February 22, 2024

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Cannabis memory lane: Who’s sticking it out, who’s dead and dying

I was feeling every ounce of my chest cold, the thing everyone apparently has, the one that’s going around, the one that’s not covid but who could tell.

I was also standing on a stage at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce awards gala, blinking at stage lights and peaking over the shoulders of some very tall people as the camera guy snapped away, while clutching a certificate congratulating my group for being a finalist in the Business Leader of the Year award.

We did not win but, if you didn’t know, it’s an honour just to be nominated.

While I was up there, wondering what my life had become, a dude next to me joked about the entrance music they’d played when we filed in… “No Thunderstruck? Weak.”

I tried to think of something funny to respond with but I’d chugged a third of a bottle of Buckley’s just so I could exist with human beings for a few hours and, to be honest, I’m not sure there weren’t dragons in the rafters by that point. Thank god we didn’t win because my acceptance speech may have been a smooth jazz version of Freebird.

But there was something about that dude cracking wise. I knew him from somewhere. Super familiar face.

Soccer? Markets? WEED.

Phil Campbell, nee of Ascent Industries back in the day, was getting his own certificate, to be hung somewhere in the Richmond offices of Rosebud Industries, which owns Herbal Dispatch (HERB.C), and used to be Luff Brands, and before that was Ascent.

You may recall Ascent as a group I was right behind in the early days of legal cannabis pubcos. Maple Ridge BC, nice little farm, couple of interesting verticals.. and then someone (a competitor who’d made a habit of getting LPs in trouble and then asking the govt for permission to ‘clean them up’) did them dirty (RavenQuest – it was RavenQuest) and the licenses went away for a spell.

I’d heard that crew had reassembled over the years but, it’s cannabis, why would I pay attention to that ratty old business? Everything headed to zero, right?

With Health Canada rules making it impossible to market, create new products, and really stand out in any sort of noticeable way, only a few rare groups have managed to look like they might some day soon be healthy businesses in Canadian weed, while a load of others have floated downriver, face down.

So this morning, in a cough syrup/coughing fit/hangover combo that would rattle Rex Murphy to the core, I looked up the old Campbell co. to see what they’re up to.

Campbell told me, as best as I can recall, that they’ve been active, and are close to kicking things back off again. Looking towards breakeven. Being nominated for awards. All good stuff.

None of that is reflected in the half cent share price but, why would it? Nobody is buying weed stocks right now so talking yourself up early and going from half a cent to a cent is going to be rough work. May as well put some things together in the relative darkness and burst out like a bolt from the blue when the time is right.

The core of Herbal Dispatch is a cannabis club, based online for the most part but in the island city for operational realsies, where members can buy weed products and have them shipped same day. A quick look through their selections shows the usual sectors, mixed in with a few that raised an eyebrow (“experiences?”), with a focus on legacy small grower names who the real enthusiasts from back in the day will know and recognize.

Sup, Remo.

 

No beverages, which is mostly my jam, but enough variety to keep you scrolling longer than on the government site, and ‘grey market dispensary’ levels of pricing, which I appreciate.

CBD? CBG? CBN? All here.

The company doesn’t, at least as far as the last financials posted are concerned, earn a profit. but it’s edging that way, with exports now being a thing to toss in to the bottom line.

Courtesy, Herbal Dispatch Instagram

If I’m honest, having had a momentary glance, I don’t hate the business model here. I’m an early nvestor in the Village Bloomery, which for mine is the best damn dispensary in the city, but still recently got tossed from their long-time location by their landlord and had to move to 2139 East Hastings (worth a look, tell em I sent you), and has struggled to stay afloat for a while, fighting municipal regulations and weird zoning and neighbourhood pearl clutching along the way.

Having an actual store… sucks. So HERB doesn’t have one. Go online and shop, find your goods on the doorstep that day.

They’re also working the wholesale angle well, bringing small vendors up, doing a little white labeling, getting into government stores, earning some goodwill.

So… half a cent? Well, yeah. 736 million shares out.

This thing aint moving an inch until it’s rolled back, and frankly I’d be motivated to roll it back 50:1 if I was going to really make some market moves at some point. That’d leave 14 million shares out and put the stock at about $3.

