Gone are the Birkenstocks and tie-dye shirts. Today's cannabis confabs are strictly business.
The Marijuana Business Daily held its first international conference in Toronto over a three-day period this week, bringing an event that has drawn thousands of attendees in previous incarnations such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles to the last major industry gathering before Canada legalizes recreational marijuana in October.
Roughly 2,500 people paid as much as $920 a ticket to join the conference that touted Tilray Inc. CEO Brendan Kennedy and Canopy Growth Corp. chairman and co-CEO Bruce Linton, fresh off the company's new $5 billion capital injection from Constellation Brands Inc., as keynote speakers. Business suits were the unofficial uniform for the day as attendance goers mulled around an exhibition floor filled with an assortment of cannabis players, such as vape pen makers, plant nutrient suppliers, grow-op software management tools and production facility consultants.
While the cannabis conference is unlikely to rival the annual Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) mining showcase or the Canadian International Autoshow, its presence displays a level of professionalism that is becoming more commonplace in the maturing industry.
Indeed, the money behind the cannabis industry is expected to reach new heights. The conference organizers issued a new report Wednesday that said worldwide spending on legal cannabis is forecast to surpass US$10 billion in 2018 and could reach as high as US$140 billion by 2027, assuming more countries legalize the drug.
"You're all here because cannabis is sexy," said Hamish Sutherland, CEO of Toronto cannabis investor White Sheep Corp., during a panel session on the future of the Canadian cannabis industry. "But while you see companies trading at something like 300 times their revenue, this industry is going to normalize in the next five years. You're going to see companies trade at a more respectable 15 times [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization]."
The conference started Wednesday with a notable buzz as news of Canopy's deal with Constellation made its way throughout the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The crowd even applauded when conference organizers first announced the deal, a tacit approval from the cannabis industry acknowledging the watershed investment.
"It's the shot heard around the cannabis world," said Troy Dayton, CEO of cannabis investment research firm Arcview Group, in an interview with BNN Bloomberg. "I thought it was a typo when I first read the news."
That groundbreaking announcement easily helped Linton’s question-and-answer session on Thursday morning draw a packed house. The co-CEO of the world’s biggest cannabis company – who admitted the suit he wore that day was another purchase from Winners – was mobbed by a throng of attendees after his remarks and asked to take selfies.
Linton did caution, however, that despite the frothy conditions in the cannabis space, the good times won’t last forever. He envisions that the industry will eventually have a “Google-like company” leading the space and several other producers, including craft or artisanal players, remaining with dozens of smaller firms winding down.
“I get asked all the time whether there’s going to be consolidation. I think there’s going to be disintegration,” Linton said. “Disintegration will happen when people make promises at valuations that can’t possibly be fulfilled because they have no chance to build anything other than inventory.”
Investors looking for the next big deal were mostly absent. Although there were some well-heeled investors that took in some of the conference's informational sessions on how to tap into the "green rush," most attendees were bankers, analysts and individuals involved in the cannabis industry's ancillary businesses such as manufacturing and growing management software, said Greg Engel, CEO of Organigram Holdings Inc., in an interview with BNN Bloomberg.
"There's a lot of people here looking to cash in on cannabis," Engel said. "It's good to have meeting places like this where new opportunities can happen."
Jennifer Sanders, CEO of San Francisco-based CNS Equity Partners, agrees. She noted in an interview that although this conference wasn't positioned as a place to invest in promising companies, such as a PDAC, there likely wasn't enough industry interest to host any event whatsoever a year or two ago.
"There's more high-level executives here than you'd see at other conferences that would appeal to the 'cannatourist,'" said Sanders. "This is mostly technology- and agriculture-focused, which is more relevant to what the Canadian industry needs right now."
Luke Burmeister, a sales representative for Twister Trimmer, an equipment maker that uses a tumbler to clean cannabis flower, said events like the Marijuana Business Daily conference are sorely needed to reach licensed cannabis producers that are just getting started as more players opt to enter the burgeoning sector.
"At the end of the day, this is still a business. But it's an industry that's moving in dog years," he said.