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Insiders with two Canadian marijuana companies cash in before legalization

Insiders with two of Canada’s largest marijuana companies are cashing in on the industry’s reefer madness before the country introduces its plans for legalized recreational pot. (Dave Chan For The Globe and Mail)

Since March 1, five directors, officers and board members with Canopy Growth Corp. sold 3.2 million shares worth at least C$7.5-million ($5.7-million), including Chief Executive Officer Bruce Linton, who sold C$3.7-million worth of his holdings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Between March 1 and April 10, eight executives and the chief cultivator for Aurora Cannabis Inc. sold a total of 4.9 million shares worth C$11.8-million, data show.

The sales were a mix of shares insiders already held and the exercise of options. The profit taking comes as the country’s burgeoning marijuana market has ballooned in value in recent months and just as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduces legislation to legalize marijuana.

The value of Canada’s nascent marijuana industry has surged amid investor optimism over recreational sales, which Cannacord Genuity Group Inc. said in November could reach C$6-billion annually by 2021. Smith Falls, Ontario-based Canopy Growth has seen its share price rise more than 300 per cent in the past 12 months, while Aurora has climbed more than 500 per cent.

‘Surprised’ Insiders “Insiders are surprised at the value of their holdings and are monetizing part of their position,” said Jason Zandberg, an analyst at PI Financial Corp. who has a buy rating on marijuana companies including Canopy Growth, Emblem Corp., OrganiGram Holdings Inc., and Aphria Inc. “I don’t think this means the market has peaked, but the current wave of capital entering has pushed prices higher very quickly.”

Linton remains Canopy’s third-biggest shareholder, with 2.8 million shares. Company Spokesman Jordan Sinclair declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg News.

Aurora has been engaged in so many transactions, including acquisitions and raising funds, that shares have been in “almost constant lockdown for officers and directors for the last year,” said Cam Battley, the company’s executive vice president. Shares have appreciated “significantly” and a recent window opened up for officers and directors to sell, he said.

“It’s not unusual there will be some selling along the way, but you’ll also see us buying in,” Battley said by phone. Company insiders continue to maintain major positions in Aurora and have strong confidence in it, he said.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the sector and the introduction of legislation will cement in investors’ minds that legalization is actually happening, said Vahan Ajamian, a research analyst with Beacon Securities Ltd. While there will probably be ups and downs and market corrections as legalization rolls out, the industry as a whole is poised to do very well, he said.

“I’ve never in my lifetime seen an industry this big going from black to white, or profits going from organized crime to shareholders,” Ajamian said in a telephone interview. “Big picture: it’s a very lucrative and attractive industry.”

Despite the optimism surrounding the burgeoning market, there are concerns that Health Canada will approve more licensed producers and companies may not be able to brand their products if the government moves ahead with strict packaging rules, said Chris Damas, editor of the BCMI Report in Barrie, Ontario.

“The evidence is stone cold undeniable there’s too many applicants,” Damas said in a telephone interview. “I really think that these stocks are going to go lower. It’s just a matter of time.”