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When Will Aurora Cannabis Make Its Move Into the U.S.?

Keith Speights, The Motley Fool

Aurora Cannabis (NYSE: ACB) can't expand into the U.S. marijuana market. At least, it can't do so and retain its listings on the New York Stock Exchange and Toronto Stock Exchange as long as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level in the U.S.

But two of Aurora's peers, Canopy Growth and Tilray, are already moving into the U.S. cannabis market in a different way. Hemp is now legal in the U.S. thanks to the passage of the 2018 farm bill in December. Canopy is building a hemp industrial park in New York to produce hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD). Tilray recently acquired Manitoba Harvest, which has hemp food products in around 13,000 U.S. stores.

So far, however, Aurora hasn't announced any details about expanding into the U.S. When will the company make its move?

U.S. flag painted on wood framed by a pile of marijuana leaves

Image source: Getty Images.

An indirect step

You could say that Aurora has already indirectly jumped into the U.S. marijuana market. Last year, the company spun off Australis Capital as a separate entity. Australis Capital focuses on investing in cannabis-related businesses in the U.S.

Australis has already lined up several U.S. cannabis partners. It completed investments in Nevada-based Body and Mind in November 2018. In January 2019, the company invested in Folium Biosciences, the largest vertically integrated producer, manufacturer, and distributor of hemp-derived phytocannabinoids in the U.S. Australis followed up in February by acquiring 100% of Mr. Natural Productions, a medical and recreational cannabis brand based in California.

Operating in the U.S. isn't a problem for Australis Capital. The stock is listed only on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE), which doesn't prohibit marijuana companies from conducting business in the U.S., and trades over-the-counter in the U.S. But while Australis Capital is closely aligned with Aurora Cannabis, the two companies must operate independently to avoid issues related to Aurora's stock listings.  

Hemp hesitation

Aurora executives stated in the past that they were eager to expand into the U.S. hemp market. CEO Terry Booth even expressed his view that the hemp market would ultimately be larger than the adult-use recreational marijuana market. But after the 2018 farm bill became law in the U.S., legalizing hemp in the process, Aurora took no immediate action.

Terry Booth was asked about Aurora's U.S. hemp strategy in the company's second-quarter conference call in February. His response was that the company would "enter when it's proper to enter, and when it's legal to enter into the United States market."

You might wonder why Aurora would be so hesitant about the U.S. hemp opportunity while Canopy and Tilray have jumped in headfirst. The company's slowness appears to stem from some uncertainties that have yet to be resolved with the U.S. opportunity. Terry Booth noted during the Q2 conference call that there is "a bit of legal confusion in the states" regarding CBD distribution. 

Partnership pathway

Don't think that Aurora Cannabis doesn't have something up its sleeve with respect to the U.S. hemp market, though. Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley hinted during the company's conference call in February that "we don't want to give away too much of our strategy just yet." 

It's possible, and even likely, that a key part of that strategy involves Nelson Peltz. Aurora announced in March -- four weeks after its Q2 conference call -- that Peltz was joining the company as a strategic advisor to help line up partnerships.

Peltz stated at the time that he intended to assist Aurora through "potential engagement with mature players in consumer and other market segments." Most of the companies with which the billionaire investor has interacted closely with in the past are based in the U.S. Aurora could be counting on Peltz to find a partner that would enable entering the U.S. hemp market in a quick and major way.

How quickly will Aurora make a move?

The main question for Aurora Cannabis with its expansion into the U.S. hemp market is not if, but when. Discussions and negotiations with prospective partners take time.

Aurora chairman Michael Singer told BNN Bloomberg recently that an announcement of partnerships could be on the way within the next six months. Singer said that Aurora is in active talks with several companies, including some in the consumer-packaged goods and beverage industries.

The bottom line is that Aurora Cannabis is coming to America in a major way. It's just not in as big of a rush to do so as some investors might prefer.

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Keith Speights has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.