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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lessthan a week after Cannabis Industry Journal reported that BfArM had finally cancelled the first German tender bid for cannabis cultivation, and after refusing to confirm the story to this outlet, the agency quietly posted the new one online, at 3.45pm Central European Time, July 19.
First Thing’s First
For those who have not seen it yet, here is a first look at the “new” bid auf Deutsch. It is basically identical to the last one. For the most part, Europe is shaping up to be a high volume ex-im market.For now, that is all that exists. However,a move is on in Europe to translate the bid into English. Why? To hold BfArM accountable. And to help educate all the foreign and for the most part, non-German speaking investors who want to know what is required to get the bid in the first place. The process last time left a great deal to be desired.
Apart from this, however, very little seems to have changed from the last time. Notably,the amount to be grown domestically is the same. This means that the government is deliberately setting production below already established demand.
As has become increasingly clear, the German government at leastdoes not want to step into the cultivation ring. Further,because they are being forced to, the government wants to proceed slowly. That means that for at least the next couple of years, barring local developments, it is actively creating a market where imports are the only kind of cannabis widely available – for any purpose. And in this case, strictly medical. With many, many restrictions. Starting with no advertising.
For the most part, Europe is shaping up to be a high volume ex-im market. This was already in the offing even last year when Tilray announced the constructionof their Portuguese facilities last summer, and Aurora and Canopy began expanding all over the continent, starting in Denmark, but hardly limited to the same.
These days it is not the extreme west of Europe (Spain and Portugal) that are the hot growingareas, but the Balkans and Greece. Cheap labour, real estate and GMP standards are the three magic words to market entry.
Can This Situation Hold?
There are several intriguing possibilities at this point. The simple answer is that the current environment is simply not sustainable.
Clearly, it is two-fold. The first is to deleverage the power of financial success as a way of legitimizing the drug if not the “movement.” Further, if Germans want to profit from the legal cannabis market it is going to be very difficult. See the bid last year beyond this new development.
That means everyone else is going to have to get creative. The industry, advocates and patients have seen similar moves before. Patient access and profitability are not necessarily the same thing.An increasing numbers of companies are finding ways around being cultivators to get their product into the country anyway.
The only problem with such strategies, just like banning German firms from competing in the bid, is that “prohibition” of this kind never works.
It will not keep cannabis out of Germany. The vast majority of the medical cannabis consumed by patients in Germany will come from the extremes – of east and western Europe – with Canadian, Dutch and even Danish stockpiles used as necessary. It will also not discourage the domestic cannabis movement here, which is critical as ever in keeping powerful feet to the fire.
It will also not discourage German firms from entering the market – in a variety of creative ways. Most German cannabis companies are not public, and most are setting themselves up as processors and distributors rather than growers.
So in summary, the bid is back. But this time, it is absolutely not as “bad” as ever. An increasing numbers of companies are finding ways around being cultivators to get their product into the country anyway.
As for raising money via public offerings? There are plenty of other countries where the publicly listed, now banned North American companies can raise funds on public exchanges (see Sweden and Denmark) as they target the cannabis fortress Deutschland.
If anyone (read Auslanders) had any illusions that the German take on medical cannabis was going to be casual or unscientific if not painstakingly documented, think again.
Techniker Krankenkasse (or TK as it is referred to by the locals) is one of Germany’s largest public health insurance companies. In other words, it is a private company that is required to provide so called “statutory” health insurance which covers 90% of Germans.
As such, they are also on the front lines now of the medical cannabis debate. Approximately one year after the new law requiring public health insurance companies like TK to reimburse cannabis claims went into effect, the company has just issued what would surely be a best-seller if it were being sold.All of the medical cannabis now being prescribed and reimbursed is coming from abroad.
The Cannabis Report, as it is titled, produced with the help of professors at the University of Bremen, is also the first of its kind. In its pages, along with the corporate summary produced for the recent press conference in Berlin, are several fascinating snapshots of what is going on.
By the numbers.
