Interview with Bruce Linton, Chairman of Tweed

bruce linton

Bruce Linton’s Tweed is a publicly traded cannabis company with over a 100 million dollar market cap. Listen in as Bruce compares the differences between the U.S. and Canada’s cannabis market.

Post interview note: Tweed Marijuana Inc. is officially renaming itself Canopy Growth Corp Ticker TSE: CGC

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Tweed is an Ontario, Canada-based cannabis cultivation company. After applying for and securing a license from Health Canada, Tweed constructed a 315,000 square foot cultivation facility. Tweed recently went public and now has a whopping $100 million market cap. I'm pleased to welcome Bruce Linton to CannaInsider. Welcome, Bruce.

Bruce: Thank you, Matt.

Matthew: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to start Tweed?

Bruce: Sure. Canada's had a history of having medical access for more than a decade, but it really pivoted sharply April 1st. And I could see the federal government equivalent of republicans, our conservatives, were going to make this a much controlled system, but also the increase the ease at which patient's could gain access. So in anticipation of that legislation, we began about six or eight months prior to the legislation coming out and sort of had a running start then when that hit the street June 19, 2013.

Matthew: Now you had to take a bit of a risk, I understand, because there was no assurance that they would even review your facility. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Bruce: Sure. So the regulator came out and defined marijuana and how it would be treated similar to a narcotic. Which meant you had to have a very standard operating procedure-rich application and a very clear security plan. But one of the things that they put into the legislation was that in addition to having a written application that maybe 600 or 700 hundred pages in size, in order to get your license, you should also then build one, so they could come and inspect it and tell you if you did it right. And it was literally that much. Yes, this looks right, but we can't give you a license until you build it. So you can imagine capital markets in the early stages of medical marijuana, new build-out, new sector, and we have to build out the start of a 170,000 platform. That did make for some interesting capital raising.

Matthew: I can imagine. Well, kudos to you for taking that risk. So the cultivation facility is that really 315,000 square feet; did I read that correctly?

Bruce: It's actually bigger than that. So we bought what was the former Hershey plant and began that transformation as our indoor growing area. And so, for the growing area at that facility, while the overall facility is about 460,000 square feet on 40 acres, we're only using for the marijuana portion 180,000 square feet in total, and 168,000 of that is the growing platform.

And then June 19th of this year, we bought - part of it was in the licensing procedure and quickly moved them through to having a license, and that made us the only publicly traded company with two licenses, and to our knowledge, the only company with two licenses in Canada. And that platform we purchased was a 360,000 square foot greenhouse.

Matthew: Okay. And how big a harvest do you feel Tweed can produce annually?

Bruce: Well, it's sort of staged. So each year the government comes in and takes a snapshot of what we've built out, and you keep adding to it. And so, we'll probably produce about 7,000 - maybe 7,500 pounds this year. And I think that probably will go up, but that's the current we've built out and currently have the capacity for.

Matthew: How did you arrive at the size of the cultivation facility you wanted to build? Was it just a matter of having a Hershey facility to move into, or did you have your eye on a particular number?

Bruce: It was more of a function of in Canada we like rules a lot. And that means that we have fairly high compliance costs of any regulated industry. And so, I figured it was going to be $500,000 just to turn the lights on for compliance. And so, if you have a very small grow, fiscally, you're not going to cover that kind of overhead. And so the assumption was we had to have a large platform. And that led us to this building.

Matthew: And what are you seeing is the cost per gram right now that you're able to sell for or at the marketplace in Canada, how much is it for cost per gram in general.

Bruce: Remarkably, the government doesn't prescribe the price, and the price ranges from about $4.50 a gram Canadian, so $4 U.S. up to $12 Canadian. And we can pick any range in there. It's really a function then of quantity and cost of production, but that's the selling price.

Matthew: Do you have any concerns? I mean this is a massive grow operation coming on line here. Do you have any concerns about the market being flooded or do you feel like the dynamics of demand are going to equally match supply?

Bruce: Well, the key is the mandate. It was very difficult in Canada to gain access to medical marijuana. Until April 1st, it was 20 or 30 pages and involved government bureaucrats. On April 1st, it just became your doctor, yourself, and two pieces of paper. And so, the demand in access is increasing quite rapidly. And bringing it on stream, we all started at the same time. Right now there appears way, way, it appears, under supply for the demand. And so, probably a year from now you'll have a different dynamic, but I don't think it's in the next six to twelve months.

Matthew: How many strains of cannabis is the right amount? I'm sure you started with a certain amount; you have a different amount now. Are there any lessons learned about how many strains you want to have?

