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Financing abounds for medical marijuana startups

Posted by AGORACOM-JC at 9:15 AM on Friday, March 14th, 2014

Financing abounds for medical marijuana startups

All of the medical marijuana producers approved by Health Canada or in the approval process say they’d been approached with multiple financing offers.


Tweed Inc. workers tend to medical marijuana plants at a new commercial operation set up inside a former Hershey’s chocolate factory in Smiths Falls, Ontario, an hour’s drive from Canada’s capital Ottawa, on February 4, 2014. AFP PHOTO/MICHEL COMTE

By: Business reporter, Published on Thu Mar 13 2014

Canada’s new medical marijuana industry is set to make history on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Tweed Inc., among the first ten companies licensed by the federal government to produce and distribute pot, is in the final stages of approval for a listing on the TSX Venture Exchange.

The firm has a ticker secured — TWD — chosen because fertilizer manufacturer Potash Corp. has long held the ticker POT, joked chairman Bruce Linton.

If it is granted the listing it will become the country’s first public medical marijuana company with an opening share price just below $1, he said.

With over $10 million in private financing, Tweed is housed in the old Hershey’s plant in Smiths Falls and on track to produce 25 different strains of medical marijuana ranging in price from $5 to $12 a gram.

The company hopes to capture a healthy slice of the $1.3-billion medical marijuana industry Health Canada forecasts by 2024. And that’s worth the scrutiny and paperwork of an IPO, said Linton.

“We thought it was an important step to give another level of credibility to what we’re doing as a differentiator in terms of professionalism,” he explained.

Under Canada’s new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which roll out completely April 1, the government appoints and oversees producers. The old guidelines allowed users to grow their own medical marijuana or purchase it from the government.

The cost for staff and facilities to meet Health Canada’s requirements is substantial, say licensees.

“To build up a capacity to produce large quantities, and test the product, and have a quality, secure operation, that requires significant dollars,” said Bedrocan Canada CEO Marc Wayne.

“You’re moving out of the kind of handmade grow ops in days gone by. This is a much more sophisticated industry.”

Fortunately, startup money abounds. All the approved or pending producers the Star spoke with said they’d been approached with multiple offers by financiers.

Venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary may yet be among them. In a recent CNBC appearance, the investor of Dragon’s Den fame raved about the burgeoning U.S. industry where $14 million (U.S.) of recreational pot was sold in Colorado in January.

“For me as an investor, this is like getting an opportunity to get into alcohol after prohibition just ended,” he said on Squawk Box. “This is going to be a massive multi-billion dollar business, regulated and taxed by the government…. I really like the margins in this business – it is phenomenal,” he said.

However, with these changes only happening at the state level —Washington is next to allow recreational pot — O’Leary fears running afoul of territorial rules.

“If I were to invest in two deals I’ve been looking at in Colorado right now I could run into jurisdictional problems as an investor in another state where it’s illegal,” he said.

The Montreal native needs to look closer to home.

“Since we became licensed, I’ve received quite a number of calls, both from individuals and from bankers wanting to talk to me about financing or investing or even going public,” said Neil Closner, MedReleaf CEO.

“This is an extremely exciting, interesting time for bankers in Canada, because there really isn’t a huge healthcare entrepreneurial base in this country; mostly because the government controls healthcare.”

MedReleaf doesn’t have designs on the TSX though.

“Being a public company has its pros, but it involves a lot of work in terms of public reporting and news releases and regulations,” said Closner. “We’d rather focus on growing and treating our patients.”

Mark Gobuty, CEO of The Peace Naturals Project, has a similar outlook: “We think there’s going to be a significant evolution for this industry. We need to be nimble and responsive, both to our clients and to the regulator, and we need to be privately held, with a low amount of shareholders, for really important decisions.”

One publicly-traded Canadian company has their sights on ancillary industries rather than growers or producers.

“There are just a lot of companies rushing into that space,” said Harry Barr, CEO of Vancouver-based Next Gen Metals Inc. “Part of my fear is that there’s a limited amount of patients. I see us financing the companies that do the lights, the fertilizer, the seed, the sophisticated equipment that would go in there. To use a mining analogy, I want to sell them the picks and shovels.”

The long time mining executive, who is diversifying into medical marijuana and industrial hemp to buoy a mining slump, said Next Gen is currently reviewing 45 proposals.


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