The Cannabis Report
For those who cannot understand German, this summary by Business Insider is quite educational. Here are the major takeaways: There are now almost 16,000 German patients who are receiving some kind of medical cannabis by prescription. From a doctor. These patients are also paying about $12 for their monthly supplies – even if they have to wait for reimbursement. This is in contrast to the 1,100 patients who managed to obtain cannabis by prescription and pay for it themselves before the law changed last spring.
Do the math and that is a 1,450% uptick. Add in the additional 15,000 left out of this report who are getting cannabis prescribed but their claims turned down, and that is an even more amazing story.
Here is the next obvious fact: All of the medical cannabis now being prescribed and reimbursed is coming from abroad. A significant amount is still coming from Holland. The rest? Canada.
For that reason, the cost of medical cannabis is a major concern, along with the medical efficacy of cannabis and the authors’ frustrations about dosing.
The most interesting takeaway? Chronic pain and spasticity arehigh on the list of prescriptions (MS is currently the only condition which is “on label” for cannabis). So is Epilepsy and AIDS. Most interestingly are the high numbers for ADD. This is also highly significant in a country where amphetamine prescriptions for the same are almost unheard of.
TK, like the other health insurers who have started to provide numbers, also approved approximately two thirds of the requests they received. And it has cost them $2.7 million. That bill will begin to reduce as Germany cultivates medical cannabis domestically. However, the tender bid, which now apparently includes 11 contenders, is still undecided, with growing apparently pushed off now until (at the earliest) sometime next summer.
The bottom line, however, in the report from Socium, a university-based think tank that focuses on social inequality, is that cannabis is a drug that should also be treated like any other medication. Even though study authors conclude that so far, they do not find cannabis to be as “effective” as other drugs, they clearly state that the drug does help patients.
An Equally Interesting Industry Snapshot
Flip to page 20, however, and the authors also confirm something else. The top companies providing medical cannabis to German publicly insured patients who are getting reimbursed are Bedrocan, Aurora andCanopy. Aurora’s brands clock in at the highest percentage of THC, although their German importer Pedianos, clearly offers a range of products that start at less than 1% and increase to 22%. MedCann GmbH (renamed Spektrum last year) is essentially providing the rest, and ranges of THC at least, that go from 5.4%-16.5%. They also provide the products with the highest percentages of CBD.
Unlike the other companies, Canopy’s “brands” are also showing up in ostensibly both medical and government reports (Houndstooth, Penelope, Princeton and Argyle). This is interesting primarily because the German government (and regulatory requirements) tends to genericize medications as much as possible.
Dosing, Impact, Results
The next page of the report is also fascinating. Namely a snapshot of what kind of cannabis is being prescribed and at what doses. Patients who are obtaining cannabis flower are getting up to 3 grams a day. Dronabinol, in stark contrast (which is still the only form of the drug many German patients are able to get), is listed at 30mg.
Unlike any corporate report so far, the study also discusses consumption methods (including, charmingly, tea). It is impossible to forget, reading this, how German and structured this data collection has clearly been. There are several fairly stern referrals to the fact that cannabis should not just be prescribed for “vague” (read psychological) conditions but rather aspecific symptomology (muscle spasms and severe pain).
There is also great interest in how flower differs from pills. And how long the effects last (according to the authors, effects kick in about 2-15 minutes after dosing and last for 4 hours). This is, of course, an accurate picture of what happens to just about every patient, in every country. What is striking, particularly to anyone with an American perspective, is how (refreshingly) clinical much of this basic data collection and discussion is.
And no matter how much the authors call for more research, they clearly have observed that cannabis can have positive, and in many cases, dramatic impacts on patients. According to the handy graphs which are understandable to English speakers, study authors find significant evidence that the drug significantly helps patients with severe pain and or muscle spasms – see MS and Epilepsy, AIDS patients with wasting syndrome and paraplegics (wheelchair bound individuals). Authors list the “strong possibility” that the drug can help with Tourette’s and ADHD. Fascinatingly, however, so far, German researchers are not impressed with the efficacy of the drug for Glaucoma. “Psychological” and psychiatric conditions are also low on the list.
