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Aurora Cannabis Burnishes Its Medical and Recreational Game

By Marguerite Arnold
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It has been a busy couple of weeks for Aurora executives, no matter what else is going on. And all signs indicate that Aurora is not only keeping its pressure on major competitors Tilray and Canopy in particular, but playing a highly sophisticated political and global game right now.

Where the company in other words is not “winning,” Aurora is clearly establishing an effective global footprint that is ensuring that it is at least keeping pace with the speed of market development and even breaking new ground more than once recently.

The Aurora Tour Of The Global Stage In Late October

Forget what is going on in Canada for a moment, if that is possible. Global investors, certainly, in the aftermath of the post legalization glow, certainly seem to be. So are the big LPs like Aurora. They are looking elsewhere, to medical markets and to Europe, for more clarity on where the market will go.

Aurora certainly has been, even if unwittingly, caught in the middle of that conversation, in part because of where and how the company has been positioning itself lately.

Last time around, the company announced it was in the top ten finalists. This time, it is also expected to do well.That said, what Aurora is doing, like everyone else in this space right now, is playing a global game of hopscotch in terms of both raising equity and then where that capital gets spent. Aurora’s recent victories, certainly this year, indicate that it will continue to be a formidable presence in the room.

For now, however, it is clear that retail investors are suddenly cautious and institutional investors are clearly still very leery. So where does that leave Aurora?

Road Trip To Germany

CEO Cam Battley at a conference in Frankfurt
CEO Cam Battley at a conference in Frankfurt

Consider these interesting series of events. Canadian recreational reform “goes live” on October 17. Instead of sticking around Canada, however, CEO Cam Battley spoke at a recent investor road show for the Canadian public cannabis companies over the weekend of October 21-22 in Frankfurt, Germany. Three well placed, but anonymous industry sources confirmed to Cannabis Industry Journal that a meeting between all the major cannabis companies in Frankfurt over the weekend (including not only Aurora, but Wayland Corporation, Canopy, Aphria, Green Organic Dutchman and Hexo) was either planned or attempted with federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn sometime during this period of time.

Even more interestingly, this conference had clearly been planned to coincide with the original due date of the new German cultivation bid, in which Aurora is also well positioned. Last time around, the company announced it was in the top ten finalists. This time, it is also expected to do well.

Whenever the bid finally is decided, that is.

As of October 23, the day of the IPO in New York and the day after the conference in Frankfurt concluded, news circulated that the bid had been delayed a second time, with rumours of further lawsuits swirling.

IPO In New York

That day, Tuesday October 23, Aurora announced its IPO on the NYSE, not in Frankfurt after announcing this possibility the month before. This is significant, namely because all of the cannabis companies listed here are essentially in what is known, colloquially, auf Deutsch, as being “in the dog house.” Namely, financial regulators are looking closely at listed companies’ profiles on the exchange. If a listed company is too associated with the recreational industry, trades will be barred from clearing by Clearstream, the daughter company of the Deutsche Börse and located in Luxembourg. Earlier in the summer, all of the major LPs were briefly on the restricted list.

The next day after Canadian recreational reform became reality in fact, on October 18, the Deutsche Börse made the latest in a series of comments regarding its intentions about their future decisions on the clearing of cannabis stocks. Namely, that at their discretion, they can prevent the clearing of stock purchases of a cannabis company at any time. In other words, essentially delisting the stock.

Aurora, with its ties to mainstream, “adult use” in North America, is absolutely affected by the same, certainly in the short term. Including of course, all those rumours about Coke’s interest in the company (still unconfirmed by both Aurora and Coke).aurora logo

Looking Toward Poland

Yet here is where Aurora stays interesting. Just two days after its debut on the NYSE, the company announced that Aurora would be the first external company to be allowed to import medical cannabis to Poland (to a Warsaw hospital and pain clinic). The same day, incidentally, as the Polish government announced that medical cannabis could indeed begin to be imported.

This came after a stunning move earlier in the year when the company bagged the first medical cultivation license in Italy.

Clearly, Aurora is keeping good, if not powerful, company. And that will position it well in the long run. Even if, for now, its IPO on the NYSE got off to a less than powerful start.

Why Does Aurora Stand Out?

