Terrapin Care Station has dipped into the political arena again for a new staff member, hiring former Colorado House Republicans policy director Nico Pento to become the dispensary chain's government-affairs director.
Attorney Pento spent two years advising House Republicans on such policy issues as transportation funding, data security, criminal justice reform, liquor regulation and marijuana programs. Before working at the Colorado Legislature, he specialized in gaming policy, lobbying the State of Florida on behalf of gambling clients.
Now he'll use his expertise to aid Terrapin's expansion throughout Colorado, as well as guide its medical marijuana operation in Pennsylvania and potential new stores in Michigan, New Jersey and other states flirting with retail legalization.
“I’m excited to apply the skills I learned under Colorado’s Gold Dome to the burgeoning cannabis industry. With cannabis still a new industry in Colorado, and with new states and municipalities facing uncertainties as their cannabis programs are debated and come online, it is critical that we apply fair and balanced policy in governing it," Pento says. "I look forward to applying similar skills in maintaining the success of a safe and regulated cannabis marketplace across the nation."
The dispensary chain has come a long way from its Grateful Dead-inspired roots, growing from one shop in Boulder to five stores throughout Aurora, Boulder and Denver, with a sixth on the way in Longmont.
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"It’s critical for a growing cannabis company with national aspirations to surround itself with experienced policy advisers,” Terrapin owner Chris Woods explains in a statement. “Nico’s ability to understand the intricacies and projected effects of legislation, rules and regulations is of great value not just to us, but to the cannabis industry as a whole. It’s especially important as we talk about the interplay between state, federal and local laws in a developing cannabis industry."
Of late, Woods has been aggressively pursuing the political route to push his business forward. The company had a full-time lobbyist at the Colorado Capitol last year, and hired former Colorado Politics reporter Peter Marcus to become Terrapin's communications director in 2017.
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But that's just the tip of Terrapin's efforts: Shortly after Marcus was hired, the group debuted a website that breaks down cannabis-related news with a Terrapin perspective. And just last week, Terrapin offered customers who registered to vote a 10 percent discount off purchases through election day on November 6.
Terrapin was also the main force behind HB 1258 during the 2017 legislative session. Dubbed the "tasting-room bill," the measure would have allowed eligible dispensaries to open sampling rooms connected to pot stores, similar to those at breweries or wineries — but with more restrictions. Although both the Colorado Senate and House approved it, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Governor John Hickenlooper. However, Hickenlooper will be out of office in January, and a new governor could have a different position on the proposal.
So with more political power in Terrapin's arsenal, should we expect the tasting-room bill to be revisited next year? Says Marcus: "One hundred percent."
Correction: This story was updated at 4 p.m. on October 16 to correct an erroneous statement that Shawn Coleman was Terrapin Care Station's full-time lobbyist. Coleman used to work in that capacity for Terrapin, but he is no longer employed by the company.