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Tilray CEO: Americans want legal weed and we 'need to be positioned for it'

Although the House's recent approval of the MORE Act offered marijuana advocates a glimmer of hope for federal legalization, the Senate appears to be obstinate as ever on the issue.

That isn't stopping Tilray Brands (TLRY), a top cannabis producer in Canada, from making plans for the U.S. market.

"By 2030, it's a $100 billion business out there," Tilray Brands CEO Irwin Simon said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). "And even if it didn't go legal, it's still a good-sized business. Consumers want cannabis legalized ... so we need to be positioned for it when that happens."

Cannabis is currently legal for medical use in 37 states and D.C. It also enjoys growing popular support, with 90% of Americans in favor of legalizing weed for medical use and 60% in favor of recreational use, according to a poll from Pew Research.

Despite some states permitting the substance, Tilray is unable to sell cannabis products in the U.S. because its stock trades on the Nasdaq. Major exchanges refuse to list companies engaged in illegal activity, so until the U.S. legalizes marijuana on the federal level, Tilray's cannabis operation remains limited to countries like Canada where it's fully legal.

'Tremendous consumer demand' for cannabis-infused drinks

Simon's prediction that U.S. legalization might not happen until at least 2024 hasn't swayed him from making a bold play. In the company's Q4 earnings call, the CEO announced a plan to rake in $4 billion in revenue by 2024 — and the U.S. market is a big part of that.

"I need $2-3 billion of sales here in the U.S.," Simon said. "So I just can't sit back and wait for [legalization] to happen."

A flag with marijuana leaves seen in front of the White House
A demonstrator waves a flag with marijuana leaves on it during a protest calling for the legalization of marijuana, outside of the White House in Washington on April 2, 2016. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

To get to $4 billion, Simon's strategy is straightforward: use consumer brands to get a toehold in the U.S. and then use those channels to market cannabis-related products once legalization happens.

Capturing share in the U.S. is what drove Tilray's recent rebrand and acquisitions of craft beer companies and Breckenridge Distillery. According to Simon, the company looked to the beer and spirits product categories because they are "adjacencies" to cannabis, and "upon legalization, you can infuse them with THC or CBD."

"As we sit back and wait for legalization to happen in the U.S., ... it's building out our spirits and our beverage business here," Simon said. "We see tremendous consumer demand for spirits and beverage, but I also come back and think one day — with infused bourbons or tequilas with THC or infused beers — there's going to be tremendous demand there, and we'll be ready for it."

And Simon's aspirations aren't limited to growing new categories of consumer goods. He is also considering M&A squarely in the cannabis space — that is, once it's legal for the company to do so.

A smiling man pours a beer made with hemp into a glass
Beer made with hemp is displayed during the third edition of Indica Sativa Trade on June 7, 2015, in Bologna, Italy. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

"Today, we own notes within MedMen, which we own about 25%," Simon said. "Upon legalization, ultimately, would we look to buy 100% of MedMen? Or the opportunities to buy other MSOs in the U.S?"

For now, the patchwork of cannabis laws throughout the country mean Tilray will generate revenue by "circling" the market, Simon said, though it will need to "pull different levers" if Congress doesn't legalize cannabis.

"But we have the balance sheet, we have the knowledge, we have the infrastructure, and we have the people to get to that $4 billion if legalization does happen," he added.

Grace is an assistant editor for Yahoo Finance.

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