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Big Marijuana Is Here. Now What?

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Big Marijuana Is Here. Now What?

Two major Canadian marijuana producers are merging to create a $6 billion mega-corporation. Fifteen companies have 10 percent of California’s licenses. The era of Big Marijuana began a while ago.

The title of “world’s largest and most valuable marijuana company” has changed hands yet again.

Last week, Aurora Cannabis paid $850 million for CanniMed, another, smaller company in the Canadian marijuana market. With the acquisition, Aurora, one of the many companies vying for a share of Canada’s soon-to-be nationally legal recreational marijuana market, becomes a $6 billion firm, according to the BBC, and the most valuable single marijuana company in the world — for now.

In California, home to the largest recreational marijuana market in the United States, state licenses to sell, grow and distribute cannabis have been operational since Jan. 1, the first day of legal sales. In that time, about 1,000 licenses have been issued. Of them, 10 percent have gone to just 15 companies, according to a review from New Cannabis Ventures.

The biggest company, by number of permits obtained, is Honeydew Farms LLC, a Humboldt County-based cultivation operation. Harborside and KindPeoples, dispensaries with locations in San Jose, Oakland, and Santa Cruz, are the second-biggest, with 12 licenses apiece, according to New Cannabis Ventures.

Meanwhile, there’s potential for even more consolidation within cannabis cultivation.

A state law passed in 2017 that capped marijuana cultivation at four acres has been circumvented by rules from the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Cultivation permits are capped at no more than one acre in size — but an apparent loophole allows for a single operator to obtain an unlimited amount of “small” cultivation permits of a quarter-acre in size, and “stack” them on a single site.

The California Growers Association has cried foul and filed suit, but in the meantime, cannabis products are pouring out of giant greenhouses in the Salinas Valley converted to marijuana growhouses, hundreds of thousands of square feet in size.

All these developments add up to a clear conclusion, one that troubles small and medium-sized marijuana operations and their advocates, and infuriates voters who approved Prop. 64, California’s adult-use marijuana legalization law, based on the public promise that it would protect small growers. Big Marijuana is here. It’s set up shop, and it’s put down roots.

This is the beginning of marijuana legalization. These are the first days of commercial cannabis—and this is the beginning of marijuana consolidation.

According to the BBC, “87 percent of executives from licensed [cannabis] producers expect mergers and acquisitions.” There will be more. Aurora will only be the biggest marijuana producer for so long.

So now what? And what does this all mean?

It’s not an accident that cannabis is following this path. Early legalization efforts called for cannabis to be treated in a fashion similar to alcohol (despite alcohol’s association with many early and avoidable deaths, and cannabis’s increasingly accepted value as a therapeutic product). Marijuana’s commercial development appears to be following a model provided by alcohol, where the bulk of the sales and the production is dominated by a handful of small firms. But thanks to a small army of passionately conscientious consumers — beer nerds — obsessed with innovation and quality over quantity, small brewers, vintners and distillers stand a chance.

In the same way, consumer choices will drive the direction of the marijuana industry — with one caveat.

The size of the market for small producers will be determined by the market—that is, people buying cannabis. A portion of cannabis consumers will choose small craft producers, provided those choices are available to them. And that will be decided by regulators — government. If cannabis consolidates too much too quickly, that’s an issue regulators will have to address. If they don’t, consumers will have their choice made up for them.

TELL US, do you want the marijuana market to consolidate?

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