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“Working toward a higher purpose” With Len Giancola & Samuel Dorf

The companies I admire most maximize their talent because they are aligned and collectively working toward a higher purpose, beyond the product or service they provide.It may be cliché to use Apple as an example, but it’s a company that everyone knows so… Apple, under the wing of Steve Jobs, didn’t just set out to […]

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The companies I admire most maximize their talent because they are aligned and collectively working toward a higher purpose, beyond the product or service they provide.

It may be cliché to use Apple as an example, but it’s a company that everyone knows so… Apple, under the wing of Steve Jobs, didn’t just set out to create the “coolest” mobile devices in the world. They set out to revolutionize the way that people interact with one another and with information at large — aiming to create a more informed and connected world. When they, to any extent, ‘figured it out’ — producing the top-selling smartphone in the world several times over — they didn’t stop or rest. They continue to push forward, always innovating, enhancing, improving, optimizing. That relentless spirit and commitment to progress, despite already being one of the most valuable entities in the world; that fosters an environment where teams can operate at the top of their game. It also defines their brand. The influence/impact is both internal and external.

My advice — take the time to identify that higher purpose. Once you’ve found it, you have to effectively convey the message across your entire organization, from the top of the org chart to the bottom. Reinforce it constantly. Live and breathe it.


As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Samuel Dorf, Esq. Co-founder, President & Chief Growth Officer, Verano Holdings, LLC.

A cannabis industry veteran and architect of some of the most impactful deals in the space, Sammy Dorf, Esq., serves as Verano Holdings’ Co-Founder, President & Chief Growth Officer. Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Sammy is widely recognized as one of cannabis’s most successful merit-based application strategists, adept at building and coordinating local teams, lining up funding and real estate assets, and working with local municipalities to create the strongest applicant teams. Over the past 5 years, Sammy has propelled Verano Holdings’ exponential growth with wins in Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Jersey and beyond.

In addition to heading up Verano Holdings’ expansion through merit-based applications, Sammy has proven masterful in coordinating strategic mergers and acquisitions, increasing Verano Holdings’ market penetration in States where it currently operates as well as new markets that bolster the Company’s national smart-growth expansion strategy. In this pursuit, Sammy has successfully raised over $120M and obtained 40+ licenses spanning 14 States. Sammy is also integral to the creation, design, and development of Verano Holdings’ diverse brands and products. From inception to execution, Sammy works with Verano Holdings’ team of professionals to ensure that the Company’s products are best-in-class in each vertical and has been indispensable to Verano Holdings’ stellar reputation as the creator and producer of top-shelf brands and products.

Sammy has always had an interest in researching a variety of business opportunities. He became involved in the medical marijuana industry in 2009 when his search to relieve his parent’s pain from chemotherapy as they battled prostate cancer and breast cancer led him to provide legal documentation and compliance services to assist a close friend in launching one of the first legal medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary startups in Colorado.

Inspired by a fiery passion for cannabis’ capacity to profoundly impact human health, wellness and happiness, Sammy led the largest merger in the cannabis space of its time, bringing together Verano Holdings and Harvest Health & Recreation in an $850m mega deal creating the leading multi-state-operator in the U.S.

Most recently Sammy was the recipient of the 2019 Crain’s 40-under-40 award and was named to the High Times Top 100 most influential figures in the cannabis space. Sammy received his Juris Doctor from the John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, and his Bachelor of Arts in Economics with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Hebrew from The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I saw the potential early on. After college, while I was attending law school in Chicago, a friend of mine asked for my help in structuring a deal to open one of the early dispensaries in Colorado. This was right around 2008/09. Through that experience, I got a small taste of what was then a fascinating but brand-new industry. It wasn’t until a few years later that Illinois would announce its intent to launch a medical cannabis program, that I would start down the path that lead me where I am today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Initially we struggled mightily to raise money. As entrepreneurs in a very capital-intensive business, naturally we were frustrated by that. However, it led to us funding our operations piece by piece on our own, which would ultimately inform our overall approach to conducting business, always with a keen eye toward profitability. We operate with lean, efficient teams and exemplify grit and savvy from the top down. What makes this bit ‘interesting’ to me is that in the end, that inability to raise money early on resulted in us organically building Verano Holdings into one of the largest and most reputable MSOs in the country. It was a blessing in disguise. We have a strong company and an exceptional team that we built from the ground up, our way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We don’t make mistakes. 😉

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

New Jersey is an exciting new market for us. We are just getting underway at our cultivation & processing facility there. It’s a medical-use market that has seen steady growth in patient counts over the last couple years. Supply has been a bit of an issue, limited operators struggling to keep up with growing demand, so we’re thrilled to introduce our products into the market. We think the patients of the Garden State will appreciate the premium quality and consistency that Verano brings to medical cannabis. On the retail side, we expect our first of three Zen Leaf dispensaries (they call them Alternative Treatment Centers) to open in NJ by spring.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My family — the first few years as an entrepreneur, it can be challenging to recognize your own success. At times, even victories can feel small in that frame of mind. My family has always been a loving and reliable support system for me. Cannabis perceptions have come a long way, even from just a few years ago, but my family has been by my side since Day 1 — never questioning the decision or the industry — just believing that I had found my calling.

