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Building a Medical Marijuana Footprint One Market at a Time: Columbia Care

Columbia Care, a vertically-integrated medical marijuana licensee in more states than any other industry participant with facilities in many of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, has become one of the largest national cannabis industry players and a policy leader to both Federal and State officials.

CBE caught up with Columbia Care’s CEO and Co-Founder, Nicholas Vita, and learned quite a bit about its structure, strategy, and motivation for entering the space. We also discussed how Columbia Care has established such an impressive footprint over the last several years in the most selective state-run vetting processes, while overcoming the various challenges the new industry presents to multi-state operators. Columbia Care’s operations include:

  • Columbia Care in Chicago, Illinois
  • Columbia Care in New York, with 5 locations in the state—including the only dispensary in Manhattan
  • Columbia Care in Washington, DC
  • Patriot Care in Lowell, Massachusetts
  • SWC in Tempe & Prescott, Arizona

Plans include opening dispensaries in Delaware, and gaining licenses in Southern California and Puerto Rico.

CBE: Good afternoon, Nick. CBE appreciates you taking the time to share with your peers and other industry leaders. If you would, please tell us what motivated you and your team to enter into the Cannabis Industry and a bit about your background.

nick-vitaNick Vita: Virtually everyone at Columbia Care, including me, has had a family member, loved one or friend who has experienced illness who’s condition could have been improved had they been able to access medical cannabis and cannabinoid based products. Our mission is predicated upon the fundamental belief that, by doing what we do, we can improve the quality of life for patients and, as a byproduct, their families.

We strive to be agents of positive change and, as colleagues and teammates, we support and push one another to constantly innovate and improve upon everything we do. It is an honor and a privilege to be surrounded by an organization and colleagues who take their responsibility of serving tens of thousands of patients per month with due respect, compassion and humility. Although, my background is primarily finance and healthcare oriented, we all come from different backgrounds to fulfill the same mission and build an organization that embodies the fundamental tenants of quality, innovation, compassion, accountability, and community.

CBE: What was the core strategy and business plan that attracted the large amount of capital needed to launch and compete for and win limited licenses in multiple states?

Nick Vita: The strategy and business plans were both based on the idea that highly-regulated, medically-focused state programs fulfilled a significant unmet patient need in a controlled regulatory framework. Because of the newness of the industry, an absence of anything more than Federal enforcement guidance, and the controversy associated with this industry, we chose to build a mission-based company that manufactures and develops products and services that are focused on quality, care and innovation.

We intentionally veered away from the counter-culture and anti-establishment cultural aspects of the industry because we believe there is a place for this medicine throughout society, without shame or stigma, and that patients and their doctors deserve the choice to use these products. We wanted to be a driver of consensus, rather than being responsible for reinforcing a wedge that has historically existed between communities and stakeholders with differing perspectives.

CBE: I would expect that each state posed its own unique opportunity and requirements. What were some of the unique set of challenges that Columbia Care faced in putting the groups best foot forward in each state and what lessons did you learn?

Nick Vita: The biggest mistakes we made have been related to personnel and vendor relationships.  We have encountered literally hundreds of ‘industry experts’ and ‘advisors’ who make countless misrepresentations and commitments that they never live up to.

CBE: What would you do differently today?

Nick Vita: Background checks and more detailed personnel vetting…and if somebody with no real business experience or references approaches you to ‘partner’, run, don’t walk away. Most of these groups are nothing more than empty shells with little to no real expertise or wherewithal.

CBE: Is there a template that you use when you invest in a new market or is each opportunity uniquely crafted based on the local market conditions?

Nick Vita: Every market is very different due to the unique regulatory frameworks. As a result, there is a highly decentralized governance and operating structure in place to mitigate potential conflicts of interest that also comports with the spirit and letter of the local laws and regulations…and compliance with Federal law and enforcement guidance.

CBE: Is there any one market win that you are exceptionally proud of?

Nick Vita: We are grateful for every opportunity where we have been selected to serve as a steward for a program and community.

CBE: Any market losses that you learned from?

Nick Vita: We learn from every market, every day. Our hope and ambition is to never make the same mistake twice and learn from any losses or errors.

CBE: Now that Columbia Care has created one of the first national medical marijuana retail brands in Cannabis what’s next?

Nick Vita: We hope to continue to grow and develop into an enterprise that serves as a model for communities and companies to embrace.

CBE: Any plans to expand your MMJ presence in established markets like Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, or Washington?

Nick Vita: Not today. We aren’t convinced that those regulatory frameworks represent appropriate opportunities for us. One of the things we are most proud of is the fact that we contribute to the fabric of our communities and are welcomed as neighbors.  As we view the world of opportunities, there is too much conflicting data to determine whether or not the fully-recreational programs are actually community successes or simply the catalyst for material, long-term unintended consequences.

CBE: Any plans to move into the Adult-use area?

Nick Vita: Adult use is somewhat misleading—in our minds, cannabis products are either used for recreational use or medical use (sometimes both)…in either case, adults are generally the end user.  If you are asking about potential plans to sell to and target recreational markets, today the answer is ‘no’. We have a medical mission and will always provide the best quality service and products. Our view is that there will always be a place in any market for an organization that offers the best value, selection, and service.

CBE: Anything else you would like to share with CBE’s readers?

Nick Vita: Thank you very much for your consideration and for everything you are doing for the industry.


Rob MeagherRob Meagher

Rob Meagher

Rob Meagher, CBE’s Founder, President and Editor-in-Chief is a 30 year veteran of the media world. His career has spanned from stints representing the Washington Post, USA Weekend, Reader’s Digest, Financial World & Corporate Finance to the technology world where he worked at International Data Group and Ziff Davis where he was part of the launch team for The Web Magazine, Yahoo Internet Life, Smart Business and Expedia Travels before starting his own marketing and Publisher’s Representative Firm. He also ran all print and online media sales and marketing for the Society for Human Resource Management before partnering with Forbes and then Fortune to create Special Sections covering a variety of topics. Rob, who started CBE Press in 2014, can be contacted at [email protected]

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