Law, Mortgage and Medical Marijuana
Charlie Bachtell was a practicing lawyer and a business executive at a mortgage bank before starting his own medical cannabis company, Cresco Labs. Cresco Labs is a medical cannabis cultivator, processor, manufacturer and retailer for patients in a growing number of states, including Illinois and Pennsylvania. They strive to be a leader in the field, focusing on regulation compliance and patient care.
The Road to Law School
Charlie Bachtell studied finance at the University of Arizona before deciding to go to law school. He made this decision based on a few business law classes he took in his undergrad. He found that understanding the legal aspect of business was more interesting than finance.
Charlie chose to go to law school in Chicago for a larger city experience with a thriving business community. He thoroughly enjoyed law school. He felt it was a more mature environment which in turn enhanced the learning experience.
“If nothing else, law school teaches you how to think strategically and with purpose, and I use those skills all the time.”
After law school Charlie worked at a firm that focused mainly on entertainment law, specifically representing newscasters. Although this is what originally drew him to this firm, Charlie spent most of his time working in the firm’s second focus area, real estate law. Within a short period of time Charlie was given a lot of responsibility in that field, working personally with many real estate developers. During this time he developed a strong interest in real estate himself.
He stayed at this firm for about five years. He decided to leave to be in-house counsel for a real estate developer who was a client of his. At this point Charlie was keen to experience the other side of the table. Unfortunately, this did not last long. Charlie joined the company in 2006, the beginning of the end of the real estate boom. The industry was hit hard and the company had to shut down after 9 months.
Charlie then became in-house General Counsel at a mortgage bank called Guaranteed Rate. This was in June 2007, when the company had only 250 employees.
“When you go in-house, you have to be a part of the business. You have a dual role of wanting to close the deal but also identifying the potential risk to make sure it’s the right deal.”
It was again less-than-perfect timing because it was the beginning of the financial crisis. Lending was on the rise every year and it finally started coming down. Because of this, the mortgage industry started to become very heavily regulated and Charlie had the opportunity to work with the executives to alter their business strategy.
“The wrong time at the wrong place turned out to be the right time at the right place.”
Among hundreds of mortgage companies shutting down, Charlie’s legal perspective gave Guaranteed Rate the ability to embrace the regulation and focus on compliance. Charlie eventually transitioned to executive vice president of the company. Guaranteed Rate grew to be the 7th largest mortgage lender in the US with 3500 employees when Charlie decided to move on and start his own business.
Taking on a New Role
Charlie first got enticed with the medical cannabis industry after Illinois passed the law on August 1st 2013. He had a few colleagues who were interested in pursuing the business but Charlie was skeptical. What really altered his perspective was reading the law and doing the research. He was very surprised with the approach Illinois took because it was unlike any other state legislation such as California or Arizona.
The law was very compliance-focused and it was drafted similarly to laws in the mortgage industry. It was clear they wanted to develop a sophisticated professional program, especially because they limited the licenses they would give out to only 21 operators. Charlie noted as a comparison that Colorado is a smaller state and they gave over 1700 licenses to small scale operations, which is understandably difficult to regulate.
“The more research I did, the more I became enamored with the industry.”
Once Charlie got enticed, nothing could stop him from pursuing this. He began planning and filling out their application as soon as the rules of the industry were released in March of 2014. To be considered for a license, they had to think about all aspects of the business such as security, cultivation, staffing, and environmental control.
At that point in his life, Charlie was still working at Guaranteed Rate. He would wake up at five in the morning to work on the application, and then after work come home and do some more before bed.
“It seemed obvious to me how to proceed with the business model, having previously dealt with the regulated mortgage banking space. I used all my experience as a lawyer.”
Once they got the license in February of 2015, Charlie became CEO of their new company, Cresco Labs.
“I found the most irrational passion for it from the very beginning. It was my design and that’s the structure that has carried over, and that’s why I’m CEO.”
Cresco Labs has now grown to over 300 employees in five states. They are focused on changing the cannabis industry for the better. They place a high value on producing a quality product and being professionals and leaders in the industry.
Charlie’s advice to a lawyer thinking about a career change is not to get stuck in looking for something perfect. Nothing is perfect and everything will have a learning curve, but he strongly believes that the skills of a lawyer are so transferrable to being a part of a business.
“Education and experience in law school helped shape who I am as a business person.”
So use those valuable skills to your advantage and pursue what you want to do!