As the saying goes, money talks—and the large amount of money being invested by alcohol and cannabis companies in joint ventures speaks volumes about the direction the cannabis industry is taking.
This trend was underscored by the recent announcement that liquor giant Constellation Brands was investing $4 billion in Canada’s Canopy Growth Corp. This massive cash infusion follows a $190 million investment by Constellation Brands in Canopy Growth Corp. in 2017.
Such a major investment by Constellation Brands is a solid vote of confidence in the cannabis industry, and no doubt is driven by the cannabis market’s expanding legalization and explosive growth worldwide.
We should expect to see the alcohol and cannabis industries become increasingly more integrated to create a large recreational cannabis and alcohol conglomerate.
Neutralizing the Cannabis Threat
As the legal cannabis market continues to expand, consumption of cannabis is taking a large bite out of alcoholic beverages sales. Studies show that alcohol consumption has declined by an average 15% in states in which cannabis has become legal.
As Money reported, recent studies show that U.S. consumers now spend as much on legal marijuana as they do on alcohol. In Aspen Colorado, cannabis sales surpassed those of alcohol in 2017, with licensed cannabis vendors taking in $11.3 million, topping the $10.5 million rung up by liquor sales.
To counter the threat to their revenues, major alcoholic beverage distributors like Constellation Brands are investing in cannabis ventures and developing cannabis beverages. At the same time, cannabis companies are investing in alcohol companies as a ready-made path to acquire retail outlets.
Beer Brands Field Cannabis Beverages
One way in which alcohol companies are combatting the cannabis threat, while at the same time capitalizing on the cannabis opportunity, is to produce non-alcoholic cannabis beverages. Beer maker Heineken introduced a non-alcoholic cannabis beverage called Hi-Fi Hops in California under its Lagunitas brand in July.
Molson Coors Canada, meanwhile, announced a joint venture with The Hydropothecary Corp., a leading Canadian producer of medical cannabis, to develop a line of non-alcoholic cannabis beverages.
Molson Coors is among the beer makers that have cited cannabis consumption as a risk factor to their business in 10-K filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Blue Moon Brewing founder Keith Villa also has formed a new company called Ceria to produce THC-infused non-alcoholic craft beers. Villa has been working with cannabinoid research firm Ebbu to develop cannabis-infused beverages.
Province Brands in Toronto claims to have developed the first cannabis beer made exclusively using the marijuana plant, a beverage brewed without barley and using the stalks, roots, and stems of marijuana plants. Province also announced it was developing a new beer brewed from barley and infused with premium cannabis oil.
Liquor Stores Become Cannabis Outlets
With recreational cannabis becoming legal in Canada beginning October 17, Canadian cannabis producers are forging deals with alcohol distributors to acquire retail outlets. Aurora Cannabis in Alberta recently increased its previous $103.5 million investment in Alcanna, Canada’s largest liquor retailer, by another $34.5 million, upping its share of Alcanna from 19.9% to 25%, with an option to go to 40%. The agreement calls for Alcanna to open retail cannabis stores under the Aurora brand in provinces in which private retail is permitted.
Alcanna will build, own, and operate the new cannabis stores, which will carry a suite of brands from Licensed Producers, including Aurora’s MedReleaf and CanniMed products. According to Alcanna CEO James Burns, Alcanna will convert a number of its existing 230 liquor stores into cannabis retail outlets, as well as build new outlets, as it gains permission to operate cannabis outlets within Canadian provinces.
In a similar deal, Canadian cannabis producer Aphria signed an agreement with Great North Distributors, a Canadian subsidiary of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, to serve as the exclusive distributor for Aphria’s adult-use cannabis products throughout Canada. Aphria says the deal will give it 100% coverage of the cannabis retail market across Canada from the first day of legal adult-use marijuana sales.
Big Finance Enters Cannabis Fray
While Constellation Brands’ $4 billion investment in Canopy Growth is a huge event, of equal significance is the involvement of Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch in the deal, Marijuana Business Daily reports.
As the report notes, the transaction appears to be the first mega cannabis investment to involve major U.S. financial institutions and is a move that represents a “transformational moment” for the cannabis industry.
“Wall Street can no longer ignore the pace, the amount of money being raised and the growth underway in this industry,” said Scott Greiper, vice president at Viridian Capital Advisors in New York.
A dark cloud hovering over the cannabis industry is the illegality of cannabis in the U.S. on the federal level, which is preventing financiers from investing in U.S. cannabis ventures. But there are signs of change, including bills introduced to legalize cannabis nationally.
Constellation Brands CEO Rob Sands told The Wall Street Journal that legalization of marijuana at a national level in the United States was “highly likely, given what’s happened at the state level.”
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