After several delays, representatives in the U.S. House voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in early December, a bill that would deschedule and decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. However, many believe its chances of advancing through the Senate are slim. Despite this, Charlie Bachtell, co-founder and CEO of multistate operator Cresco Labs, noted the symbolic significance of the moment. CBT spoke to Bachtell an hour after the U.S. House vote was announced to get his take on the MORE Act and how federal decriminalization would affect Cresco Labs, a company with 15 production facilities and 29 retail licenses across nine states.
Michelle Simakis: What came to mind first for you when you heard the MORE Act had passed?
Charlie Bachtell: While everyone likes to focus on the details and the specifics, it really is important for everyone to take a step back and say, “Wow.” The fact that cannabis legislation can be presented on the floor, receive a vote and get passed is fundamentally important for the continued development of a respectable and responsible cannabis industry in the U.S.
MS: What do you think is the most important aspect of the MORE Act?
CB: The MORE Act is important from the perspective of social equity and social justice. It goes beyond banking access. This is legalization with purpose. The fact that you’ve got, for the second time, cannabis-related language now receiving a favorable vote out of half of Congress is something that I know the pioneers of this industry, upon the shoulders of which we stand, didn’t know if they would ever see.
MS: What do you think finally helped push cannabis decriminalization forward, at least in part of Congress?
CB: The truly activated ... and organized approach to getting change in D.C. is a lot newer. I think it benefits from the time that we live in, the connectivity of people and accessibility to information and social media. When cannabis really started to transition from, you know, “wink, wink nudge, nudge” medical programs across the country to pioneering markets in California and Colorado to a second generation of highly regulated, compliance-focused programs that started to get developed around 2013 and 2014, you really saw a tidal wave of support.
MS: What would descheduling cannabis at the federal level mean to Cresco Labs as a multi-state operator?
CB: When we founded Cresco Labs, a couple of things were pretty obvious to us. Cannabis was on the path to becoming a consumer packaged good. [And] at some point in time, federally legal would mean interstate commerce, so it had to be a fundamental part of the way you developed your business. It’s why we focused on building brands that resonate with consumers and the distribution of those brands to the stores that we don’t own because that offers us the best long-term opportunity as this industry continues to develop and be more accessible and more diverse.
MS: What would you do first, should cannabis be decriminalized and descheduled?
CB: This industry is truly being built with one to one-and-a-half hands behind its back. Not having access to traditional banking and resources, let alone actual capital at a decent rate, makes it really hard to build a business, scale a business. You can put all of the regulatory nuances in place that will encourage more diversity and more inclusiveness, but if [cannabis companies] can’t get the dollars needed to actually rent a storefront, build out a storefront, hire people, buy inventory and operate a business, it’s not going to work. Having access to more traditional avenues for to capital is going to be really important from the startup to publicly traded organizations like Cresco Labs. Then this industry becomes a different ballgame.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.