How to Invest in Canada’s Coming Legal Cannabis Boom

Investing in US-based cannabis companies can be tricky, but Canadian-based companies have few of the same legal risks. (MJ_Prototype/iStock)

For those looking to invest in the legal cannabis industry, companies in the U.S. offer a quandary. Since cannabis remains federally illegal, these companies are all at risk of prosecution, a risk that may have increased earlier this year when Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, the departmental guidance that protected states and operators as long as they adhered to the memo’s eight principles.

In just the first six weeks of 2018, 15 of Canada's 28 public cannabis companies have raised a combined C$1.2 billion selling securities.

Many investors have opted instead to focus on Canada, which has a federally legal medical cannabis program and is on the cusp of becoming the first country with federally legal access for all adults.

What makes the Canadian cannabis sector even more interesting than its ability to service its own population legally is that many of the licensed producers (LPs) are actively involved in international markets like Europe, Australia, Latin America and Israel.

These companies are not only able to export but are also in the process of applying for licenses to operate cultivation facilities in conjunction with local investors. Germany is a particularly exciting medical cannabis market due to insurance reimbursement and distribution through traditional pharmacies.

Your Options: 28 Public Companies

Health Canada, which oversees the licensing and regulation of the Canadian cannabis industry, has approved 89 licenses, some of which have been awarded to companies holding multiple licenses. There are 28 cannabis companies that trade publicly on the Toronto Stock Exchange, the TSX Venture Exchange or the Canadian Securities Exchange. Many of these have U.S. listings as well on the OTC.

So far in just the first six weeks of 2018, 15 of these public companies have raised a combined C$1.17 billion selling securities. This access to capital is a big difference between Canadian and U.S. cannabis companies. I expect that there will be another five or so trading publicly within the next three months.

I’ve created an index for those interested in tracking the performance of this sector: the Canadian Cannabis LP Index. I break it into three different segments, including Tier 1, the largest producers, Tier 2, those that are generating sales but not at the same scale as the leaders, and Tier 3, those companies that have received their license to cultivate but aren’t yet permitted to sell. Overall, the sector has performed very well over the past two years, though it has undergone a sharp correction over the past few weeks.

The top tier includes six companies that are all generating annual sales in excess of C$16 million. These include Aurora Cannabis, Aphria, CanniMed Therapeutics, MedReleaf, CannTrust Holdings and Canopy Growth. CanniMed and Aurora Cannabis are in the process of merging, with an expected closing next month. Note that Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth are clients of New Cannabis Ventures, where I serve as managing partner. This article is not intended to be a recommendation of these companies or any others that I mention.

Daily Trading Exceeds C$1 Billion

With the exception of CannTrust, which trades on the Canadian Securities Exchange, each of the others trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The combined daily trading value of Aphria, Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth has been exceeding C$1 billion regularly, meaning that investors can buy and sell these names without moving the market. The other 22 publicly-traded companies also provide reasonable liquidity for the most part.

At least two exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are heavily invested in Canadian LPs.

U.S. investors interested in buying Canadian licensed producers are best off opening an account that allows them to buy and sell Canadian securities directly, but it is also possible to buy the U.S. listings.

Another alternative is to consider exchange-traded funds (ETFs). I wasn’t a fan of Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF when it debuted in April, but it has improved. At this point, Canadian LPs make up more than 80% of the Horizon ETF’s holdings. The fund manager is launching a second ETF this week, the Emerging Marijuana Growers Index ETF, which includes smaller companies, over half of which are Canadian LPs.

High Valuations, Higher Expectations

Despite the recent decline in prices, the valuations of Canadian LPs are high relative to their current rate of sales. Still, with legalization kicking in later this year, future sales are expected to rise substantially. Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis have market capitalizations of about C$6 billion, followed by Aphria at C$2.8 billion, MedReleaf at C$1.9 billion, CanniMed at C$882 million and CannTrust at C$793 million. The U.S market caps are about 20% lower based on the current Canadian dollar exchange rate of $0.795.

Bottom line: Canadian cannabis companies are perhaps safer investments than those in the U.S. due to being federally legal, but they have performed very well and may be overvalued despite a recent sell-off. Investors looking to capitalize on global cannabis opportunities should consider exploring this group of companies, which currently numbers 28 and is likely to expand in the near term.

Next up: I discuss the hazards of investing in the stocks of publicly-traded producers of CBD from industrial hemp.

As an owner of New Cannabis Ventures, Alan Brochstein works with several publicly-traded and privately held cannabis companies as he discloses here. In the event he mentions a company that is a client, he will disclose it in the article as well.