Cannabis is a hot new industry, susceptible to illicit investment schemes. Layer on the uncertainty of disparate state and federal laws and regulations, and it’s easy to see why conservative investors are hesitant to get involved. But the promise of profits has led to an influx of money from a wide range of investors.
Hemp and marijuana are varieties of cannabis. The distinction between hemp and marijuana is the concentration of THC, a psychoactive compound. Hemp contains a minuscule amount of THC, while marijuana contains a much higher concentration. As a result, hemp cannot produce a “high.” CBD, the second commonly known compound in cannabis, is not psychoactive and can be found in high concentrations in hemp. CBD is often touted as having medicinal benefits such as reducing anxiety, relieving arthritis pain and aiding in the treatment of seizures. However, until recently all forms of cannabis (including hemp) were illegal at the federal level, and as a result there have been few trials on the medical efficacy of CBD.
A Shift in Federal Regulations
The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, known as the 2018 Farm Bill, distinguishes hemp from marijuana and removes hemp from the controlled substances list under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp on the federal level, it also preserved the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of cannabis-derived compounds, including CBD and THC.
Many companies have disregarded the FDA’s guidance and continue to produce consumable products containing CBD. The FDA has limited its actions to sending warning letters to companies selling CBD products that make unsubstantiated health-related claims.
The Cannabis Investment Canvas
Not all cannabis-related investments share the same legal and regulatory risk profile. Investments in companies that do not produce consumable products and do not deal directly with marijuana in the United States generally carry less risk than investments in companies that produce or otherwise work with marijuana in the United States.
Stock exchanges in the United States such as the NYSE and NASDAQ do not permit the listing of companies operating in violation of federal law. Accordingly, as general rule, public companies easily accessible on national exchanges do not operate in the marijuana space within the United States, or operate in a gray area, not “touching the leaf,” but part of the U.S. marijuana industry in tangential roles. For example, Innovative Industrial Properties Inc. (NYSE: IIPR), a REIT, focuses “on the acquisition, ownership and management of specialized industrial properties leased to experienced, state-licensed operators for their regulated state-licensed cannabis facilities.”
Publicly traded tobacco companies are also testing the boundaries. Turning Point Brands Inc. (NYSE: TPB), and “other tobacco products” company, owns Zig-Zag, a brand of rolling paper synonymous with marijuana in pop culture. More clearly illustrating Turning Point Brand’s foray into, or right up to, the cannabis industry, is its 2018 purchase of a 19.99 percent interest in Canadian American Standard Hemp (CASH) headquartered in Rhode Island, which manufactures CBD. The investment in CASH was followed by Turning Point Brand’s formation of Nu-X Ventures in 2019 which is working with CASH to bring CBD products to market.