Redmond sat down with Chris Atkinson, Project Executive for Redmond’s Cannabis Group, to discuss the rapidly growing, highly regulated cannabis industry and the experience and insight she brings to the team. Formerly with Pharmacann, Chris has spent her career scaling cannabis companies from licensure to operational in addition to managing the construction of over 300,000 SF of cultivation facilities and dispensaries across national markets.
Tell us about your experience in the cannabis industry.
CA: I’ve been involved in cannabis since 2014. First it was on the investor side, seeing how a company went through the start-up process by competitive license applications. Eventually, I joined my previous company as a Strategic Program Manager, Chief of Staff, and then the Director of Real Estate, Construction, and Facilities. I feel fortunate that I experienced the growth of a company from a SSO (single state operator) to MSO (multi-state operator) and worked in-depth with all cross-functional teams to bring facilities from pre-licensure to operational status.
How does the insight and expertise you bring to the table translate into your new role on the construction side?
CA: It takes two things to be successful in cannabis — you have to care about cannabis, and you have to accept that no two days in cannabis are the same. Having been on the owner’s side, I deeply care about the industry. I care about the plant, the properties of the plant, the history and social injustice of the plant, and the regulations. Coupled with understanding that the industry changes day-to-day, I am uniquely positioned in this role to help clients be successful in becoming operational and meeting the ever-changing needs of this burgeoning market. The ability to be agile in an ever-changing environment is an ability owner’s can leverage.
What impact are you hoping to have on prospective, current, and future clients?
CA: Whether they’ve been in the cannabis business for a period of time or they are new to it, I hope clients will recognize Redmond’s deep understanding of the industry and the nuances required to be successful in it. Our job isn’t done when we get the Certificate of Occupancy — our job is complete when the regulatory inspection is passed, the license is in hand, and the doors are open. Redmond’s understanding of these cross-functional areas provides an extra layer of reassurance to clients by ensuring that they know opening their business is as important to us as it is to them.
What were the driving factors for Redmond in its decision to form a specialized group for cannabis projects? How is Redmond different from its competitors in terms of its approach to construction in the cannabis industry?
CA: Redmond’s experience in cannabis began in 2017 when we worked on the first permitted dispensary relocation of a medical dispensary in Illinois. Not only did it require the usual heavy regulatory burden, but also extensive coordination with retail operations, compliance, IT/security, and facilities to pass all inspections and successfully transition from inactive to a fully-compliant dispensary. In 2019, Redmond flipped four additional medical dispensaries over the course of two weekends in December to prepare them for adult use sales on January 1, 2020. Redmond continued its success by building out four adult-use facilities in four months, meeting state-mandated deadlines at the end of Q1 2021.
Through this experience, we recognized the team’s ability to be agile, creative, and meet tight construction and regulatory deadlines. Our ability to successfully execute challenging, time sensitive projects proved our team’s innate ability to meet the needs of this highly nuanced market. Launching a Cannabis Group enables us to utilize our experience and understanding of the industry to meet the needs of owners and operators and help clients achieve operational goals.
What is the importance of Redmond’s commitment to social equity as it relates to the cannabis industry, and what steps is the company taking to fulfill this commitment?
CA: Redmond’s thought leadership in understanding the historical injustice in cannabis laws was critical in my decision to join the team. States require license-holders to provide social equity plans, but they do not require it for vendors. Redmond’s commitment to supporting organizations working to right historical wrongs shows a next-level commitment. We know that it is important to not simply profit from an industry, but to help educate others on the importance of giving back and bringing people up with you in the process.
One way Redmond plans to give back is by continuing its current partnership with City Colleges. Redmond is committing $5,000 annually to fund scholarships for Olive-Harvey’s Cannabis Program. We will join their Cannabis Advisory board and work collaboratively to develop a curriculum for crossover certification between Construction Management — which Redmond currently supports at Kennedy-King College — and the cannabis operations program at OHC. Our hope is that these efforts will tie together a program that better prepares students for the facility and regulatory requirements of operations.
Redmond also became an official supporter of the Last Prisoner Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform. As a supporter, Redmond will donate annually to LPP to support its mission of redressing the past and continuing harms of unjust laws and policies.
What are the most important factors for those looking to get into the cannabis industry to consider as it relates to the built environment, whether it’s for a dispensary or cultivation facility?
From my experience, it’s to develop a strong design and program that can be standardized and replicated. Standardization in cannabis can be difficult due to the regulatory nuances between states, but the ability to commit to it will provide leverage in terms of economy of scale. This not only saves money, but also helps clients become operational more quickly. Fully understanding the complex regulatory environment where you plan to operate and how to apply these rules and regulations to your business is fundamental to operating successfully. Knowing what is and is not permitted in your facility can save a lot of time and money.
It is fundamental to Redmond’s Cannabis Group that we use our first-hand experience in this highly regulated and complex industry to guide clients through this process. Even experienced clients can benefit from the depth of understanding our team brings. We know how to ask the right questions and check all the appropriate boxes so clients can become operational quickly and avoid expensive remediations due to regulatory inspections.