Photos by Anthony Tahlier
Scaling a business to nationwide success is challenging under any circumstances. But when that business operates in an industry that is rapidly shifting from minimal regulation to hyper regulation—with divergent state-to-state requirements, intense regulatory oversight and negative public perceptions about its products—success demands a unique skill set. Fortunately for Cresco Labs, it’s a skill set that co-founder and CEO Charlie Bachtell brought with him from the post-2008 housing crisis and resulting hyper-regulated mortgage industry. And it’s what has led the seed-to-sale cannabis company from its Chicago roots to having a presence in nine U.S. states—and counting.
When Illinois’ Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act became law on Aug. 1, 2013, Bachtell was executive vice president and general counsel for residential mortgage company Guaranteed Rate. Joe Caltabiano, now Cresco’s president, was a standout in loan origination on Guaranteed Rate’s sales side.
While other companies failed following the housing collapse, Guaranteed Rate became a leader in the mortgage space, expanding from a few hundred to several thousand employees, licensed and operational in all 50 states with 150-plus brick-and-mortar offices. By engaging, embracing and excelling at regulation, the company thrived in the new era of hyper-regulated mortgage banking. “[On the surface], the [mortgage] industry was not similar to cannabis,” Bachtell says. “But in reality, it was almost like a foreshadowing of what the cannabis industry was about to become.”
Within 72 hours of the Illinois medical marijuana law’s signing—and Caltabiano’s semi-casual suggestion that the pair “sell weed”—Bachtell had written a 25-page white paper/business plan. Nearly six years later, the document still serves as the foundation for Cresco’s business model.
Today, the company operates in highly regulated states—Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, Arizona, California, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland—with 13 production facilities, 12 retail locations and significant expansion plans