Regardless, this is an important line in the sand. As is the clear evidence that cannabis has efficacy as medication.
The great German cannabis science experiment, in other words, is well underway. And further, already starting to confirm that while many questions remain, and more research is required, this is a drug that is not only here to stay, but now within reach of the vast majority of the population.
With the summer season (and recreational reform) fast approaching and the continued growth of the European medical market, Canadian LP Aurora has continued to power forward with another corporate acquisition. This time, the firm is medical cannabis firm MedReleaf (TSE:LEAF). The price? $3.2 billion in stock.
Aurora shareholders will now own 61% of MedReleaf.
The firm has also, of course, solidified its place as a global leader in the cannabis space with production capacity of over 570,000 kilos of cannabis a year.This purchase will absolutely ensure that the company is in a strong position
According to a statement by chief executive Terry Booth, “Our complementary assets, strategic synergies and strong market positioning will provide us with critical mass and an excellent product portfolio in preparation for the adult consumer use market in Canada.”
It also does a bit more than that.
With the German cultivation bid in what appears to be at least a three to six month delay, exports, including from Canada, are the only real way into Europe’s largest cannabis market. And Aurora, with it’s on the ground partner, Pedianos, isright in the middle of it. This purchase will absolutely ensure that the company is in a strong position as the next level of cannabis reform begins to unfold particularly in Europe.
Cannabis Is SO Expensive!
In fact, per this report just produced by one of the leading German public health insurers, Aurora, via Pedianos, and MedCann (the company that became both Spektrum Cannabis and bought out by Canopy Canada), appear to be the two Canadian LPs supplying the vast majority of all reimbursed medical cannabis to German patients. Further the vast majority of product is still coming from Canada – not the satellite grow or production facilities now being built in Portugal (Tilray), Denmark (Aurora and Canopy), Spain (Canopy) or anywhere else in Europe where legal cultivations are being established.
However, this also makes for an expensive product here in Germany, land of the generic drug (and where most of them can be bought by consumers, with a prescription, at a regular pharmacy for about $12). In fact, this report was produced in part to underscore the still-evolving medical position on the use of medical cannabis and its efficacy. This highlights how much Germany’s import policy is now costing even public insurers.
What is even more intriguing about the TK report is that the Germans are clearly moving into new research territory. Sure AIDS, chronic pain and muscle spasms (in particular MS) are conditions for which the drug is increasingly being prescribed, but so is ADD. And research studies are now mushrooming around the country.
The Germans have engaged on the medical cannabis efficacy question. And while it is still unclear what doses and of what kind of cannabinoid, have yet to be standardized into protocols, such conversations are well on their way.
And Aurora is also, of course, right in the middle of them.
Another Aurora Acquisition
Given the importance and size of the German market, in particular, it is also no surprise to see another strategic Aurora acquisition coming less than a week after the announcement of this report in Berlin. Specifically, Aurora has also just sunk another 1 million in an investment in CTT– an Ontario-based firm leading the development of thin film wafers that can provide dose specific, smoke free delivery of medical cannabinoids.
The Teutonic cannabis market is clearly in the company’s sights. Not to mention absolutely driving investment and positioning strategy both at home and abroad.
Disclaimer: Marguerite Arnold has just raised the first funds for her blockchain-based company, MedPayRx in Germany (and via traditional investment funding, not an ICO). She will also be speaking about the impact of blockchain on the cannabis industry in Berlin in April at the International Cannabis Business Conference.
You have probably heard of cryptocurrencies, tokens and smart contracts. You might have also heard, even if you did not understand the significance, that IBM recently suggested that the Canadian government use their form of blockchain, called Hyperledger, to track the recreational cannabusiness. Or that a large LP called Aurora is also looking at this space (as are other licensed producers large and small). Or maybe you have seen an item in the mainstream news about an ICO for a cannabis company that is now also going terribly wrong.
What on earth is going on?
