Lift Expo 2023: It’s All About Survival for Canadian Cannabis
The cannabis industry is at a crossroads as optimism about the future clashes with today's difficult path to survival.
Survival was in focus for the Canadian cannabis industry as the Lift Expo made its return to Toronto.
The event, which is dedicated to all things related to the cannabis business up north, rounded up a variety of experts to discuss the current landscape for the industry and whether there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Here the Investing News Network (INN) presents some takeaways from the show.
Canadian cannabis faces reality as legalization's five year anniversary approaches
Cannabis was legalized for adult use in Canada back in 2018, and since then the industry has had a bevy of ups and downs as players attempt to establish a safe and commercially successful marketplace.
Reality has eaten away at the optimism and excitement from the early days, and now it’s all about survival.
“If I go back to the cannabis user survey, the theme of the year for 2022 was, 'I just want to survive, I'm not looking to win, I just want to survive' … there was a lot of recognition that 2023 is going to look very much like 2022, but it's going to be more intense in terms of pressures,” said Rami El-Cheikh, leader at EY Americas' Cannabis Center of Excellence.
The expert has reviewed the ins and outs of the Canadian cannabis landscape, and is searching for signs of hope. “I'm looking to see how cannabis companies are going to fare and whether they're going to be able to raise money or (have to) drastically change their business models,” he commented on the sidelines of the show.
When asked about the role mergers and acquisitions could play for Canada's cannabis sector, El-Cheikh said these options are still on the table, but companies are becoming more surgical when making decisions. “I see more people making decisions based on business fundamentals, because cash is tight. Raising money is very, very difficult,” he said. “So they're very careful.”
The expert is glad to see this strategy gaining ground, but wishes it had been more popular from the start.
“I think if we had applied these principles and this discipline from the early days, probably we wouldn't be in this position,” he said.
Financing difficult for cannabis operators, but options available
The financing gridlock for cannabis businesses took center stage as at the Lift Expo.
David Goldstein, CEO of Stoke Inventory Partners, told the audience at a panel that investors need to get off the sidelines and look for opportunities in what he described as a down market.
“You’re an investor, so invest,” he said while propping up the role of financiers such as Stoke.
He pledged support to cannabis industry players who are willing to engage with his firm, and said operators should aim to find an “optimal mix of equity and debt.”
Similarly, Mike Schilling, CEO of Community Savings Credit Union, said his firm is looking to establish a national footprint for cannabis businesses to bank with.
The role of Lift amid cannabis market chaos
Lindsey Roberts, senior vice president at Lift Events & Experiences, told INN that events like the Lift Expo are essential in bringing people within the cannabis community together.
“In my opinion, people need events like this, and at times like this (they need them even) more than when things are good,” she said, adding that some conversations have become more meaningful now that market is no longer booming. “I think this is sad, but I think people know that some of the industry is going to have to fall before we can be healthy and profitable again,” she added.
Last year’s Lift Expo had a distinctly political flavor, as many calls to action were launched by industry stakeholders. When asked if that’s been the same this year, Roberts said she certainly sees a trend toward conversations focused on what has to change for the cannabis industry to survive, and ideally thrive again in the future.
“Something has to give,” she said. “I will say the past six months have been the first time where people were a little hopeful that some of the government entities are starting to get it.”
Whether that leads to meaningful policy changes in Canada, where operators have lamented the high costs attached to excise taxes and the restrictions in advertising, remains to be seen.
One sign of hope, as Roberts indicated, is a recent report from the Canadian Competition Bureau, which gives specific recommendations to the country's federal government about what can be done to unlock the industry's potential.
Among other requests, the agency recommended that THC limits on edible products be reconsidered.
The Canadian cannabis industry isn’t the most desirable space for investors, at least at the moment. Players in this space have struggled for years to survive, and this trend is set to continue.
The latest edition of the Lift Expo offered another snapshot of how, despite the market's dire reality, stakeholders are still looking to a better tomorrow. But for now, survival remains the name of the game.
Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Cannabis for real-time news updates!
Securities Disclosure: I, Bryan Mc Govern, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.
Bryan Mc Govern
Bryan is a Senior Editor with INN. After graduating from the Langara journalism program he did some freelance reporting with community newspapers in British Columbia. He initially wrote about the life science space for INN and now spends his time covering the marijuana market, from Canadian LPs to US-based companies, and the impact of this sector on investors.
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