Long before most of us could get a foothold in the industry, Brian Vicente, an attorney who worked under / for outspoken social critic, Senior District Judge John L. Kane, founded Sensible Colorado (with grants from the Marijuana Policy Project ). with his friend and future partner at Vicente Sederberg (VS), Josh Kappel, in the organization’s efforts, as the website points out, to do the following:
- Fight for the rights of medical marijuana patients in the courtroom, in the Capitol and on the streets
- Establish Colorado’s Nationally Recognized Medical Marijuana Distribution System
- Pass sensible marijuana laws for the benefit of all Coloradans 21 and older
- Lead the 2012 legalization campaign to make Colorado the first state to regulate marijuana like alcohol
Pretty heady stuff for a man who has undergone law school and started the industry-leading law firm with his friend and ski friend Christian Sederberg in 2010. The two men had met through a mutual friend in 2007 and shared an apartment in Keystone, CO, only to get to know each other well after the death of medical marijuana in Colorado in 2001. Christian was at the time an attorney in a small Denver law firm focusing on private equity and real estate businesses until that firm imploded after merging with a larger firm. In 2009, Brian approached Christian with the idea of starting a law firm exclusively focused on cannabis and the emerging industries, and the two opened a business in May 2010.
In 2011, it was in the VS offices on Grant Street in Denver Vicente, Sederberg, Kappel, Steve Fox (then director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project and now director of sister company VS Strategies) and Mason Tvert (at the time ) Then director of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation and now vice president at VS Strategies) began work on Colorado Amendment 64, which was supposed to set the wheels in motion for legalizing adult use first in Colorado and then nationally.
Between 2010 and 2012, VS grew slowly, they added some attorneys, Shawn Hauser (now partner), Jordan Wellington who leads the compliance area (he came from the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division), Andrew Livingston who leads the area, Charles Alovisetti , formerly an M&A attorney in New York (and now a partner at Vicente Sederberg), led the firm’s business and research division and headed the firm’s corporate practice group. Massachusetts attorney and now VS partner Adam Fine, whose brother was a friend of Vicente’s, joined the team in 2012. Shaleen Title, now a commissioner on the Massachusetts (MA) Cannabis Control Commission, cut her teeth while VS worked with the team to draft regulations for the MA Medical Marijuana program.
Initially focused on licensing, the company advised subsidiary companies, banks, foreign governments, political candidates, and public regulatory groups such as Pueblo, CO and Cathedral, CA on regulation development. They were successful in helping applicants win 10 of the original 22 licenses issued in MA, with future VS partner Valerio Romano doing the same at another company. Romano was also a member of the drafting committee for Question 4, the 2016 election initiative that legalized adult marijuana.
Steve Fox, who has been with VS as a consultant since 2013, founded VS Strategies in 2014-15 and is president of the group. VS Strategies is a government relationship, advocacy and strategy Communication company dedicated to advancing the cannabis industry. Her clients include government agencies, cannabis companies, and other individuals and organizations who want to shape public opinion and implement the most effective marijuana laws. Fox was also the founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association and was the organization’s strategic advisor for its lobbying efforts last year. After Vicente served on the NCIA board of directors from 2011 to 2015 (Vicente was co-chair of the founding committee) and Sederberg had not requested re-election, VS is now a founding member of the newly established and competing Cannabis Trade Federation.
When VS was launched, few law firms were all-in for the cannabis industry. They strategically positioned themselves exactly as legal programs were developing in the US and internationally, and examined how large law firms were structured to build a team that could provide similar services to clients related to cannabis. Her core competencies in advising states and regulatory clients, as well as successfully representing clients pursuing licenses in these new and expanding state and local regulatory programs, have helped the company attract the additional talent required to fill their office locations and sales opportunities in Denver United States, Boston, Los Angeles, and USA are Jacksonville, FL. A good friend of Sederberg’s law school, Cassia Furman worked as a city attorney for Salida, California before joining the firm and opening her LA office during the transition of the California regulatory program. She is now a partner of the company and leads a team of more than 10 people in the dynamic CA market.
