When the first companies focusing on cannabis opportunities started listing on the Canadian Securities Exchange a few years ago, the common model was to submit an application to Health Canada with an eye to producing for the domestic medical-use market.
Fast-forward to 2017 and regulatory change in Canada, plus some 29 US states and the District of Columbia, is creating new business opportunities in what is beginning to take on the guise of an international market.
Run by founder and CEO Marc Lustig, former head of capital markets for investment banking powerhouse Dundee Securities, CannaRoyalty looks on both sides of the border for investment opportunities with the potential to contribute a dependable stream of cash flow.
Candidates are put through a strict due diligence process and those making the cut are offered capital under a set of terms tailored to fit their business, along with guidance from CannaRoyalty that has proven valuable in helping investee companies deploy that capital to boost growth.
“There is no cookie-cutter framework we use as a threshold for all asset types,” says Lustig. “We are primarily seeking exposure to obtain royalties, which means that when we invest we are getting a part of the business in the future in the form of a percentage of revenue or a percentage of net income.”
A quick perusal of the CannaRoyalty portfolio shows that royalty agreements often come alongside equity stakes in a business, which enables CannaRoyalty to be more hands-on than would be the case if it were merely receiving a percentage of revenue.
One of the company’s earliest investments was in Toronto-based Resolve Digital Health, in which CannaRoyalty participated as a seed investor. “With minority positions such as Resolve, we of course want a good return, but the bigger priority is the strategic side,” says Lustig. “Resolve is producing a revolutionary technology called the Breeze platform which we aim to license from them. It’s great that Resolve is worth eight-times more than where we invested, but the strategic upside is equally important.”
Resolve’s Breeze vaporizer provides users with a metered dosage of cannabis using a sealed pod that is inserted into the device. Usage can be monitored through an app that works via bluetooth on smartphones, thus providing accurate information for the patient and supporting health care professionals.
Another example of a minority holding is Vancouver-based Anandia Laboratories, in which CannaRoyalty holds a 20% equity stake. “Anandia is definitely one of our most exciting holdings,” says Lustig. “It is a leader in testing and genetics of cannabis and a good example of our interest in ancillary businesses that are integral to the execution of a federal recreational policy in Canada.”
Lustig refers to the Anandia investment as the “picks and shovels model,” whereby rather than investing in producers themselves, CannaRoyalty favours businesses that make products cultivators need to grow cannabis effectively - moving up the value chain as compared to cultivators whose product is at risk of becoming a commodity.
At the other end of the ownership percentage spectrum, CannaRoyalty owns 100% of DreamCatcher Labs, which Lustig describes as one of the largest companies designing vaporization pens and cartridges. Hardware designed and manufactured by DreamCatcher is sold to other companies on a private label basis, with one model in particular also used for CannaRoyalty’s own GreenRock Botanicals brand.
Lustig’s personal interest in the cannabis industry developed through his work at Dundee, and he had an edge in understanding the potential of the fast-changing sector thanks to his molecular biology degree and start in the pharmaceutical industry, prior to moving into capital markets for his career.
In 2014, when Canada allowed companies to set themselves up as entities producing commercially for the medical-use market, the overnight change in investor sentiment opened the banker’s eyes to a new opportunity.
“If you were in one of the investment firms in Canada you could not help but do financings for new cannabis companies and that was my education in terms of the capital markets opportunity – there was endless capital that wanted to be invested in this new and exciting area. But it was also an opportunity for me to learn about cannabis the plant and cannabis the market.”
Lustig believes sales of cannabis and related products could one day outstrip those of alcohol and tobacco, seeing as the plant has both recreational and medicinal uses. “Because of the legal environment, cannabis has never had the chance to benefit from large research budgets to determine the full extent of its medical properties,” says Lustig. “When you consider all the therapeutic uses it could have, that is where the unlimited upside comes from – the idea that cannabis can be officially recognized as a medical product as well.”
Despite that growth, being in the right product at the right time will remain important, and Lustig holds strong views on how the cannabis marketplace is likely to evolve. “We will continue to grow our company on the principle that we are a lot more excited by non-smoking methods of ingesting cannabis, such as transdermal patches, edibles, vape cartridges and capsules. That, to me, is where the high growth in the market is. I think you will see that side of the market get to 75-80% versus the ingestion of cannabis by smoking.”
As for CannaRoyalty in the near term, Lustig says investors can anticipate more deals bringing cash flow and strategic synergies, some in markets where CannaRoyalty does not currently have a presence. Jurisdictions in which the company already has portfolio holdings include Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Puerto Rico.
Before long, all of this is expected to culminate in an attractive bottom line. “Investors should view our portfolio as a diverse mix of income and asset growth in the cannabis market,” Lustig concludes.
“With our cannabis know-how and management expertise we are building a platform of assets designed to accelerate early strength in high-value segments of the cannabis market. This strategy sets us apart from other cannabis companies and will drive asset growth and shareholder value.”