Like all the major cannabis companies on the global stage right now, Aurora understands what it takes to get into the room (wherever and whatever that room might be) in politically and regulatorily astute ways, much like Tilray. Both companies are also very similar in how they are continuing to execute market entry and public market strategy. Tilray, it should be remembered, went public over the summer, in North America too, right around the announcement of the final recreational date in Canada.

And while Aurora is clearly playing a still retail-oriented stock market strategy, it has proved over the last 18 months that it is shaping up to be a savvy, political player on the cusp of legislative change in multiple European states so far. They are courting the much bigger game now of institutional investment globally.

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Tilray Enters Both U.S. & UK Markets

By Marguerite Arnold
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Tilray has long been seen as one of the market leaders in the global cannabis space. They are strategically placed in several critical areas to continue to do well, and put up major competition for just about everyone else (including German market entry first Canopy, plus the other big players in both Canada and Europe) ever since. See Aurora, Maricann and Aphria, to name a few. On the EU front, they are also certainly giving Dutch Bedrocan (with not only existing government contracts, but a newly increased ex-im medical allowance across the open Schengen border) a run for its money. And appear to have broached a monopoly long held by GW Pharma in the UK. 

But first things first. Here is a brief list of accomplishments on the corporate CV so far.In the U.S., Tilray just scored a medical trial at the University of San Diego with a pill used to treat a nerve disorder.

Long (relatively speaking) before Europe was on the map for anyone but a couple of Canadian LPs, the company was exporting to Croatia (in 2016). Even the initial hiccups in delivery (a batch arrived in broken bottles), did not stop their foreign expansion plans. 

When the first German cultivation bid was due, the company also, at least according to their spokesperson in Berlin at the time, considered applying. However, by late summer last year, Tilray was actually the first to publicly tip their hands that not only were they bowing out of the German tender, but had rather decided to import to Germany from cheaper EU climes. See their production facilities in Portugal. Plus of course a mass distribution deal to German pharmacies via local distribution.

Then there is their social media presence on Leafly, which also competes with Weedmaps as both an information portal and dispensary finder in key markets (California and Canada). The German version of the website (Leafly.de), has created a reality, no matter where the server is located, of also connecting directly to patients in a market still finding its way. 

tilray-logoAdd all these elements together, and that puts the company behind it all in an unbelievably strong position to continue to gain both market access and market growth in multiple jurisdictions while carefully moving at literally the change if not bleeding edge of the law.

How much long term impact this will have, however remains to be seen. Why? The times are changing fast. And not everyone is following a policy of promotion timed around other large events (see Canadian recreational legalization and the timing of the company’s IPO). 

Here is another example: the company’s most touted recent double victory, on each side of the Atlantic. Why? This is a place where cannabis companies are starting to compete. And while notable, particularly in it’s timing, is clearly indicative of the next stage in the development of the legitimate medical cannabis industry– not just Tilray.

Trials As Market Entry Tools

Medical trials in both the United States and Europe right now (including the UK for now at least), are the best way for cannabis companies to enter and gain market share. In the U.S., Tilray just scored a medical trial at the University of San Diego with a pill used to treat a nerve disorder.

Last week, Tilray also announced that they had essentially become the first Canadian LP to successfully challenge GW Pharmaceuticals on its home turf in the UK, even if for now limited to one patient application at a time. That won’t last, nor will such a tight monopoly.From a medical point of view, it is a very positive sign, at least for now.

That cross-Atlantic connection is even more interesting, however, given U.S. market entry recently for GW Pharmaceutical’s product, Epidiolex. 

From a medical point of view, it is a very positive sign, at least for now. How it will end up in the future is anyone’s guess, including stock valuation. 

Most advocates, of course, still hope for a medical market where patients are not restricted from deciding between the whole plant, oils or even the pharmaceutical products they choose to take.

Tilray of course is also not the only large LP engaged in medical trials. They are going on all over Europe right now (even if not as well strategically publicized). Health Canada is also committing to trials in Canada over the next five years.

However, what this very clearly demonstrates is that the global medical market is now ripe pickings for companies who approach the entire discussion from a “pharmacized” product point of view. Even if that means in Europe, and including for Tilray, entering the German and other medical markets with flower, oils and medical products.

A Province-By-Province Look At Recreational Cannabis In Canada

By Marguerite Arnold
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Federal recreational reform is coming to Canada next month, the second country after Uruguay to take the plunge. For the first time in almost a century, in other words, cannabis is now about to be legal again.