Then, of course, it’d get killed for a week and fall back to $1, which would price it as an $800k company by market cap, which would be absurdly low and a great place to launch from.

I have no idea if these plans are being considered or not. I have no idea if Herbal is ACTUALLY all good and coming back strong, sometime soon, or if the warehouse is literally in flames.

But from what I can see, with a kind of cynical viewpoint, I’m interested in learning more, and in looking into other old timey weedcos that are still rolling along on four flat tires, waiting for a good place to pull over and get em patched.

We’ve talked about BC Bud Corp (BCBC.C), which has a not dissimilar business model (minus the B2C online sales) where they gather the forces of cannabis knowledge and help bring them to a sales distribution network and white label opportunities. BCBC is also not profitable, but also not far from it, and gets little love from the markets despite inching closer every quarter.

We’ve long mentioned Avant Brands (AVNT.T), which gives the world BLKMRKT, a brand that has built much love from consumers and continues to grow sales. AVNT is making a small profit by keeping an iron hand on the rudder and a firm eye on the horizon, and the market doesn’t give a shit because it’s weed. Still good for a $37 million market cap and, just quietly, worked their way up to the Toronto big board.

Rubicon Organics (ROMJ.V) started out as a premiuum brand and hasn’t deviated, bringing in $10m in revenue per quarter which, though down a touch from the last quarter, leaves them with a small loss from operations after factoring in real estate purchases. $22 million market cap.

The Marc Lustig-backed IM Cannabis (IMCC.C), which has morphed a little over the years into an Israel-Germany focused export marketer, has decent low-six figure sales per quarter but is dealing with currency fluctuations and, you know, war, as it looks to streamline and become self-sustaining. It has an $8 million market cap, down from more or less $800 million a few years back before the industry went to hell, so any time they sell stock they have to get folks past where they were, while explaining where they’re going.

Cannabix (BLO.C) is still telling folks it’ll have a working contactless weed breathlyzer any day now. Still somehow a $24 million company. Mmkay.

FSD Pharma (HUGE.C) is still, after all these years, the hardest pushed and pumped cannabis ticker, with wild trading fluctuations that draw eyeballs if not confidence.

Nothing wrong with ebbs and flows, respect to any weedco that can push back against the tide.

But when you scale back the timeline a little, the real story becomes apparent.

My word.

My cannabis era, where I figured out it was going to happen before anyone else and crystal balled the shit out of the birth of an entire industry, and rode that wave to fat multiples before crystal balling it a second time and yelling for everyone to get off the beach just days before it all went to hell.. I’ve been chasing that high since. Blockchain, e-sports, lithium, uranium, rare earths, biotech, infosec, shrooms… all of these have come and gone quicker than weed did, because weed had a few generations of zealots who wereprepared to spend their life savings in support of it all.

That’s left the companies that are still kicking, in the same place crypto is.. there may well be a business case to support it, but those who would be likely to buy in are all just dead as investors.

I love BCBC, IMC, ROMJ, AVNT, and I could learn to like HERB, but I can’t do it all myself. Those companies need just the smallest amount of wind in their sails from government, or some sort of market movement, or some progress in the US legislatures, to get it to where it always promised to end up.

During alcohol prohibition, Budweiser sold malt and near-beer and ‘beer-derived baking products’ to keep the cash line flat.

But it wasn’t until the government took its foot off their neck that a real industry was able to blossom.

The Canadian government could, tomorrow, begin reducing the burden of compliance and taxation from companies that that employ tens of thousands and, as we’ve seen over the years, so no harm. That it won’t is, frankly, diabolical.

Yes, it was a good thing that the worst weed companies went facedown and floated away. But now we’re left with the ones still paddling and hoping for a life preserver, that could actually, if given a little encouragement and support, be a boom again.

I like weed products once in a while. Mostly only once in a while because I don’t want to make a trip to a dispensary or have to be home for a delivery. It could be easier. It should be easier.

We should all be seeing pretty dragons in the rafters without having to go bananas on the Buckleys.

Meanwhile, public company cocaine is coming. No, really.

— Chris Parry

FULL DISCLOSURE: No financial or commercial dog in the fight because who the hell is marketing their stock in the cannabis world right now? I mean, by all means call me, guys. You won’t.

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