scorecardThe CEO of cannabis company with a slick new dispensary in Brooklyn talks about expansion plans following the company's $1.4 billion public debut
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The CEO of cannabis company with a slick new dispensary in Brooklyn talks about expansion plans following the company's $1.4 billion public debut

The CEO of cannabis company with a slick new dispensary in Brooklyn talks about expansion plans following the company's $1.4 billion public debut
Finance4 min read
Nicholas Vita, the CEO of Columbia Care.    Courtesy of Columbia Care

  • Medical cannabis company Columbia Care started trading on the NEO Exchange on Monday after it was acquired by Canaccord Genuity Growth Corp, a SPAC. The deal values Columbia Care at $1.4 billion.
  • Business Insider sat down to talk about future plans with Columbia Care's CEO, Nicholas Vita, at the company's new dispensary in Brooklyn.

In 2018, it was seemingly every week that cannabis companies with US operations went public on the Canadian Securities Exchange went public via a reverse merger on the Canadian Securities Exchange.

Columbia Care, a medical cannabis company that recently opened a slick new dispensary in prime downtown Brooklyn, is taking a different path: on Monday, it started trading on Canada's NEO Exchange, a newer exchange based in Toronto that's more commonly thought of as a home for exchange-traded funds.

Business Insider sat down with Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita at the company's new dispensary in downtown Brooklyn last week.

Vita, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, said that the new public listing would provide fuel to pursue acquisitions to enter new states and the European market.

Read more: A Canadian investment bank is quietly pursuing a critical regulatory approval that would solve one of the biggest pain points for the US marijuana industry

The deal, in which Columbia Care will be acquired by Canaccord Genuity Growth Corp, a special purpose acquisition company or SPAC owned by the investment bank Canaccord Genuity, values the company at $1.4 billion.

"The next six months are going to be incredibly busy," said Vita. The company has plans to expand into seven new markets, and build out their footprint in the markets they're already in, said Vita.

To be more specific, Vita said Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois all have exciting potential as medical cannabis markets. And, despite California's crowded recreational marijuana industry, Vita said "no one is focusing on the medical patient" there.

Courtesy of Columbia Care

Columbia Care's new medical marijuana dispensary in Brooklyn, New York.

Vita said Columbia Care is working on bringing pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana products to California, both in their own dispensaries and with partnerships.

And Illinois' new governor, JB Pritzker, made legalizing marijuana a focal point of his campaign last year.

Also on Vita's radar: Europe. "Internationally, Western Europe is a focus of ours - we've been clear about telegraphing that to the market."

Vita said Columbia Care holds valuable licenses in the European Union, and that the company will see "meaningful" revenue from the EU this year.

"We believe the lessons we learned in the US on the medical side are transferrable," said Vita, including intellectual property, know-how in terms of manufacturing standards, as well as data. "All of that is stuff that's unique to us, that we can bring to the European theater and hopefully have a receptive audience," said Vita.

Read more: Big asset managers like BlackRock are sitting on the sidelines of the $75 billion US marijuana industry because of one big pain point

Columbia Care isn't the first cannabis company to look eastward, however. As more European countries weigh legislation to legalize medical marijuana, both Canadian and US cannabis companies have started to build out their presence across the Atlantic Ocean.

Tilray recently opened an EU campus in Portugal, including outdoor and greenhouse marijuana cultivation sites, as well as research labs, packaging equipment, and offices. And not to be outdone, Canadian cannabis behemoth Canopy Growth recently acquired a Spanish marijuana cultivator, Cafina, and owns licensed grow facilities in Denmark and Germany.

On the homefront, Vita said he's cautiously optimistic that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will legalize recreational marijuana soon.

"You know - I don't know - I do believe it will happen," said Vita. "What I'd also like to believe is that it will happen in a way that's very methodical, is thought out, and allows decision makers to expand further downstream if they so choose. But I don't know if you need to have a one-stop shop. I don't think you can solve everything at the same time."

"It's almost better to push back against the tide, of conventional wisdom, and sort of take each problem and work through it in a staged way," added Vita. "We're prepared in any eventuality, that being said."

In terms of specific deals, Vita said they look at everything. "Every transaction that you've heard about or written about, we've probably looked at," said Vita.

And to Vita, though cannabis is often lumped in with 'sin' stocks - tobacco, liquor, and firearms, generally speaking - he believes medical cannabis actually fits in with the trend of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing that's become more prominent among some of the biggest money managers.

"I have a hard time to ESG statements because no one's really showing me anything tangible," said Vita, pointing to research showing that medical cannabis can reduce opioid dependency among affected adults. "This is one where we actually have a tangible outcome."

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