The federal government will license and regulate the industry. However each province and territory (analogous to American states) will set the rules on distribution and sales. As a result, there is quite a bit of difference across the country with implications both for licensed producers (LPs) and consumers.

A quick guide to the general Canadian regulations broken down by Province.

Who Can Buy, Sell and Grow?

With two exceptions, the legal age of consent is 19, home growing of up to 4 plants is allowed across many provinces (with only Quebec, Manitoba and Nunavut banning the practice), and rules vary by province on both public and private consumption.

However what the industry is really looking at right now is where private enterprise will be allowed to flourish at the retail end of the industry. Private retailers will be allowed to operate in 7 provinces and territories where they will compete with government run outlets. In New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and the Yukon, consumers will be required to shop in only government-run establishments.

Nunavut, with no licensed producers, will allow online sales only, even in a recreational market. This gives Tilray an instant advantage with their established online presence not only from the company website, but Leafly.However, the two largest provinces are also where the competition will be most intense nationally.

Power Provinces

One of the most interesting statistics to look at is mapping this information to the number (and size) of licensed producers in each province. For example, Ontario currently clocks in at 59 producers, British Columbia at 23, Quebec at 8 and Alberta at 6, while the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have none. Of these, Ontario and Quebec will not allow producers to sell direct to private establishments but rather mandate sales via government-run dispensaries.

Ontario is slated to become the largest of all provincial markets in the country with Quebec coming in second.

However, the two largest provinces are also where the competition will be most intense nationally.

Where The Big Dogs Lie

Even these statistics do not tell the entire story. The biggest producers (especially those engaged in international rather than just domestic production and distribution) are scattered all over the map. For example, Tilray is in British Columbia. This gives the company the unprecedented ability, via its online portal and information website, Leafly, to engage in direct sales to both patients (via online sales) and recreational users from its home base.

How this will shape regional sales figures once the rec market actually starts is uncharted territory.Aurora is in a similar situation as it is situated in Alberta.

Canopy is headquartered in Ontario, but has grow sites across the country, giving it wide market access, and has just been picked as one of four companies to begin recreational sales in Manitoba.

Aphria and MedReleaf headquarters are also both located in Ontario. But it is not necessarily where such producers are located which will determine market access. Ontario has opened the door to suppliers of all sizes, across the country.

Quebec, in contrast, has signed deals with Canopy, Aphria, Aurora, Tilray, MedReleaf and Hydropothecary with both Aurora and Hydropothecary expected to have large home-court advantage when it comes to branding. MYM Nutraceuticals, with a huge greenhouse in Weedon, Quebec, has now also signed the largest deal in Quebec (as of June). The company represents one of Canada’s largest greenhouses.Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

Prince Edward Island and Brunswick have followed a bit of a hybrid model, signing deals with both small local players and the larger national companies.

The interesting twist to the Canadian medical market (that does not exist in Europe for example) is that all licensed producers are allowed to sell directly to patients online. How this will shape regional sales figures once the rec market actually starts is uncharted territory.

Ontario, with 40% of the country’s population and home to more than half of Canada’s registered producers, is slated to become the country’s largest recreational market.

British Columbia, in contrast, is developing as a place where mom and pops can still thrive.

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Q1 European Cannabis Industry Update Report

By Marguerite Arnold
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european union states

While the American cannabis industry deals with both unparalleled opportunity and new risks, Europe is setting itself up for a spring that is going to be verdant.

The ongoing drumbeat for reform in countries across the continent is bringing both money and high-grade medical product into the market. Even if volume is still really at a trickle, it will rapidly widen to a steady stream. It is also very clear that the next two to three quarters are going to deliver news that the cannabiz has arrived, and with authority.

The following is an overview of what is happening, where, and with an eye to informing foreign investors, in particular, about new opportunities in an awakening market.

Germany

Without a doubt, the country is priming itself for a medical market that is going to be large and partially government supported, driving regulation of medical use across the continent. On top of that, the idea of selling 28 grams (1 oz) of product to end consumers who only pay about $12 for their medication has gotten the attention of global producers. Opportunities here for those who did not submit a bid for federal cultivation (see the big Canadian LPs) are still unfolding.

german flag
Photo: Ian McWilliams, Flickr

However here is what is now on the table: an import market that cannot get enough cheap, GMP certified product. Producers from Australia to Uruguay are now actively hunting for a way in, even if cutting a supply deal for the next 18 – 24 months as the German green machine starts to kick into production-ready status. What a bad time for Israel to be so publicly out of the ex-im biz! In fact, Israeli entrepreneurs are scouring the country for opportunities into the market another way (and there are a few efforts afoot in a sleeping giant of a market waking up from a long snooze to find they cannot get enough product). Right now, however, the legal market is absolutely dominated by Canopy, Aurora, Aphria and Tilray along with Dutch Bedrocan.

