In August 2020, late on a Friday afternoon, Rogers attorney Jim Smith received a phone call from Alex Gray, a Little Rock attorney.
Gray wanted to hire Smith, considered one of Arkansas’ most reputable and experienced business attorneys, to acquire one of Arkansas’ eight cannabis cultivation licenses. Gray was an investor with an operation that wanted the license – Good Day Farm Arkansas LLC.
Arkansas voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in November 2016, with 53% of the vote. State lawmakers and regulators have been slow to craft and implement cultivation and dispensary licensing rules, and a series of legal actions have hampered the process.
But, after a painfully slow rollout, the industry was alive. And Have a nice day on the farm had intentions of being a player, seeking to acquire the license of an existing operator who wished to exit the market.
“[Gray] said he needed the deal done in two weeks,” Smith recalled. “It’s been a sprint since I took that phone call.”
Smith’s sprint led to a job he couldn’t imagine for himself a few years ago – a leadership role in a medical marijuana company. While Good Day Farm developed its business infrastructure, Smith handled legal work through his practice at Rogers, Smith Hurst PLC.
He joined Good Day Farm in-house in June 2021 as General Counsel and Director of Mergers and Acquisitions. Earlier this year, Good Day Farm hired him as company president.
Smith is responsible for the company’s headquarters in Little Rock, including finance, legal, human resources, mergers and acquisitions, compliance and regulatory functions. Essentially anything other than culture and facilities. Good Day Farm has a separate COO in charge of cultivation operations. Another president is the head of culture.
The growing company also hired a chief marketing officer in fall 2021. All four report to a newly hired chief executive. Smith said the company will announce the hire later this spring.
Smith also said Will Mullen, a Smith Hurst partner, would become Good Day Farm’s assistant general counsel.
“Many of us have said repeatedly throughout this process that if you had told us two or three years ago that we would be involved in the cannabis world, that would be the last thing we would say,” Smith said. “But the group that has been assembled is an exceptional management team, and it is an exceptional group of successful investors who are backing us.”
Smith’s move to Good Day Farm comes in a year of transition for his professional career.
On March 8, Little Rock-based law firm Rose Law Firm announced an agreement to acquire Smith Hurst, a regional business and private wealth law firm with seven attorneys at Rogers. The merger brings the firm’s bench to 37 lawyers – 19 members, nine partners and nine lawyers.
Founded in 1820 before the statehood of Arkansas (1836), Rose Law Firm is the oldest company in the state and the oldest law firm west of the Mississippi River.
Rebecca Hurst, the firm’s managing partner, will become a member of the Rose Law Firm and manage the northwest Arkansas locations in Fayetteville and Rogers. She will also join the firm’s six-person executive committee.
Smith’s role within the company will be advisory. The merger is effective April 1.
“I don’t give up on the clients I have,” he said. “I will be involved [with Rose] in an advisory role for certain clients and projects.
Smith and Hurst started their law firm in the summer of 2011. The two had previously worked at Friday, Eldredge & Clark in Fayetteville. A native of Russellville, Smith was one of two attorneys sent from central Arkansas to open the Fayetteville office of the Little Rock-based law firm in 2000. He then hired Hurst, who is from Clarksville, in 2006 after earning his master’s degree in taxation from New York. University School of Law.
Smith said he is proud of the company’s accomplishments over the past decade and there is no sense of sadness in removing the shingles of the company from the business community.
“We think the name Rose is exceptional,” he said. “It’s an old firm with young, energetic partners who will work well with us. We have done many transactions with [Rose] over the years.”
Those who know Smith say his reputation as one of Arkansas’ top business lawyers is well-deserved. His broad practice spans the full spectrum of business advisory and transactional law.
But he always understood that it’s not enough to be smart and understand the law.
“A lot of people can tick those boxes,” Marshall Ney, a Friday, Eldridge & Clark partner, told Rogers. “Instead, success comes from those who take an additional interest in their customers and their customers’ businesses and listen to them day and night. These qualities come naturally to Jim. He has a genuine curiosity and interest in his clients and has always immersed himself in their lives and businesses.
Ney has known Smith since they moved to northwest Arkansas two decades ago. He said they have been competitors, adversaries, co-lawyers and now lawyer/client.
“Through it all, we remained friends and spent time together,” Ney said. “Jim wasn’t just a lawyer. It is an invaluable business partner.
Others say Smith is well regarded because his reputation is built on tangible results. Smith has advised several companies on transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A momentous deal took place in April 2013 when Smith acted as legal counsel to Fayetteville Acumen Brands Inc. in its $83 million Series C investment round led by General Atlantic. It was the largest private equity investment in the state of Arkansas.
“He has a brilliant mind with great business instincts and exercises tremendous judgment in understanding the complexities, nuances and interests in closing deals. [such as] legal, emotional, historical, relational, reputational,” said David Echegoyen. He was the president and chief marketing officer of Acumen at the time. “His creativity and persuasive skills are also admirable. He is also able to be both assertive and respectful, while displaying unwavering confidence and knowledge of the law.
Among non-lawyers, there is perhaps no one who knows Smith better personally or professionally than Echegoyen, who said Smith remains a sounding board, a source of advice and a confidant.
Echegoyen joined Jet.com in 2017 — a year after Walmart acquired the company for $3.3 billion — and eventually served as the company’s chief customer officer. He ended up at Walmart in 2019 as a senior marketing executive and later led Walmart’s first membership program as General Manager of Walmart+, leading the team responsible for development, growth and program economy.
“Jim quickly became someone I could trust implicitly, knowing he would consistently provide me with an honest perspective,” said Echegoyen, who is now the operating partner of Cove Hill Partners, a private equity firm. investment in New York. He still lives in northwest Arkansas. “But he didn’t force me to agree with him to forge a fruitful relationship. Despite being the great lawyer that he is, Jim was clearly persuasive.
“I admire Jim’s talent and dedication, and am grateful for his guidance in many situations in my life and career.”
Smith, 53, has never smoked marijuana, recreationally or otherwise.
“I was not attracted [Good Day Farm] as an enthusiast or aficionado,” he said. “I was drawn to the business world. It is a booming business. It is growing rapidly and very competitive.
According to a report earlier this year from online cannabis market Leafly Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: LFLY), the U.S. marijuana industry continued to grow in 2021, with almost half a million people growing. now employed full-time in the cannabis industry as more state markets come online and mature.
Last year’s national cannabis sales figure ($25 billion) represents only about 25% of the industry’s potential, according to the report. It also predicts that cannabis revenues would nearly double by 2025, and even then would represent “less than half of the total potential market”.
Good Day Farm operates a 100,000 square foot grow facility in Pine Bluff that employs 300 people. There are similar facilities in Columbia, Missouri, and Ruston, Louisiana. A cultivation facility in Oxford, Missouri is under development.
Smith points out that since cannabis remains illegal from a federal perspective, there are nuances to expanding the business in multiple states. Instead of a single Good Day Farm entity, separate LLCs with common investors own many Good Day Farm businesses. Ownership requirements vary from state to state.
According to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, which administers and regulates the issuance of licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries and grow facilities, nearly 150 investors/owners across multiple states support Good Day Farm.
“Our goal is to be the largest cannabis operator in the Southeast,” Smith said. “We don’t have a mothership that owns everything in these different states. By law, you can’t do that. We have separate companies in each state to comply with the rules and regulations of those states. Eventually, maybe the laws will change to allow us to consolidate. But we cannot do that today by law. We have different groups of investors and owners in each state in which we are involved.