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Canadian Pot Producer Cronos Adds Avon Legal Chief (Correct)

May 18, 2021, 9:31 AM; Updated: May 19, 2021, 3:10 PM

Cronos Group Inc., a Canadian pot producer partially owned by cigarette maker Altria Group Inc., has hired a Federal Trade Commission expert as legalized weed continues to make inroads in the U.S.

Thomas Cohn, who spent the past year as general counsel for privately held consumer products company Avon Co. in New York, confirmed in an email to Bloomberg Law that he recently joined Cronos as head of regulatory and product.

Cronos sought FTC and Food and Drug Administration expertise for “building disruptive intellectual property by advancing cannabis research, technology, and product development,” according to an online job posting by the Toronto-based company for a head of regulatory affairs, a title Cohn lists on his LinkedIn profile.

In Cohn, Cronos gets a lawyer well-versed in the federal and state claims substantiation protocols required of consumer products companies that lean on advertising and marketing campaigns to expand product lines.

Cronos didn’t respond to a request for comment about Cohn’s new role. Nor did Avon, when asked who has been named to succeed him as its top in-house lawyer.

Avon, which last year completed its $2 billion sale to Brazil’s Natura & Co. Holding SA, initially hired Cohn in 2016 as a director and senior counsel for sales, marketing, and government affairs.

Cohn previously worked at beauty products company Atlantic Coast Brands and vitamin manufacturer Nature’s Bounty Co., in-house jobs he took after serving as a partner at now-defunct LeClairRyan and of counsel at Venable.

Before that, Cohn spent a dozen years at the FTC, where he rose to the level of regional director.

Cohn said he now reports to Xiuming Shum, a former Sullivan & Cromwell associate who has spent nearly the past four years as executive vice president for legal and regulatory affairs at Cronos. The company’s CEO until last September was Michael Gorenstein, another former corporate lawyer from Sullivan & Cromwell who remains its executive chairman.

Gorenstein, who spent over four years as Cronos’ CEO, was head of the company when it became the first Canadian pot producer to be listed on the Nasdaq in 2018. In an interview that year with Bloomberg News, Gorenstein spoke about the $1.8 billion investment that Cronos received from Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA and maker of cigarette brands like Marlboro.

Since then, the marijuana market has continue to grow, with Canadian cannabis companies looking south and other cigarette giants like Philip Morris International Inc. and British American Tobacco PLC evaluating their legal weed investments, according to an April report by Bloomberg News.

Murray Garnick, Altria’s general counsel, is a member of the board at Cronos. Gorenstein owns nearly $9.3 million in Cronos stock, according to Bloomberg data.

Gorenstein stepped down as CEO last year as Cronos named his replacement in Kurt Schmidt, a former executive at consumer packaged goods companies Blue Buffalo Co. Ltd., Kraft Foods Inc., and Nestlé SA.

Cronos disclosed in its most recent proxy statement filed in late April that Shum, its legal chief, received roughly $841,100 in total compensation during fiscal 2020. The company noted that in “order to retain executive talent” it gave Shum in November a one-time retention award of Cronos stock valued at about $68,000.

Shum was credited by Cronos in its proxy for leading its legal and regulatory affairs efforts and “overseeing the development and implementation of an integrated global quality management system and a global compliance program.” Cronos said Shum supported the company’s brand and product launches in the U.S., Israel, and Canada by successfully obtaining regulatory licenses for sales and exports.

Within the past year, Cronos has also hired former Sullivan & Cromwell associate Michael Akavan as head of litigation and Charles Goldschmid, a global ethics and compliance lawyer at LVMH, as its head of business conduct and ethics.

(Corrected in 12th paragraph to show that Altria's Garnick is a member of the board for Cronos.)

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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