The burgeoning cannabis industry has offered no shortage of big events over the past couple of years. We've witnessed Canada become the first industrialized country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana (and only the second country overall behind Uruguay), watched as GW Pharmaceuticals had the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve the very first cannabis-derived drug, and seen two-thirds of the U.S. legalize marijuana in some capacity.
But we've also seen our fair share of surprises, and they haven't always been positive, such as CannTrust Holdings' recent admission that it sold cannabis from unlicensed rooms. But perhaps the biggest story of 2019 is that the biggest name in the pot industry, Bruce Linton, was shown the door as the co-CEO of Canopy Growth (NYSE: CGC), the largest marijuana stock in the world by market cap.
The real reason behind Bruce Linton's "departure" from Canopy Growth
The day before our country celebrated its independence, Canopy Growth announced that Bruce Linton was stepping down from his role as co-CEO. Of course, the real story came out when Linton spoke with CNBC on Squawk Box. While speaking with CNBC's anchors, Linton not-so-subtly noted that he was fired from his post.
Although Linton was responsible for many of Canopy's biggest achievements, including its $3.4 billion contingent-rights acquisition of Acreage Holdings, the entrance of the company into the U.S. hemp market, and Canopy's more than 4.8 million square feet of licensed cultivation capacity, he was also responsible for the company's huge losses. In June, Canopy reported its fiscal 2019 results, which included a 670.1 million Canadian dollars net loss, much of which was due to skyrocketing operating expenses and share-based compensation.
Not only did these expanding losses make Linton look bad but they began to have a tangibly negative impact on Modelo and Corona beer-maker Constellation Brands' operating results. Constellation has a 37% stake in Canopy and four board seats (two Constellation executives, as well as two independent directors appointed by Constellation), and a tangible earnings drag proved to be the final straw.
The big question now is: Where does Bruce Linton go from here?
Here's where Linton won't wind up
Perhaps the only certainty about Linton's landing spot is that it won't be in the Canadian pot-growing industry. Linton had a non-compete clause via his employment with Canopy that'll disallow him from taking a leadership position with a Canadian grower. That's disappointing news, given that some Canadian growers (ahem, CannTrust) could desperately use his vision and leadership right about now.
I'd also suggest that there's little likelihood Linton winds up latching on with a vertically integrated multistate cannabis operator in the United States. Even if Linton doesn't take a role as CEO and, instead, steps in as a board member or strategic advisor, a majority of the vertically integrated pot industry has already been following Linton's vision of rapid near-term expansion.
For example, Harvest Health & Recreation (NASDAQOTH: HRVSF) has orchestrated numerous acquisitions over the past year in an attempt to expand its retail, cultivation, and processing reach. On a pro forma basis (i.e., if all of its pending acquisitions were to close), Harvest Health has access to around 230 licenses, 142 of which are for retail locations.
Yet at the moment, Harvest has just a small number of open retail locations. This is the type of market-share-focused expansion that Linton would likely support if he were involved in the vertically integrated, multistate cannabis industry. With most companies in the industry already on the path to rapid expansion, it just seems unlikely that he'll end up in this specific portion of the industry.
Linton's most logical landing spot
I believe that, rather than focusing on the grow side of the equation, Linton will take on an advisory or perhaps leadership role in the ancillary portion of the U.S. cannabis industry. But before I start throwing out off-the-cuff ideas, I want to be crystal clear that these are simply opinions of mine with nothing concrete to back them up.
The most logical landing spot for Linton would potentially involve companies that provide financing, consulting, or software services to the cannabis industry.
For instance, access to capital has been dicey at best for U.S.-based pot stocks. That's because financial institutions run the risk of facing criminal and/or financial penalties for providing basic banking services to cannabis companies. After all, marijuana is still a wholly illicit drug at the federal level. But Linton, who has keen knowledge of how the marijuana industry operates, could work with financing and venture-capital companies to help the weed industry gain access to traditional forms of financing.
A really off-the-cuff idea might be for Linton to consider a company like MariMed (NASDAQOTH: MRMD). Over the past year, MariMed has substantially expanded its operations, with the company moving into cannabis cultivation and recently launching its wholly owned subsidiary, MariMed Hemp, which will be focused on developing cannabidiol-based products. However, MariMed's roots were in the consulting side of the business, which is an area where I believe Linton would thrive. I'm not entirely sure a company like MariMed has room for a visionary like Linton, but this is the type of role where I see the former co-CEO of Canopy Growth landing.
Suffice it to say, we should know soon where the biggest name in the cannabis industry will land.
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