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Cannabis Compliance Firm Simplifya Hires New General Counsel (1)

Aug. 4, 2021, 4:11 PMUpdated: Aug. 4, 2021, 6:19 PM

Simplifya LLC, a company that makes regulatory and operational compliance software for the cannabis industry, announced Wednesday its hire of Katrina Skinner as general counsel and chief banking officer.

Skinner is a cannabis industry veteran who joins Denver-based Simplifya from Burns & Levinson, a Boston-based firm that’s one of an increasing number in the U.S. to launch cannabis law practices.

Her hire comes as some U.S. lawmakers seek to open U.S. banking and stock exchanges to cannabis companies. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden have proposed legislation that would take marijuana off the list of controlled substances.

“Despite the majority of states legalizing cannabis, the financial services industry has been reluctant to bank in the industry due to the risks associated with anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act regulations,” Skinner said in a statement.

She joins a company that works with financial institutions, licensed cannabis operators, and lawyers. Simplifya closed a $6 million Series B fundraising round in June. Public records show that Alexandria, Va.-based Hauptman Ham has advised Simplifya on trademarking phrases like “The Blunt Rules.”

Skinner said in her new role at Simplifya she will work closely with the company’s co-founder and CEO Marion Mariathasan to help deliver “cost-effective and employee-efficient compliance banking solutions to the cannabis industry.”

Burns & Levinson set up shop in Denver after hiring Skinner as a partner in March 2020. The firm’s website, however, no longer lists a location for a Mile High City office. Amy Blumenthal, a Burns & Levinson spokeswoman, confirmed that Skinner was the sole occupant of that office when it closed in June.

Prior to joining Burns & Levinson, Skinner ran her own Denver-based firm and served as president and general counsel for Safe Harbor Services, an Arvada, Colo.-based cannabis banking program now known as Safe Harbor Financial LLC and owned by the Partner Colorado Credit Union.

Skinner joins a Simplifya team that already includes several lawyers in regulatory analysts Joseph DeVore, Lucas Ewing, and Melanie Walters. Two other regulatory analysts, attorneys Corey Bartkus and William Gunnison, left Simplifya last year.

Bartkus is now an attorney with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, while Gunnison is general counsel and compliance director for Coda Signature, a marijuana edibles brand that secured $6 million in funding earlier this year.

Skinner replaces John Vardaman III, a former head of the Justice Department’s money laundering section who Simplifya hired in 2019 to be its general counsel and chief compliance officer. Vardaman joined the company after serving as general counsel for Hypur Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based payments and banking technology platform that works with cannabis dispensaries.

Hypur hired Vardaman in 2016 from the Justice Department, where he spent more than a decade. In 2014, Vardaman helped write guidance for federal prosecutors that sought to curtail cannabis-related money laundering cases against financial institutions in states where weed is legal.

Vardaman’s LinkedIn profile shows that he left Simplifya last year and returned to Justice this past April as an attorney adviser in Washington. He didn’t respond to a request for comment. Vardaman’s father is the late John “Jack” Vardaman Jr., a longtime partner at Williams & Connolly.

More In-House Additions

Simplifya isn’t the only cannabis-focused company hiring in-house legal talent.

Fyllo LLC, a compliance software startup serving cannabis companies, announced May 4 its hire of chief legal officer Travis Moyer, who most recently served as vice president of business development for Curaleaf Holdings Inc. Moyer is also a strategic adviser to Wesana Health Inc., a Chicago-based emerging life sciences company co-founded by Fyllo CEO Chad Bronstein.

TerrAscend Corp., a North American cannabis operator that hired its legal chief Jason Marks last summer and recently fired its CEO, FreshDirect founder Jason Ackerman, brought on Duane Morris litigation association Joseph Pangaro IV in June as an assistant general counsel for New Jersey, which legalized marijuana for recreational use this year. TerrAscend also added former Cresco Labs LLC counsel J. Jacob Thornton in March as lead corporate counsel for licensing and regulatory compliance.

UCG Inc., a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based recreational cannabis product and brand licensing company, announced June 17 it had brought on Barnes & Thornburg litigation associate Zachary Heller as general counsel. Heller, who worked out of the firm’s offices in Chicago and San Diego, now works with Eli Korer, a fellow former Barnes & Thornburg lawyer who joined UCG in 2019 as its chief legal officer.

(Adds comment from law firm in seventh paragraph and news of other cannabis legal hires in second section.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com