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Cresco Labs Beefs Up Legal Team With Cannabis Election Wins

Nov. 24, 2020, 9:34 PM

Cresco Labs Inc., a publicly traded cannabis company, has been busy hiring lawyers to help prepare for a green wave of recreational marijuana use in the U.S. that gained momentum with the Nov. 3 election.

Five states—Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota—approved legal weed ballot measures, adding to the 33 that already allow marijuana to be used for recreational or medicinal purposes.

“Today is the culmination of hard work and dedication by politicians, patients, caregivers, activists, and anyone who supports the idea that cannabis is a viable health and wellness tool,” wrote Cresco counsel Neeyaz Hojatoleslami on LinkedIn in response to a proposition that passed in Arizona, a longtime cannabis battleground.

Some of the pro-pot measures were approved in states that have traditionally been more conservative politically, making Cresco CEO Charles Bachtell one of several cannabis company leaders overjoyed at the prospect of a new era for legal weed.

“It’s safe to say cannabis was victorious,” he told Bloomberg News in a recent interview.

Bachtell, a former general counsel of Guaranteed Rate Inc., a Chicago-based mortgage lender that in September hired a new legal chief, told Bloomberg Law in an email that he’s looking for “strong business leaders” with experience in regulated industries in building out Cresco’s legal and compliance staff.

“My background has played a fundamental role in how I decided to approach the cannabis industry,” he said. “Add high growth, being public, and preparing for the potential of U.S. capital markets and you need a robust in-house team.”

Bachtell left Guaranteed Rate in 2015, two years after co-founding Cresco with Joseph Caltabiano, a former Guaranteed Rate mortgage banker.

Caltabiano stepped down in March as president of Cresco, which is listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange, and in June he resigned from the board of the Chicago-based company. Bachtell took over some of Caltabiano’s management duties after his exit.

That same month, Cresco named Michele Roberts—a former Big Law partner currently serving as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association—to become its first female board member.

Legal Recruits

In October, Cresco welcomed aboard Winston & Strawn corporate partner Karen Weber, chair of the law firm’s Chicago mentoring program and co-chair of its local women’s leadership initiative, as an associate general counsel for securities and corporate governance.

Also joining Cresco last month was William Novomisle, the company’s new director of legal operations and a former Big Law litigator-turned-legal efficiency expert.

Novomisle began his career as a chemist at Pfizer Inc. before going on to work as an associate at Shearman & Sterling and Paul Hastings in New York. He’s previously held in-house legal operations roles at PepsiCo Inc. and Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Novomisle, who no longer practices law, then held legal pricing positions at leading Canadian law firms Stikeman Elliott and Gilbert’s before starting Shanghai-based legal management consultancy In-Gear Legalytics in 2015. Three years later, he became a managing consultant for process and technology at Hong Kong-based legal innovation boutique KorumLegal. Novomisle left that role to join Cresco.

Other in-house additions by Cresco in recent months include senior legal counsel Alexandra Wright and Ann Marie Regan, both of whom joined the company after serving as general counsel for Chicago’s Roosevelt University and senior counsel for a Singapore-based logistics company, respectively.

Cresco also absorbed two other lawyers—Hojatoleslami and associate general counsel Adrian Lambie—through its $400 million acquisition of CannaRoyalty Corp., a Canadian cannabis company doing business as Origin House.

Lambie had been Origin House’s U.S. general counsel based in Irvine, Calif., where Hojatoleslami was a junior counsel. Norton Rose Fulbright advised Origin House on the deal, while Canada’s Bennett Jones counseled Cresco.

Origin House’s sale to Cresco, which closed in July, was one of several cannabis industry mergers caught up in antitrust reviews by the Justice Department. The department, under U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s leadership, was skeptical of the legal weed market, according to congressional whistleblower testimony.

“The entire sector was negatively affected by this,” Cresco co-founder Caltabiano told Bloomberg News in June. “It slows the introduction of new investors, has a chilling effect on capital raising. It raises concerns where there is no reason for concern.”

Caltabiano, who left the company to pursue other investment opportunities in the cannabis space, still owns Cresco stock.

The company currently lists on its website openings for two labor and employment legal positions. Cresco’s general counsel since 2018 has been John Schetz, a former partner at McDermott Will & Emery. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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

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