Mackie Barch fell into the medical cannabis industry by chance. After closing his pharmaceutical company in 2014 due to FDA regulatory changes, he was approached by a friend about entering into the medical cannabis arena to help a Colorado company run the business side of things. Initially, Barch scoffed at the idea. But after a bit of soul searching and some research, “I very quickly realized there were a lot of people who knew how to grow, cultivate, and sell cannabis but they didn’t know how to run the business,” he explained.
Seeing that there was a real need for professionalism and business operation savvy, Barch, an experienced businessman, seized on the opportunity to carve out a niche of “helping people already established in the industry do the less sexy side of cannabis, the boring day-to-day things.”
Real Changes, Real Opportunities
Since his days in Colorado, Barch has seen a dramatic change in the cannabis industry. “I got into the arena in 2014 in what was really the tail end of the old school mentality of “pot people in the pot business.” At this time, he said, Colorado was the wild west. California was just entering the medical cannabis arena and a handful of businesses were starting to formulate plans for building national companies. “So many people at this time were focused on Colorado and California, but I saw the opportunities in other markets to build viable and focused teams.”
The Road Back to Maryland
After making a name for himself as a business developer in the cannabis industry out west, Barch was soon brought in as a business consultant for Culta, a state-of-the-art growing and processing facility and medical cannabis dispensary on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. In 2014, Culta was a new company and Barch was just the man to help lay the foundation for a growing business. He began by building a strong team of medical cannabis experts and forging ahead with the company’s application for its medical cannabis license. Through many months of hard work, leadership, and making his vision for success a reality, Barch was named president of the company.
Barch understood that Culta’s recipe for success was finding the people who had a true passion for medical cannabis. “Early on, we sought out the most experienced, professional, and passionate people in cannabis; people with a long track record of success in the industry,” he said. This high-level team included hiring a leading cannabis law firm; Matt Bickel, a highly respected and well-known grower and cultivator; and two industry leaders in processing, Mark Scialdone, and Culta’s current extraction engineer Michelle Sprawls, formerly of Green Dot in Colorado. “Our professional team not only understands the compliance issues at hand but also has an unwavering commitment to crafting top quality cannabis products.”
He adds, “Culta is unique because all of us are patients, too,” he said. “Our patients know that we would never sell a product that we wouldn’t use ourselves.”
Finding the Right Community for a Home Base
As Culta looked for a location to start its operation, it faced community resistance. “We were bringing a $10 to $15 million capital project to the area and committing to employing 50 to 100 people with a living wage and health insurance, but many people weren’t receptive. It was the age-old ‘war on drugs’ stigma that we as a nation are still struggling with,” explained Barch. “Even though research has shown the therapeutic impact of the plant, the stigma of cannabis is still embedded in the minds of many,” explained Barch.
To overcome the resistance they encountered, Barch and his team met with Senator Adelaide (Addie) Eckardt (Republican, District 37) who represents Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties on the Eastern Shore. While she was on the fence about medical cannabis, the Senator recognized the opportunity it presented to the community, as well as to patients. Soon, Culta was embraced by the people of Cambridge, Maryland and the company made a commitment to giving back to the community that opened its arms, and its minds, to the Culta’s mission.
“We built our facility with local contractors, hired more than 60 local employees including Cambridge’s chief of police as our head of security, and remain very active in the community to this day,” said Barch. “We actively partnered with the Dorchester County people to change the perception of medical cannabis. So far, it’s been a wonderful relationship.”
Leading CANMD and the Future
What does the future hold for the medical cannabis industry in Maryland? “My crystal ball is still a little cloudy,” joked Barch. “The future of the medical cannabis industry in Maryland and in the country is exciting but still a bit uncertain.”
Barch, however, is making sure he has a leading role in shaping the future. In August 2018, he was elected as president of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association known as CANMD. His ambitious strategy for the association is focused on ensuring that the Maryland legislature understands the association’s perspective on the medical cannabis industry and working with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) to guarantee that the medical cannabis industry has a voice for new regulations and legislation coming down the pike.
According to Barch, education and engagement of state regulators is a key strategy of CANMD for the coming year. In fact, CANMD will be hosting its first-ever Maryland medical cannabis business summit in late fall 2018 to educate legislators about the industry as well as its positive economic impact.
“Medical cannabis is still very new in Maryland. There’s some false information out there. CANMD is making sure that our state legislators have the facts and also understand that the industry is an important part of the Maryland economy,” explains Barch. “Our goal is to provide the entire medical cannabis industry in Maryland with a voice.”
Pending legislation on the State and Federal levels is certainly critical to this undefined future for a new industry. Barch added, “We’ve accomplished a great deal over these past few years in Maryland. It’s not easy building a new industry but we have a lot of smart business owners who have made significant capital investments, created good jobs, and have helped countless patients in need.”