These are all related issues, even if highly confusing and disjointed. Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency are hot right now and getting hotter – both in the mainstream world and in the cannabis industry globally. But for all its fans, the drumbeat for caution is also growing louder the more mainstream this technology (and the legitimate cannabis industry) becomes.
The many problems the entire cannabis vertical has with banking has make this current development almost inevitableOn the technology and finance side, that is why so many big names right now are urging caution. Nouriel Roubini, professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, is just the latest to do so – and for reasons that everything to do with history. Including recent history ten years ago, when the world stood on the brink of a financial disaster thanks to unchained derivatives. The biggest worry in fact, right now, is about the financial implications of widespread adoption of the technology, beyond the tech itself and how it may (and may not) be legitimately used. Which itself is a huge question.
So why all the fuss?
This is revolutionary technology which is also being introduced into the market at a time when decentralized processing for automation is on the horizon. But also because blockchain can be used to create tokens or digital coins that act like financial instruments. And once created, such tokens can be issued much like money or even stock, to raise additional funds – for both start-ups and ongoing enterprises. The best thing though? This technology was invented to create a decentralized form of value exchange and trust-less, anonymized auditing and verification. No traditional financial institutions or even governments needed, wanted or should apply (at least in theory).
The many problems the entire cannabis vertical has with banking has make this current development almost inevitable. Not to mention accessing investment cash (although this is certainly changing outside the United States). Compliance issues in every direction are another wrinkle this tech will help solve. Starting with tracking product but also rapidly expanding to uses including protecting users’ privacy and facilitating access to high-quality, inspected product for qualified users and buyers. Not to mention other areas that are literally space-age but coming fast. Look for cool stuff coming soon involving both AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (internet of things).
It is a fascinating, complex space. However, one aspect of this world, in particular, Initial Coin Offerings – or ICOs are getting attention right now. Why? They can be an incredibly efficient way to raise money for companies – both ones currently in business and start-ups with little more than a whitepaper or business plan and perhaps a working prototype. More and more of the successful ICOs are, however, for an existing company or are even attached to an asset, including a license, a prototype or a fund of money (or other combinations). They also rely on blockchain and alternative currency or tokens (sometimes also referred to as smart contracts) to work.
From a technology perspective, you can “mint” new coins relatively easily these days, sourced from a variety of different kinds of blockchain. Or even combinations thereof. You also can issue tokens or altcoins without an ICO.
In a world where there is vastly expanding cannabis opportunity, and many of these hopeful entrepreneurs are both digitally astute but without access to traditional capital, what could be better?
From a financial and investor perspective, ICOs are a hybrid form of an IPO meets social media. “Coins,” “tokens” and “smart contracts” –or cyber currency collectively– are digital forms of cash, contracts, membership cards, discounts or even authorizations for identity. There are many ways tokens can be used, in other words. This by way of saying there are also important differences too. Not all tokens are the same. Not all are used as “money.” Some are but have assets assigned to them (like real estate). Others, particularly smart contract tokens, are strictly functional (pay funds when product is delivered and verified). The one caveat here is that the exchange of any token or altcoin will also cost money. Why? It is the electricity cost of computer processing the request for transfer. Plus access and service fees. There is no such thing as a “free” token. How tokens are priced, sold, bought, maintain value and for what purposes, is a debate if not process function that will not be solved anytime soon. Starting with the fact that some blockchains are more energy efficient (and sourced from green energy) than others.
To add to all of this confusion, not all ICOs function the same way. Some do give investors ownership in the company or specific portfolios that even include real-world assets. Others offer to use pooled funds to buy assets (like real estate or an expensive license). Many rely on the “coin” issued as a kind of discount scheme, reward mechanism and in many cases, direct discounted payment for future goods and services, of both the digital and real world kind. Many offer banking services directly, including in the very near future, the ability to exchange cyber cash for the fiat variety at even remote ATMs. Sound futuristic? It is coming and soon.
