets you outta bed in the morning or gets to go in the gym?

48:28 Christian:

Uh, this is gonna be a little embarrassing here. Whew. Uh, I’m not gonna lie, there was a, I mean, I have a playlist, but you know, on Apple, uh, apple Plus or whatever it is, when you get to the end of the playlist, it, it’s, it goes to something that maybe wasn’t on there, but it thinks similar genre. So I’ll just say the thing that came up was Taylor Swift, shake it off.

48:48 Isaac:

I mean, that’s a great song.

48:49 Christian:

So that’s which I actually, I was like on the treadmill, like fist bumping while it was going on, but on a, yeah, like on a serious day. Like, I’ll, I’ll go, I’ll go Springsteen, man. Petty Springsteen jewel. A little more old school. You’re,

49:03 Isaac:

You’re a tri, you’re a tri-state guy. So yeah. <laugh>. Um, next one. You know, what’s a, a book that you’ve read a few times or one that you would recommend everyone, you know, kinda looks into? We’re building this apparently, so

49:16 Christian:

We’re building and reading. Yeah, so I, I’m, I’m usually a big dork in the books I get are about history or political science and, and memoirs and stuff like that. And when I went on my honeymoon, uh, where I met a, a mutual friend of ours that Carl. Carl, that’s how we met you. Yeah. <laugh>. Um, I actually, my wife made take a, a fiction book. So it was not anything about work, it wasn’t anything about politics. And, uh, it was one of the best books I had ever read called The Light We Cannot See. Um, and it was written by a, a Gentleman by

49:50 Isaac:

<crosstalk>. That might be the first fiction book we’ve got

49:52 Christian:

On here. And, uh, I like it, one of Pulitzer. Um, and I, I loved it. It was a great book, but that might be the first fiction book we’ve got. Yeah, I like it. Um, I would say God, um, I read a really good one by, uh, Susan Glasser and, uh, Peter Baker from the New York Times, um, uh, about, um, Jim Bakker, uh, I’m forgetting the name of it all of a sudden, but, uh, Ronald Reagan’s former chief of Staff, treasury Secretary, commerce secretary guy was a legend.

50:24 Christian:

He just a, a legend in Washington. Um, so, uh, that was another one that I really,

50:31 Isaac:

Hey, you can’t ask the food questions since you’re the resident of Food <laugh>.

50:36 Eric:

Last meal.

50:38 Christian:

Last meal, God,

50:41 Isaac:

First thing that pops in the head, they’re, they’re

50:43 Christian:

On different, the spectrum here. It’s either, it’s either McDonald’s or like <laugh>.

50:48 Eric:

That’s an interesting one, but not a bad or

50:51 Christian:

Total opposite end, which is linin and clam sauce and some garlic bread. Just old school Italian

50:57 Eric:

Meal. That’s why I was thinking we were going for Carla, you know, like, uh, you know. Yeah,

51:00 Christian:

Yeah. I mean, I probably should have said the Quinine.

51:03 Isaac:

No, no. Now we, now we gotta dig into this McDonald’s, the McDonald’s order <laugh>

51:08 Christian:

Driving the car over the cliff, get me a couple of big, big Macs and some fries. You know, something I don’t do on the re, but knowing that they’re, I wouldn’t have too much longer, who cares?

51:20 Eric:

I love that. Uh, it’s honest and I love it. Still have the

51:23 Isaac:

Best fries and it’s not close.

51:25 Christian:

Yeah. It’s like I, I know they’re delicious. I want them. I don’t touch them. So if it’s the last meal, why not?

51:32 Isaac:

I’m taking it off. I like it.

51:34 Eric:

Well, this has been an awesome time, Christian. I really appreciate it, man. And, and the insight’s been really, really valuable. I think just, you know, what we thought coming into it, we got like very different, very different perspective in a good way, right? I think, um, you know, a lot to unpack, um, you know, in terms of just a recap and what I gather a lot to be done, but exciting times and, you know, there’s, there’s people behind the scenes grinding it out, you know, in Washington, right? Um, you yourself, your, your staff and, and other organizations with, with similar type structures.

52:08 Eric:

And, uh, and it’s, it’s good. We, we need, we need more. Yeah.

52:13 Christian:

More to come, lots to do. Excited for the future.

52:15 Isaac:

Absolutely. I think you, you nailed it with the two words, educate and activate. That’s

52:19 Christian:

Right. That’s the mantra for this year. Love it.

52:22 Eric:

Appreciate.

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