Vicente has led the company’s efforts to expand its performance-based licensing practice with great success. He and its employees have licensed and have multiple licensees in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. VS is arguably the “Leader of the Pack” compared to other successful consulting firms when it comes to supporting customers in obtaining licenses in performance-based regulatory systems.
Sederberg leads the company’s policy and works closely with Fox at VS Strategies. A large part of their work advises states on the establishment of regulatory programs or Advising groups pushing for legalization initiatives in their respective states. The firm is, in this capacity, the law firm and clearly also the “Leader of the Pack” in terms of leadership and advice on cannabis, largely due to its pioneering advantage and years of collaboration with legalization initiatives that go back to Colorado’s historic implementation for adult use – Regulatory community with unmatched experience and a successful track record spanning nearly a decade.
The company opened its Jacksonville, FL office in 2017, again largely due to the personal relationships the two founders have built over the years. VS partner Sally Kent Peebles, who opened the office, was a colleague of Sederberg’s from his previous law firm in Colorado. Peebles, a native of Floridian, wanted to return to the Sunshine State, and the timing for Florida’s fast-growing medical marijuana program and licensing and regulation challenges in the state was a good opportunity for the VS and Peebles.
Like any other start-up in the cannabis industry, VS faced a number of challenges. Due to poor case law and little institutional knowledge of regulated cannabis programs, customer relationships were at times strained as VS led them through murky waters. Relationships with regulators about rules and best practices (which are and are being reinvented every day) and advising clients who make long-term strategic decisions that affect their bottom line are challenging every day. And as larger population markets like California or Texas come on board with their regulatory programs, the rules change and change regularly, which costs customers dearly in the short term, both privately and publicly, with unknown long-term consequences.
That makes finding talented with experience a challenge, but the company has benefited from their presence early in the development years of the fast-growing national cannabis industry. They have partnered with local firms like Barton Morris’ Cannabis Legal Group in Michigan as that regulatory system takes shape and with the recently announced partnership with Offit Kurman, a company that has a strong presence in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
What’s next for Vicente Sederberg?
Sederberg informs CBE that VS has shifted its focus on international market development specifically to Canada and has also established relationships with lawyers in Europe.
They also want to take advantage of some of the growing lobbying business surrounding the cannabis industry and have worked closely with the new Colorado governor, Jared Polis, during the election campaign.
Government relationships also offer growth opportunities on a state and federal basis (their board position at the Cannabis Trade Federation should help build public and private relationships), and they continue to hire to bolster their knowledge base and experience from local pools of talent.
Hauser leads the growing efforts of the company’s hemp and cannabinoid practice group, and the company is well positioned to compete for its share of billing from this fast-growing sector.
The company has also invested in the compliance start-up Simplify and Leafwire and is also involved in several licensed companies.
With a growing talent base of attorneys familiar with government regulatory structures as well as certain areas of the rapidly growing cannabis jurisdiction, VS has built a practice that now employs more than 60 people. In 2018, VS generated over $ 12 million in revenue from its work with a diverse mix of corporate, regulatory, merger and acquisition clients, start-up and general legal clients, and it doesn’t look like they would all slow down soon. Other law firms have built successful cannabis practices, but no other law firm has the extensive experience that VS has built and practiced for their client base, which clearly makes them the Leader of The Pack!
Background information on the business business of Cannabis Business Executive
Name of the company: Vicente Sederberg LLC
Year of foundation: 2010
Ownership structure / operational units: N / A
Brian Vicente, founding partner
Christian Sederberg, founding partner
Josh Kappel, partner
Adam Fine, partner
Valerio Romano, partner
Charles Alovisetti, partner
Cassia Furman, partner
Shawn Hauser, partner
Sally Kent Peebles, partner
Headquarters: Denver, CO
Industry segment / category: Ancillary / legal services
Current markets / states: All states have specially licensed attorneys in CO, CA, FL, MA, OR, and NY
Number of locations: 4th