Most ICOs in the market now, however, rely on the following supposition: Issue a token with a unique name. Put up an ICO website. Encourage investors from anyplace on the planet with an internet connection, to use either crypto or fiat currency to buy tokens in the issuing startup as an investment that will give the new company funds to operate and build out services or the application (whatever that is). Also, plan to use the tokens for an exchange of some kind in the future (either for other coins or a good or service). Watch the value of the coin increase (for whatever reason) while informing investors (or contributors) that this is not really a security but a “utility” token that is expected but not guaranteed to become more valuable. Retire early with the prospect of having brokers of expensive real estate in places like London and Dubai come calling.The public tide of opinion, even if regulations are slow to move, is on the side of reform if not outright advocacy.
That will not be the case for the vast majority of ICOs, however, no matter what returns, goods or services they offer. Even if they also have vibrant communities already using their services (whatever those are). It will not be the case for most of the cryptocurrencies upon which such ICOs are based (most at the moment are based on Ethereum, NEO, Hyperledger or combinations of the three). There will be more of those too. And not every blockchain will make it (cryptocurrencies and tokens are based on an origin protocol or blockchain much like computer operating systems are either PC or Mac or mobile phones are Android or Apple). Some speak to one another well. Most do not “exchange” easily – even between themselves – let alone back into good old cash. And while nobody wants to be the Betamax of blockchain, there will, inevitably, be quite a few of them. When that happens, any economic value of the coins and even contractual relationships created with them disappear as well. Add in extreme price volatility in the current market pricing of these tokens, and you begin to get a sense of the risk profile involved in all of this.
The real hurdle, not to mention expense, comes when transferring back from the world of crypto to the one of fiat (regular money). Being a Bitcoin billionaire (there are about 1,000 individuals who own about 40% of the entire global Bitcoin issuance) is no fun if you have no place to spend it.
A Rapidly Changing Marketplace
In the past 18 months, cryptocurrency and ICOs have gotten increasing attention because of the increasing value of all kinds of cyber currency (far beyond Bitcoin). The total market cap for all forms of cryptocurrency itself zoomed past $700 billion at the turn of the year. That is impossible to ignore. You might have heard of some of these currencies too. There is ETH, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Dash, even Dogecoin (created originally as a joke on an internet dog meme). Right now, in fact, at some of the most expansive exchanges, there are literally hundreds of these coins which are constantly bought and sold if not exchanged and used.
And then there are the sums ICOs are bringing in some cases, flagrantly flaunting regulatory agencies and doing end runs on the global banking system that cannot keep up with them. The top ICO of 2017, a company called Block.one and registered in the Cayman Islands, so far holds the record at $700 million and counting. Filecoin, the second largest ICO last year, raised $262 million in one month from August to September. And then, of course, there is the cannabis industry-specific case of Paragon – now headed for class-action lawsuit litigation over their $70 million pre-and ICO sale intentions.
It would be logical to assume, given the eye-watering sums potentially involved not to mention the large role a smart digital media footprint has to do with an ICO’s success, beyond its service or technology offerings, that this would be a perfect place for cannapreneurs to turn for funding. The global market is opening for cannabis reform at the same time the crypto craze meets Fintech Upheaval is occurring – in fact, these two things are happening almost simultaneously.
Thanks to regulatory realities and an ongoing stigma, there is still no institutional investment in the industry in the United States (that is rapidly changing other places). These are two new industries and dreams are large.
In the legit cannabis space, so are the expenses.
The price of opening a dispensary in most U.S. states tops a million dollars right now. In Europe, the price of entry is even more expensive. A GMP compliant grow facility in Western Europe, plus the money for lawyer’s fees and negotiations for the license itself will set you back anywhere from $20 million and up, depending on the location. Even staying afloat in the industry once the doors are opened is a challenge. And loans, even for outstanding invoices, are still tough to come by in an industry where banking services of the simple business account kind are a challenge. Particularly in the United States.
The public tide of opinion, even if regulations are slow to move, is on the side of reform if not outright advocacy. Why shouldn’t a reform-group-rooted ICO aspire to own or provide ongoing business financing to a community-minded canna farm in California, Canada, Germany, Israel or Australia? Or even Greece?
