It’s an exciting time in the cannabis industry, particularly for investment company Acreage Holdings, which recently closed a landmark $119 million in its latest funding round, setting a new record for US-based firms. At Honeysuckle, we’ve always got our eyes on developing stories, and in a bit of prescience, we were able to catch up with the Acreage team at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition in New York (CWCBExpo NY) not long before the big news went public. President George Allen, a featured speaker at CWCBExpo, gave us the scoop on all the dynamics at work to make Acreage truly one of a kind.
JAIME LUBIN: Acreage has been one of the companies most responsible for shaping the legal cannabis industry in the United States. You have the most diverse portfolio of any American-based cannabis business and are transforming this space left and right in the cultivation, processing, and sales for medical use. What would you say to people who are just getting introduced to what you do?
GEORGE ALLEN: Well, Acreage is about the unification between the opportunities in the cannabis space to deliver safe, reliable, repeatable experiences to consumers nationwide. And those consumers include people who are diehard, historical users of cannabis, as well as people who are new to the plant. We believe the future of cannabis is about safety, it’s about repeatability, it’s about reliability, and it’s about trust.
I’ve heard your founder/CEO Kevin Murphy speak before; he’s very inspiring, and it seems like your whole team is enthusiastic about educating people on the plant’s medical use and other benefits. As the Acreage motto goes, you deeply believe in the transformational power of cannabis.
As the largest player in this space, people find us. And that is jet fuel for us, because they’ll tell us stories about how cannabis has changed their lives. I say this internally to everyone we recruit: you don’t have to use cannabis to work at our company. But you absolutely have to subscribe to the notion that cannabis can and will make the world a better place.
What brought you to the cannabis industry initially?
I have to say, I was originally drawn to it because as an investor and an executive, you don’t get a chance to participate in many groundswell opportunities, ever. As a business entrepreneur, to replicate what’s happening in the cannabis space, we’d have to go and sell cars to the evolving middle class in China. The opportunity is that big—you don’t get that combination of a known, untapped market that’s going to happen almost instantly with a personal opportunity.
It has been inspiring, just the stories I’ve heard and collected. I like everybody at our company. I had thought there would be more opposition socially, or with my family in taking a job here. The reality is quite the opposite, it’s been enthusiasm for what we’re doing and what we’re bringing to people. It’s amazing. And every day I show up at work excited about what I’m doing.
I’m so grateful that my life and my career path has brought me in the intersection with this opportunity. Because the ability to work on something that is helping children, veterans, and cancer patients, bringing health and healing to the world, [is truly remarkable].
I’d love to ask your opinion about the opposition. We’re seeing it diminish as the business sector grows, but the historical stigma has hurt our country in being able to take advantage of all the medical utilities cannabis brings.
Oftentimes it’s not unusual for policy in our country to be wrong—it has been wrong, historically. But I don’t think there’s a comparison to how wrong this country has ever been to how wrong it is with cannabis. It’s eighty years of terrible policy, and it’s kept research sidelined.
But Acreage is actually at the forefront of changing policy, or at least bears direct witness to changing attitudes. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner made news earlier this year when he joined your advisory board, as did former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (who was a surprise speaker at this year’s CWCBExpo NY). Both are Republicans. And while Governor Weld has been in favor of cannabis legalization for many years, Boehner’s adoption of the views is new. It shows an interesting shift in how the Right is starting to embrace this. How do you think that’s going to affect the industry?
It’s a good question. You’ve got people who are traditional advocates of cannabis who maybe look at John Boehner as a johnny-come-lately to the space. And I think that they’re entitled to that perspective. But the reality is, if cannabis is going to go mainstream, it’s going to required bringing people like John Boehner—who is a very forward-thinking conservative—into the fold. So we were grateful for that opportunity, that we had the audience with him, to walk him through what the stories are behind cannabis adoption and why 94% of Americans believe cannabis should be legal in one form or another.
I will tell you: One of my great personal thrills that I will take away, no matter what happens with cannabis, no matter what happens with my career, is watching John Boehner and Bill Weld—both two remarkable politicians who have achieved a lot with their careers—watching how much they have enjoyed being part of this wave. And putting that in context, that means something. They are truly energized by the fact that they’re helping change policy for the better. I think it’s fundamental to both of them as to why they got into politics to begin with.
This could herald great potential for bipartisan policy, like with the US Senate’s vote to legalize industrial hemp.
True opposition to cannabis is hard to find now, and I think that’s probably the indicator that we’re very close to the moment where it’s going to tip over, which is good! It was scary for the pioneers in the space to get into this industry, and I salute them. The amount of courage that it took the early adopters in this space to get in, I’m fascinated by how much conviction and passion they had. Some of the people we have working at our dispensaries take it as a personal mission to bring health and healing to people. It’s very inspiring to watch and to hear their stories, about how long ago they did it, and you know that was the scary time.
Now, as we’re looking to the future, I hear Acreage is planning to do a lot more in terms of composting and sustainable initiatives.
Well, it’s important. The reality is that some of that is voluntary and some of it is actually required. In most of the communities that are adopting cannabis-based policies, they want to see it done in a responsible way. So the easiest way for us to earn favor with those communities and those regulators is for us to be forward-thinking in terms of how we can do that. We say it all the time: We can’t profit from the industry if what we’re doing is taking advantage of the industry. So as leaders in the space we have to be seen as good corporate citizens.
What advice would you give to anyone seeking to be more involved with Acreage and the cannabis industry as a whole?
The one thing I’d say is that it’s a really fascinating industry, and I would encourage anybody who has a passion for helping others to investigate getting involved. We’re hiring; we’re always looking for people who are consistent with our mission and who are passionate. It is not a precondition that people have experience with cannabis. Frankly, we’re taking a lot of people from other industries and other spaces and bringing them over to cannabis. It’s a very young industry, and if you’re open-minded you can learn a lot. So I would leave you by saying that we’re always looking for people who can deliver our mission of passion.
For more information about the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBE), visit cwcbexpo.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can book tickets now for CWCBExpo Los Angeles, September 26-29, 2018 and CWCBExpo Boston, October 17-20, 2018.
Stay tuned for the latest news in cannabis and our print issue ONE, with more stories on the industrial hemp/medical cannabis communities, sustainability, planetary wellness, and holistic thinking!
Jaime Lubin is the Managing Editor of Honeysuckle Magazine. Her profiles on art and culture have appeared regularly in The Huffington Post and Observer, as well as Billboard and Irish America magazines among other publications. Also an actress, producer, and singer, Jaime is working on a solo show about Tarot.