The German parliament is clearly also going to do something about another piece of reform which will also drive market expansion – starting with announcement of additional cultivation possibilities (potentially this time even open to German firms). On Friday, the day after the British parliament wrangled over the same thing, the German Bundestag debated decriminalization along with a few other hot button topics (like abortion). With only the AfD (right wing) still in the “lock ‘em up camp,” and even the head of the police calling for reform, it is clear that decriminalization is on the legislative agenda this year.

Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Denmark & Holland

While it may seem presumptuous to lump all these very different countries under one label, the reality is that the level of reform is generally in a similar state (transition to medical), and that drives potential political and market risk as well as evaluation of investment decisions.

aurora logoIn Spain, federal reform has not come yet, but medical deals involving pharmaceutical companies (both exclusively cannabinoid focussed and otherwise) are afoot. Plus of course there is Barcelona (the Colorado of the country in many ways).

Italy, Portugal and Denmark are all the battlegrounds for the big Canadian (and German) companies now set on having a country-by-country footprint in opening markets across the EU (see Canopy, Aurora, Aphria and their German counterparts of Spektrum Cannabis, Pedianos and Nuuvera). Licensing is political, happening at a high level, and only for those with the bank to back deals that come with high capex attached. That said, there are lucrative opportunities for those with local contacts and liquidity.Nuuvera logo

Holland is another animal altogether, but for the most part everyone is so confused about the state of reform domestically that the only people really in position to take advantage of it are the Dutch, at least for now. That said, Dutch-based plays (in part financed by Canadian backing) for other Euro markets are absolutely underway. Who else has so much experience here, let’s be honest? Regardless, investments in these canna markets, particularly for the Euro-focussed but North American investor, for now, will tend to be through public stock acquisitions of Canadian parents or direct investments in Dutch companies (see Bedrocan, but they are not the only game in town).

Switzerland, for the most part, is setting its own pace, but reform here means the CBD market, including for medical grade imports, is a place for the savvy medical investor to look for cultivation and ex-im opportunities. Including in the home-grown, Swiss pharma space.

Greece

Parthenon, Athens, Greece
Photo: Kristoffer Trolle

The recent pronouncement of government officials that Greece was opening its doors to investment and a medical cannabis business means that there will be a federally legal, EU country that is promoting both investment and tourism opportunities just for domestic consumption, let alone export. Scouts from all the major canna companies are combing both the Greek mainland and its islands.

Poland

If there was ever such a thing as a “virgin” cannabis market, Poland might well qualify. For those distributors with cheap product that has not (yet) found a home, the country is poised to start to announce (at least) distribution deals to pharmacies with producers now establishing themselves in other markets. Medical legislation has just changed, in other words, but nothing else is in place. And with Polish patients now having, literally, to scour the continent for product not to mention foot the bill for the travel costs to get it, the next obvious step is a national pharmacy chain distribution deal or two with producers from all over the world now looking for Euro market entry possibilities. Domestic production is some time off.

The BalticsThe ongoing drumbeat for reform in countries across the continent is bringing both money and high-grade medical product into the market

If there were such a thing as the “Berlin” of the cannabis market in Europe (namely sexy but poor), it is probably going to be here. Cheap production markets and opening opportunities for export across the EU for high quality, low cost cannabis are not going unnoticed. Look for interesting plays and opportunities across the region. Scouts from the big international canna companies already are.

The UK

Britain comes last because of the political uncertainty in general, surrounding the island. However, last week Parliament appeared on the verge of being embarrassed into acting on at least medical reform. There will be a market here and of course, there is already one globally known cannabis company with a 19-year track record and a monopoly license on canna-medical research and production (GW Pharmaceuticals) that calls the British Isles home. This will be a no-brainer, particularly for foreign English-speaking investors still leery of continental Europe. However it will also be highly politically connected. Expect to see a few quick arranged marriages between such landed gentry and foreign capital – potentially even this year.