Canadian marijuana businesses got a confidence boost from a CBC News report that the government plans to legalize recreational marijuana by July 2018, although big questions remain about how the legal market will work in different provinces.
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- Highlights from the federal marijuana task force report
The newly revealed date for the debut of legal cannabis is "exactly along the lines of what we expected," said Neil Maruoka, a stock analyst with Canaccord Genuity who covers publicly traded marijuana companies.
"Certainly there are some companies with more aggressive expansion plans, and this will give some comfort and clarity on what that path forward is going to be," he said.
Stocks in Canadian marijuana companies swelled on Monday. Shares of Canopy Growth Corp., Canada's largest publicly traded marijuana producer, gained more than 11 per cent. Shares of Aphria, another large player, gained about 8.4 per cent.
The tabling of the legislation, expected the week of April 10, should be "the tide that lifts all cannabis stocks," said Maruoka.
Licensed producers bet on recreational sales
Currently, 40 marijuana licenses to cultivate medical marijuana have been granted by Health Canada. Most of the companies that hold those licenses are also licensed to sell that marijuana to patients via a mail-order system. Some of those companies are spending heavily to build up their growing capacity, betting that they'll be well positioned to sell into the recreational market as soon as the green flag waves.
Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis, which is building an 800,000 square-foot farm near Edmonton International Airport, welcomed the reassurance that Ottawa is committed to recreational sales.
"This is something that we planned on and that's why we started construction on this enormous facility," Aurora executive vice-president Cam Battley told CBC Edmonton on Monday.
Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton also said the legalization date is in line with his company's plans.
"It means everything that's been predicted to be on a path is on a path," said Linton.
"And when you're dealing with a government, you can expect things not to stay that course, but they have."
Who will be allowed to sell?
Even if they weren't surprised by the date, players in the Canadian marijuana market are taking notice of the news that individual provinces will be deciding how marijuana is sold.
"The dispensary groups, depending on how this plays out, could be big winners," said Marc Lustig, CEO of CannaRoyalty Corp., which invests in legal aspects of the marijuana industry.
Pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart, London Drugs, and Jean Coutu could also benefit if provincial governments tap them as marijuana distributors, said Lustig.
In Ontario, the union that represents Liquor Control Board of Ontario workers has pushed for marijuana sales through the government liquor monopoly.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday that the provincial government has not yet decided who will get to sell marijuana in Canada's most populous province, although she previously said "it makes sense" to sell marijuana through the LCBO.
- Shopper's Drug Mart applies to distribute marijuana
- Union head calls for marijuana sales through LCBO
Colette Rivet of the Cannabis Canada Association, which represents 15 licensed producers, says her organization's members favour leaving the mail-order system for medical marijuana in place, and potentially expanding it to recreational sales.
Still, Rivet acknowledges that brick-and-mortar retail sales are "likely to happen, of course."
In its submission to the federal task force on marijuana legalization, Cannabis Canada said it was against selling alcohol and marijuana in the same location.
Dispensaries hope for inclusion
Owners of some marijuana dispensaries, which are illegal under federal law, are also hoping the provinces will cut them in on the legal marijuana market.
"We feel that we have a very good potential to be included in a regulated environment," said Jeremy Jacob, a Vancouver dispensary owner and president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.
In many Canadian cities, dispensaries are frequently raided and shut down by police. But Jacob points out that some B.C. dispensaries have good relationships with local governments in Vancouver and Victoria, where marijuana shops can be licensed by municipal authorities.
Jacob expressed hope that those existing government ties could help pave the way for dispensaries — and the unlicensed producers who grow their product — to take part in the legal marijuana economy in B.C.
"We're waiting to see how inclusive they actually are," said Jacob.
An earlier version of this story stated that "39 marijuana producers are licensed by Health Canada to cultivate medical marijuana and sell it to patients." In fact, 40 licences have been granted as of March 16, 2017, although some companies hold multiple licences. Not all producers are licensed to sell marijuana.Mar 28, 2017 1:32 PM ET