However, right now, with some noted exceptions, the cannabis business remains at minimum, a dangerous place to consider issuing altcoins that act like financial instruments or raise money with them. Why and how?
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.
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just as the dust had settled on the news that Canadian LP Aurora had signed agreements to finance a major growing facility in Denmark, the company also added another European feather to its cannabis cap.
On January 18, the company announced that it is the sole and exclusive winner of an EU-wide tender bid to begin to supply medical cannabis to the Italian government through the Ministry of Defense. Why is this federal agency in charge instead of the federal ministry of health? So far, the Italian cannabis program has been overseen exclusively by the Italian military.
But the military just isn’t cut out to cultivate cannabis for the entire medical needs of a country, which should seem obvious. And that is where the Canadian LPs apparently are coming into play.
There were two stages to the bid, with Pedanios, Aurora’s German-based arm prequalifying in the first. In the final round, Pedianos won exclusive rights to begin supplying the government with medical cannabis.
What is interesting, however, is what this says not only about the potential growth of the cannabis market in Italy, but beyond that, Germany.
A German-Canadian Sourced Italian Product?
Pedanios, who won the bid, is the German-based arm of Aurora, one of Canada’s largest LPs. And Italian medical cannabis is now about to be routed by them from Canada, via Berlin, to market locally via pharmacies. It is certainly one of the stranger paths to market globally.
This announcement is even more interesting given that Aurora is widely suspected to be one of the top contenders in the still-pending German bid.
Could this herald a German-sourced cannabis crop for an Italian neighbour?
And what does this say about the sheer amount of volume potentially needed for cultivation next door (or even in Italy) as Germany begins its own cultivation program, presumably this year, to source an already undersupplied domestic market where growing numbers of patients are getting their medical cannabis covered under public health insurance?
Will Germany further antagonize its neighbours over a cannabis trade imbalance? Or does this mean that a spurt of domestic Italian cannabis production is also about to start?
There are 80 million Germans and about 60 million Italians. Who will be the cannabis company to supply them?
Nuuvera Also Makes Italian Moves
Less widely reported, however, was the news that Aurora/Pedanios would not be the only private supplier to the Italian market. Nuuvera, which just announced that they had become finalists in the competitive Germany cultivation bid, also just acquired an import license to Italy for medical cannabis by buying Genoa based FL Group.
One thing is clear. The pattern of establishing presence here by the foreign (mostly Canadian) firms has been one of acquisition and financing partnerships for the past 2 years.
Import until you cultivate is also clearly the guiding policy of legalizing EU countries on the canna front.
The question really is at this point, how long can the import over cultivation preference continue? Especially given the expense of imported cannabis. Not to mention the cannabis farms now popping up all over the EU at a time when the Canadian market will have enough volume from recreational sales to keep all the large (and small) LPs at production capacity for years to come.
In the next year, in fact, look for this reality to start changing. No matter who has import licenses now with flower and oil crossing oceans at this point, within the next 18-24 months, look for this pattern to switch.
The distributors will be the same of course. But the brand (and source) of their product will be from European soil.
Foreign Invasions, Domestic Cultivation Rights & More
One of the more interesting professional conferences this year globally will clearly be the ICBC in Berlin, where all of these swirling competitions and companies come together for what is shaping up to be the most influential cannabis business conference in Europe outside of Spannabis (and with a slightly different approach). Nowhere else in the world now are international companies (from bases in Canada, Australia and Israel primarily) competing in such close proximity for so many foreign cannabis markets and cultivation rights to go with them.
With the average cultivation facility in Europe going for about USD $30-40 million a pop in terms of sheer capital requirements plus the additional capital to finance the inevitable delays, such market presence does not come cheap.
It is increasingly clear that the only business here will also be of the highly regulated, controlled medical variety for some time to come.
That said, when the move towards recreational does come, and within the next four years or so, the global players who have opened these markets on the medical side, will be well positioned to provide product for a consumer base that is already being primed at the pump. Even if for now, the only access is via a doctor’s prescription.
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