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Tilray’s wild price swings distract from ‘massive opportunity’ of cannabis: CEO

Tilray’s (TLRY) top executive isn’t a fan of the volatility swings that sent the stock surging by quadruple-digit percentages in the past four months.

Asked by Fortune’s Robert Hackett at a conference in Portugal whether Tilray’s stock “wild price swings” are “a distraction,” Tilray’s CEO Brendan Kennedy delivered a blunt response: “They are.”

“We really focus on building long-term value,” Kennedy said. “I’ve been doing this for eight years, and we’re in this for the long-term. I always tell my employees, I always tell my investors, we’re at day one in this industry.”

Tilray’s stock has been among the most volatile among a burgeoning group of public pot companies. The company, which priced its IPO at $17, has seen its stock climb as high as $300 per share in mid-September before tumbling below $100 per share just days later.

The ballooning share prices have led some investors to write the stocks off, with notorious short-seller Whitney Tilson calling the high-flying valuations “completely unsustainable.” But Kennedy is convinced cannabis represents a long-term sustainable global opportunity.

“It’s rare in anyone’s lifetime to see an entire industry emerge from scratch, and that’s what we’re seeing here,” Kennedy said.

Most recently, shares of Tilray shot up Wednesday after US voters made Michigan the 10th state to legalize recreational cannabis use and added Missouri and Utah to the list of 31 other states allowing medical marijuana. Tilray – along with peer pot stocks – got an added boost after vocal cannabis legalization critic Jeff Sessions resigned as President Donald Trump’s attorney general.

Sessions’s departure, coupled with the defeat of marijuana critic Pete Sessions for Texas’s 32nd congressional district in the midterm elections, were major wins for cannabis companies, Kennedy said.

“Both are drug war dinosaurs that were preventing the legalization of US drug laws, so we’re pretty excited about this shift,” Kennedy said.

‘Paradigm shift’

With medical marijuana now legal in 33 states and recreational cannabis permitted in two countries and 10 US states, one thing is clear: Marijuana is having its moment.

“We’re seeing an entire paradigm shift,” Kennedy said. “Not only are we seeing legalization in states, but we’re also seeing country after country around the world legalize medical cannabis.”

FILE PHOTO: A small marijuana plant grows in a lab at the new Commercial Cannabis Production Program at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, October 9, 2018. Picture taken October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

Support for legalizing adult-use marijuana reached a record high of 66% in October, a Gallup poll showed, marking the third year of increases in public sentiment. Around 35 countries around the world have legalized marijuana for medical use, while two – Canada and Uruguay – permit adult recreational use. Kennedy said Mexico may be the next country to legalize adult use in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling that total prohibition of recreational marijuana is unconstitutional.

“If you were looking for long-term global growth as an investor, I’d be more likely to invest in the cannabis industry than the airline industry,” Kennedy said. “It’s a massive opportunity. We don’t even understand how big the total addressable market is.”

Tilray raised $175 million from its recent IPO on the Nasdaq and an additional $475 million through convertible bonds, giving the company more than half a billion dollars “to invest in this industry globally,” Kennedy said. “And we intend to deploy that capital quickly.”

Kennedy foresees a global cannabis industry that will eventually be worth $200 billion, in line with a recent report from the Bank of Montreal of $194 billion in seven years. The split between adult use to medical use will likely be about three to one, Kennedy predicts.

Tilray has taken steps to expand the company’s reach in anticipation of the global boom, Kennedy said. Tilray became the first company to legally export medical marijuana products from North America to the European Union in June 2016, and the Canada-based company invested about 50 million euros to create a cultivation facility in Portugal. Kennedy said Tilray plans to begin shipping products from the Portuguese facility to other EU countries beginning in the spring of next year.