‘Big cannabis can be good cannabis’: Q&A with Curaleaf CEO Joe Bayern

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As the CEO of Curaleaf Holdings, Joe Bayern skippers the nation’s largest marijuana multistate operator.

And he doesn’t shy away from touting the benefits of “big cannabis.”

Bayern contends “big cannabis can be good cannabis.” But small marijuana farmers and retailers, for their part, might beg to differ.

Those differences aside, Bayern’s mainstream business background likely shapes his views.

He has more than two decades of executive experience in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry.

That includes a stint as a member of the team that rejuvenated the Snapple beverage brand in the late 1990s.

A 2002 Harvard Business Review article credited the company’s turnaround to an executive team that “understood and embodied the quirky spirit of the Snapple brand in a way that Quaker’s marketing team never did.”

Bayern served as Snapple’s chief operating officer and later its chief strategy officer.

Massachusetts-based Curaleaf – which trades on the over-the-counter markets as CURLF – isn’t a turnaround challenge for Bayern, who became its CEO in January.

The company, for now, leads the U.S. marijuana industry in revenue after acquiring Illinois-based Grassroots Cannabis and Portland, Oregon-headquartered Cura Cannabis (Select brand) within the past two years.

Bayern’s challenge will be to lead Curaleaf into its next stage of development – all the while embodying an entrepreneurial, if not quirky, spirit.

MJBizDaily contacted Bayern ahead of his appearance on a panel at this week’s MJBizCon in Las Vegas. His responses were via email.

You are participating on an MJBizCon panel titled “Clash of the Titans: Can Cannabis Culture and Big Business Co-Exist? What is your main message on the topic?

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Stay ahead of the curve and avoid costly missteps in the rapidly evolving cannabis industry.

There is a misperception around “big cannabis” that we’re keen to correct.

We believe that big cannabis can be good cannabis – and good cannabis can be big business.

Our scale means that we can invest in the highest-quality products, cultivation and processing facilities, and in our team members and our communities – so that we set industry-leading standards.

It also means that we can invest in product research and development to continue to bring new, innovative products to market.

As an industry leader, we believe in investing over the long term – in people, programs and places.

We work to have a positive impact on the lives of not only our employees, our patients and customers, but also the communities we call home.

Our “Rooted in Good” initiative prioritizes resources for social equity programming so we can deliver real opportunity across the cannabis ecosystem, particularly for those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

Curaleaf has become the largest U.S. cannabis company based on revenue. What is the next step in the company’s evolution/what is your priority in terms of driving future success?

Curaleaf’s focus is on growth and building national brands.

Our strategy is to be in every large market that we can be in the United States, with the highest-quality products and service for every kind of cannabis consumer – and that’s a very different strategy than some of our competitors.

With the addition of Emmac, now Curaleaf International, Curaleaf is well-positioned to enter and scale in the European market and become a truly international cannabis CPG company.

 Which marijuana markets do you see as having the most potential in the next couple of years?

We’re now seeing what we have described as the “green wave” of cannabis legalization particularly on the East Coast.

The passage of adult use in New York and New Jersey represent a significant milestone for the cannabis industry, and New York has the potential to be one of the most vibrant cannabis markets in the United States.

I don’t think it’s limited to those newer states, however; the push for cannabis reform, and destigmatization – culturally and as an economic revenue driver – continues to build momentum.

States like Arkansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Missouri have taken the first steps toward putting cannabis legalization on the 2022 ballot.

How does Curaleaf weigh how much to invest in a particular market knowing that some of these markets won’t be cost competitive in terms of cultivation and processing after federal legalization?

We deploy a multi-horizon approach to evaluating investments at Curaleaf.

We need to continue to invest in capital projects on a state-by-state basis to ensure that we can supply the current demand in the market and hit our financial goals.

These projects typically pay back in relatively short time frames, so we’re not too concerned about recouping our investment.

We’re playing the long game.

At the same time, we’re investing in assets that will not only meet our current capacity requirements, but prepare us for the eventual nationalization of cannabis, for example, our recent acquisition of Los Sueños in Colorado.

The third horizon is investing in assets to prepare us for where the industry might be in three to five years like our investments in the European market through the acquisition of Emmac.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? 

The advice was really career advice rather than business advice, but essentially it was: “Don’t wait to be told” to do something, take the initiative if you see something that needs to be fixed or an opportunity in the marketplace!

I’ve found that if you wait to be told what to do, it’s likely that the opportunity has already passed. Come to think of it, that’s pretty good life advice, too.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jeff Smith can be reached at jeff.smith@mjbizdaily.com.