Cannabis Companies Are Attracting Marijuana Investors With a Lot of Green

Will passage of Proposition 64 help marijuana businesses, or will they still be roadblocked by the federal government?
Will passage of Proposition 64 help marijuana businesses, or will they still be roadblocked by the federal government?
Timothy Norris

In many ways, Scott Greiper is what you’d expect of a New York finance guy. He’s confident, well-dressed and articulate. His face lights up when he’s talking about building capital or putting together a board. What separates Greiper from the rest of Wall Street’s brood, though, is the nature of assets he deals in. Greiper is president of Viridian Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm that specializes in legal cannabis companies. Viridian consults with cannabis-based companies and helps pair them up with investors. It has created the world’s first cannabis stock index, which tracks progress of the world’s 50 most viable publicly traded pot companies.

Last Friday at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition in Los Angeles, Greiper gave a seminar entitled “Follow the Money: Analyzing the Capital Flow Into the Legal Cannabis Industry.” In it, he detailed the ways in which the impending expansion of legal marijuana is poised to bring about what he believes will be the next Industrial Revolution. Due to the nature of cannabis production, and the wide range of possible uses the plant offers, a boom in legal marijuana sales very likely will create substantial economic growth in a number of ancillary sectors, including agriculture, biotech, real estate, software, investment, consulting and security. “There was the dot-com from 1995 to 2000. From 2005-2008 there was social media. Now we have cannabis,” Greiper explained.

Not only is cannabis poised to stimulate the national economy, it is also about to make a lot of individuals a lot of money. The time to invest in cannabis, Greiper said, is now. With recreational use up for legalization in more than a dozen states on the 2016 election ballot, investors expect a large uptick in the market after the state votes in November.

Currently, said, Greiper, many publicly traded companies are selling low, as the market has flattened out following its initial spike in 2014, when adult-use cannabis laws went into effect in Colorado and Washington. This downward trend, he said, is actually a healthy thing, as it is representative of a “thinning out” of companies that are badly managed. The problem within the cannabis industry, said Greiper, is that a number of professional cannabis companies are behaving like amateurs. Success in this industry, particularly while cannabis remains federally illegal, requires things like a strong board and diligence when it comes to filing reports in time.

A large part of what Greiper and his team at Viridian do is matching up executives who have a successful track record with cannabis companies that show promise for growth. He has, for example, seated the former CEO of Mars Inc. on the board for one of the edibles companies he works with. “There’s a guy,” said Greiper, “who knows how to run a successful multinational candy company.” While large corporations remain shy about entering the cannabis space, due to what Greiper speculates are concerns about stigma, many of the heavy hitters at these companies are getting into the industry. For example, Michael Cohl, the former chairman of LiveNation, has recently become one of Viridian’s advisers. Last year, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, made waves when he announced that his Founder’s Fund would be buying a share in leafly.com, the popular website that is often referred to as “Yelp for pot.”

“There’s just something about cannabis that excites people,” Greiper said  describing the buzz that surrounds his work. One of those things is the fact that “we don’t need new customers.” The biggest new users, he explained, are people in their 50s and 60s — who finally have kids out of the house, or who have been turned on by edibles and other modes of consumption that might be palatable to an individual averse to smoking. Currently, it is estimated that $50 billion a year is generated in cannabis sales within the United States. Only $5.4 billion of that is legal sales.

Cannabis, which has, by many accounts, been commonly used for thousands of years, is at the center of an industry that is virtually only two to five years old. (Cannabis companies began trading on the U.S. exchanges in 2010, but no significant gains were made until 2014 legalization in Colorado and Washington.)

Greiper says that the first substantial gains in the industry will be seen in the ag tech sector, since it is so closely tied to production; and in biotech, where companies like California-based Kalytera and British behemoth GW are making promising progress in using non-psychoactive elements of the cannabis plant to create pharmaceuticals targeted to combat ailments like multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis. Companies like these should benefit from the DEA’s recent decision to loosen restrictions around medical research of the plant. Last week, shares of GW Pharmaceuticals soared by 23%, up to nearly $100 a share, when the company announced that it had brought on Morgan Stanley to handle its fiscal affairs.

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Still, successful investing in cannabis likely requires patience and acceptance of a level of risk. Financial growth in the field will likely pace out at about the same speed that marijuana is legalized at the state level across the country. Until the federal government changes its stance on cannabis, however, shipment of the product across state lines will be prohibited, which will limit the ability of companies to create large national brands. Federal tax code also currently creates significant barriers for cannabis business owners who handle the plant itself, as they cannot write off the majority of their business expenses.

Once these issues are resolved, however, the people who invested in cannabis early on, may, like the early backers of Microsoft and Apple, find themselves abundant in green, and happy that they were among the lucky few who believed in weed before the industry ignited.


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