This industry is young, dynamic and creative. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

This is a great question, but it’s hard to draw parallels between cannabis and most other industries — very complex on the regulatory side, state to state variance / no interstate commerce, government/municipality relations, public stigmas, medical vs. recreational, all conceived within the last decade and infused into a rapidly growing consumer marketplace.

Something that we’ve embraced as a critical part of our marketing strategy is education. We’re operating here at the end of the cannabis prohibition era, which means that the majority of people either know very little about cannabis, and/or they likely have some preconceived notions based on portrayals they’ve seen in movies and on television. It’s on us, as experts and operators, to bridge the knowledge gap. We aren’t interested in pushing cannabis on people. We prefer to try and make sure that people are informed, with all relevant information, enough to make their own decision.

Without getting too into any detail, as more markets come online and the overall industry matures, we’re excited about our next generation of marketing at Verano.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry? Can you share 3 things that most concern you?

Exciting things:

  • Growth / Opportunity — the numbers speak for themselves, the last decade was transformative for cannabis. I recently read an article that summarized it perfectly, “In 2010, only a handful of U.S. states had medical cannabis programs. No adult-use legislation was passed anywhere in the country (or the world) … Today, medical cannabis is legal in 33 states and 11 states have legalized for adult use (plus Washington D.C. has legal medical and adult use).”
  • Inclusion — it’s great to see state legislature, like here in IL, make an effort to help try to right the wrongs of the past through social equity initiatives.
  • Innovation — primarily as it relates to product, but also phases 2.0 and 3.0 across all verticals in our industry. It’s all still so new in the grand scheme of things. To think about how far we’ve come in terms of formats and formulas — offering assorted concentrates, vapes, edibles, topicals, tinctures, even a THC-infused lavender Epsom salt soak for bathing — all extracted from the natural format of flower. I can’t wait to see what new products will hit the market over the next decade.

Concerning things:

  • Federal government is dragging its feet on decriminalization / legalization. Which creates issues at the foundational level for us operators, by complicating banking and forcing us into a cash-only business for consumers at retail.
  • Stalling of the SAFE Banking Act.
  • Potential over-taxing — which could in-turn drive consumers back to untested, unreliable, unsafe black-market providers.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Opening a dispensary (any facility, really) will take a lot longer than you think — from the day you begin working on your application, until the day you cut the ribbon at the grand opening, the process will likely take much, much longer than you anticipate.

2. Don’t underestimate the demanding nature of growing cannabis — which varies plant by plant, state by state, climate by climate, building by building.

3. Being involved in a brand-new space, especially with all of the sensitivities around cannabis, creates unique challenges for business owners/operators. It is truly a 24/7/365 mission.

4. Big picture patience is a virtue — and while the industry certainly has demonstrated its abundant financial upside, it’s a long game, not short.

5. Regardless of how fast everything around you seems to move, remember every now and again to try and slow it down and appreciate all that you’ve done and are yet to do.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

The companies I admire most maximize their talent because they are aligned and collectively working toward a higher purpose, beyond the product or service they provide.

It may be cliché to use Apple as an example, but it’s a company that everyone knows so… Apple, under the wing of Steve Jobs, didn’t just set out to create the “coolest” mobile devices in the world. They set out to revolutionize the way that people interact with one another and with information at large — aiming to create a more informed and connected world. When they, to any extent, ‘figured it out’ — producing the top-selling smartphone in the world several times over — they didn’t stop or rest. They continue to push forward, always innovating, enhancing, improving, optimizing. That relentless spirit and commitment to progress, despite already being one of the most valuable entities in the world; that fosters an environment where teams can operate at the top of their game. It also defines their brand. The influence/impact is both internal and external.

My advice — take the time to identify that higher purpose. Once you’ve found it, you have to effectively convey the message across your entire organization, from the top of the org chart to the bottom. Reinforce it constantly. Live and breathe it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We’re part of the movement… to nationally (even globally) end cannabis prohibition. This movement has inspired me in many ways and continues to do so every day, 1) direct impact on health/wellness — especially in medical markets, 2) economic growth and employment opportunities at all levels, 3) justice reform and expungement for previous & insignificant cannabis convictions, 4) social equity initiatives

Cannabis is a fascinating movement, one that we’re honored to be a part of; and to be able to fuel in some way, shape or form, through our work.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Find me on Instagram! @sammydorf

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