Inspired by the NJ Cannabis Insider Q&A with Satya Capital’s Nishant Reddy, I sat with Jason Erkes, Chief Communications Officer with Cresco Labs, for a closer look at the company’s New Jersey plans.

One of the fastest-growing companies in the cannabis space, Cresco was supported by CSG’s Cannabis Law Group on its application to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Atlantic City as part of the New Jersey Department of Health’s July 2018 RFA.

The full interview follows.

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Jason Erkes, Cresco Labs

Lee Vartan: Tell us about Cresco.

Jason Erkes: Cresco Labs is one of the fastest growing cannabis companies in the country.  We have operations in six states— Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, California, and Arizona—and are involved in nearly every aspect of the seed-to-sale process, from cultivation to processing to retailing.  We focus on entering markets with outsized demand potential, significant supply constraints, and high barriers to entry.

Our unparalleled speed-to-market—seven months from license to sale—gives us a distinct competitive advantage as we replicate our model and expand our national footprint.  Cresco’s proven ability to execute is complemented by a well-defined brand strategy that is tailored to all major consumer segments: medicinally focused, everyday cannabis, connoisseur grade, and chef inspired edibles by James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal.

LV: What brings you to New Jersey? Atlantic City, specifically? How did you go about securing the community’s support?

JE: We have been looking to enter the New Jersey market for some time.  With demand greatly outstripping supply and a complex regulatory environment, New Jersey is the precise type of market where Cresco Labs excels.  But we knew that the competition to enter New Jersey would be fierce, so we developed a two-pronged strategy and developed it early: (1) partner with the right local team; and (2) work with that team to tell the Cresco story to build real and deep local support.

We found the ideal local partners in Mike Brestle and Ellie Siegel and they, along with our legal team at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi, helped us share our vision and build local support in Atlantic City.  Our application included letters of support from the State Senator representing Atlantic City, the County Executive, the Mayor, City Council President, community advocacy groups, and the National Action Network.  Those letters were hard won.  We spent weeks meeting with community leaders and introducing them to Cresco and our plans for Atlantic City.  Uniformly they were impressed with our market expertise and our concrete plans to re-invest in the community.

LV: Applicants have touted a range of community reinvestment and social equity programs as part of their local involvement: What are Cresco’s plans?

JE: We said “concrete” plans in response to the last question for a reason.  In every market Cresco operates in, we endeavor to become real partners with the local communities right from the start.  We took the same approach in Atlantic City.  Before any letters of support were received, Cresco organized community forums to discuss our plans for an Alternative Treatment Center in Atlantic City, and we didn’t just talk, we listened.

In response to the forums, we decided to change the proposed site of our ATC from one location in Atlantic City that the community opposed to one that the community supported.  We also built a Social Justice Steering Committee into our application that includes designated local leaders to determine how and where the dollars reinvested by Cresco in Atlantic City will be spent.

LV: One of the catalysts for the expansion of ATCs in New Jersey is the imbalance of patients and supply. How is Cresco positioned to help resolve this issue?

JE: More than anything else, we believe the State Department of Health is looking to dramatically—and quickly—increase the supply of quality medical cannabis to New Jersey’s patients in need.  That is what Cresco is known for in the industry—being able to go from license to market faster than any of our peers.  We are poised to do the same in New Jersey.  If we are awarded a license, we are prepared to begin building our ATC the next day.  There won’t be a need to discuss our plans with local or community leaders.  We have already done so, and won their support.

LV: I am sure there have been major lessons learned along the path toward becoming a bonafide national player in the cannabis industry. What single piece of advice would you give to aspiring operators?

JE: It has been said that all politics is local, well, the same is true in the cannabis industry.  Cresco has never been a cookie-cutter operation.  What worked in Illinois may not work in Pennsylvania or Nevada.  The secret to our success has been spending the time to learn the needs of the local community we are entering and then build a business that recognizes and embraces those needs.  Our goal is always the same: to seamlessly blend into the community, while bringing quality, reliable, and consistent products to provide relief to local patients.

LV: If not selected in this round, what are Cresco’s future plans in New Jersey?

JE: While we know there is no guarantee, we believe that we put forward an incredibly strong application that blends industry expertise with strong New Jersey partners and deep support from the Atlantic City community.  In short, we expect to receive a license from the State.  But if we don’t, we have every intention of re-applying in a future round.  We are committed to being a part of Atlantic City’s resurgence.