Before serving as chief legal officer and corporate secretary at TerrAscend, Lynn Gefen spent her career advising multibillion-dollar global publicly traded companies in almost every industry you can think of. But when she learned about the growing cannabis industry and its impact on patients, she saw a unique opportunity to make a difference.
“I have the rare opportunity to help the business and the industry progress by solving legal problems and clearing regulatory hurdles that prevent us from advancing,” she says. “If our legal team is able to clear those hurdles, it allows the business to grow in that state. It makes me feel like I’m in at the ground floor and that I’m part of something that’s bigger than me.”
As someone driven by complex legal issues, Gefen is in the right place—there’s no shortage of hurdles to be cleared from the complicated cannabis regulatory landscape. Even as more states legalize the substance, it continues to remain illegal at the federal level, posing challenges to businesses seeking access to capital and managing high operating costs.
Despite that reality, Gefen is encouraged by an August 2023 recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Drug Enforcement Administration that cannabis be reclassified from a schedule I to a schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act. According to a Reuters report, the rescheduling could shift public perception about cannabis’s medical potential while attracting more investors, researchers, and entrepreneurs to the cannabis space.
For Gefen, it could be the start of groundbreaking benefits for her business and the industry.
“Schedule I basically says there’s no medical benefit to cannabis, but we know that’s not the case. We know our patients see substantial benefits from using our product,” she says. “So the acknowledgement by HHS is significant. There’s a lot more work to come for it to become a reality and for cannabis businesses to be able to operate on a level playing field, but the steps are there, and I’m pleased to have a seat at the table to potentially see those changes.”
While regulators decide how cannabis should be viewed in the eyes of federal law, Gefen and her team are making strides to expand TerrAscend’s footprint on the state level through supporting product, naming, and labeling approvals. Recently, they supported the acquisition of three companies in Maryland as adult-use policies became effective at the start of July 2023, an effort that paved the way to four adult-use dispensaries.
The team is also in negotiation with stakeholders in New Jersey to expand its license ownership rights once a new bill gets signed by the Governor that would allow operators to own up to 35 percent in up to seven more locations. Plus, on July 4, 2023, Gefen helped TerrAscend become the first cannabis company with US operations to be listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, the third largest exchange in North America.
These initiatives and others have allowed the company to be well-positioned for whatever’s on the horizon for the industry, Gefen says.
“We’ve lowered our total amount of debt and our expenses and are extremely well positioned to go deeper in our existing states and expand into different states if they are attractive,” she explains. “We’re a strong player, and we’ll continue to have our pulse on what’s happening in the federal and state regulatory regimes.”
“Lynn leads a phenomenal in-house legal team. Leveraging her relevant work in other sectors allows her to offer a practical, business-focused approach to growth and risk management,” says George Apostolides, partner at Saul Ewing LLP. “She is better equipped than anyone to take on the many legal and regulatory issues that cannabis multistate operators face.”
Gefen has always been an advocate—a person with strong views, a well-attuned moral compass, and a sensitivity for what was going on in the world around her. From an early age, she knew those traits would take her down a legal path but for a long time, she believed it would lead to criminal law.
“I used to watch all those criminal law shows and knew I was destined to be a lawyer,” she remembers. “I also was involved with debate and enjoyed presenting in front of really large crowds.”
As she transitioned from high school to college, Gefen recognized her affinity toward business and solving business problems. It prompted her to study business law and to start her career at Thacher Proffitt & Wood LLP and then Holland & Knight LLP. From there she went on to serve in-house at the likes of Citrix Systems, Diageo, and HomeServe USA. Those experiences not only instilled in her the work ethic she’d need for her current role but also taught her how to “listen and think before you react.”
“As my career has progressed, I’ve learned the power of listening to understand rather than listening to respond,” she reflects. “Really good lawyers take the time to understand the issue before they tackle the solution. Some people feel the need to jump right in and deliver the answer but you’re much better off thinking things through within the business context.
“I’ve always been total type A, ready to go, and naturally, I want to please people,” she adds, “but as in-house lawyers, we must be tuned into the business strategy in order to deliver legal advice that is commercial, yet mitigates risk. It’s a fine line to navigate for sure.”
Gefen brings those skills to bear at TerrAscend, where she has a front-row seat to support the change coming to the cannabis industry.
“I’ve heard so many stories about people who’ve been addicted to heroin or other hard drugs and who might’ve been in the streets or worse if they hadn’t had the opportunity to access our dispensaries and our medicine,” she says. “There’s been so much criminalization of cannabis over the years and there’s so much damage to correct, but I hope the move to reschedule cannabis is a start to a lot of positive things to come for the industry.”
Saul Ewing LLP proudly serves as legal counsel to TerrAscend and its affiliates. Our “known for” cannabis practitioners provide regulatory, corporate, real estate, litigation, intellectual property, and labor and employment support to the TerrAscend in-house legal team and serve as trusted advisors for TerrAscend’s most challenging problems and transactions. Saul Ewing takes great pride in the relationship we have forged with Lynn Gefen and her excellent group of in-house lawyers, as well as the relationships we have with individuals, small companies, and MSOs in the cannabis industry. For more information please contact George P. Apostolides at [email protected] or (312) 876-7102.