Bruce: Probably, you would be better off to start with five or eight. We started with 27. And so, the complexity of supply management is increased when you increase the number of variables. We've swapped a couple out, but I think we'll find ourselves hanging around 30. And you know there's a handful that everybody is familiar with as the main one. So CBD strains or CBD-rich or balanced strains are really quite active in our store.

Matthew: You have a really good handle on U.S. regulation and Canadian regulation of cannabis. Can you just kind of compare and contrast the two for the listeners?

Bruce: Yeah. So this is one of those cases where effectively everything in Canada is completely the opposite of America. And what I mean by that, for example, if I go to my bank account, I can use a drop down to pay for electrical bill or for Tweed. And I'm disallowed from using cash as a transaction here, but use every other form of credit.

We can't have retail, and everything must be delivered by courier. It's federally legal here, and it means our license is for the whole country. We pay taxes at normal tax rate as you would as a normal business deducting all normal business expenses, when you're actually not allowed. So really like on almost every aspect of the business, it is different.

Matthew: Great points. That is very unusual. And being federally legal is a big help. I mean having the banking for one is just an amazing advantage. That's great. Bruce, how many companies do you think Health Canada will give a license to?

Bruce: So there's maybe 13 or 14 currently licensed in Canada. I suspect one of the things that they're contemplating at Health Canada - the regulator is, how many do we need in order to have market price. It appears that we're kind of there now. And if we had too many, how would an event of financial failure be handled. And it appears that the regulations never contemplated that. So I suspect that they're cautious they can have too many. And would rather see the ones that are currently licensed begin to be financially solid. I don't think there's a big pressure now for more.

Matthew: Okay. Canada is in a bit of a transition where people that were allowed to grow their own plants, preserve that right with injunction. However, new people that would like to apply for a license to grow their own plants are not able to. Can you tell us where you think that - what's going to happen there?

Bruce: The driver was that there's a potential that choosing this medicine through this delivery mechanism makes it more costly for the individual than having a different medicine, say opiates or whatever. And in Canada, typically most medicines are free for access to the individual. And so, the crux of the case is why should it cost more to what's probably an equivalently good or better medicine.

So there's a couple of ways that could go. One of which would be to make this a standard schedule product, which makes it free or minimum cost to the patient. I guess that might be - have a feeling that the government is having people growing it all over the place. And we have 36,000 people with the right to have medical marijuana who either have chosen to grow it, have other grow it for them, or occasionally buy from the government. And that wasn't working for a lot of reasons. So I suspect that we're going to find a way this turns into just another medicine product that is on the same schedule as everything else.

Matthew: I understand Tweed is reaching out to doctors and healthcare professions trying to educate them about cannabis. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Bruce: Yeah. So it's a couple of things. We have what might be deemed like a farmer rep kind of program, where there's a corridor of focus. And there is about 12 million patients or potential patients in that corridor. And it starts off as we're educating or interacting with physicians on the method of prescribing, the method of ingestion because initially most are saying I can't tell people to take something that requires them to smoke. And we have to walk them through why this doesn't require people to smoke. And so, there is a really quickly evolving - but it started at many different points, kind of education process. And now what we're starting to see are initially very reluctant or uncomfortable or uninformed physicians who are being part of the process of patients becoming patients.

Matthew: Now it's illegal to sell cannabis out of a retail store front in Canada. However, I hear it's being done in British Columbia. Can you tell us what's going on there, if you know?

Bruce: I'm no expert. I generally think having been to British Columbia many times that it is quite a surprise to most people who reside there that it's not in fact legal. It is just an ingrained portion of the culture. But as you move eastward, I think you'll find that the country has far fewer of those sorts of operations, and in many areas, zero. And so really, I'm not aiming our opportunity at attacking people in British Columbia nearly as carefully as we're trying to attract people in other parts of the country.

Matthew: Tweed refers to the quality of it's cannabis as premium and unmatched. Can you describe how Tweed strains and cultivation techniques might be different or a premium?

Bruce: I think in reality any company that is starting in this has to have aspirational statements. Everybody started off with seeds from multiple locations, and the best then practices. The real question is how quickly is everybody evolving the phenotypes? How quickly are they advancing their internal controls? Because in Canada you're disallowed from using any form of pesticide, fungicide, or herbicide, and everything that goes onto these plants is natural. And so, what you're really looking at is how do you do the best evolutionary process in a very, very - I'll call it moderate controlled environment. And so, I think what we have is good product that is getting better each cycle. But you do need to recognize we all start in that sort of similar place, and it's game to constantly advance.

Matthew: Bruce, as we close, how can listeners learn more about Tweed?

Bruce: So Tweed.com, which we thought was a nice name and natural, has a lot of information. We trade on a website, which is the Toronto stock exchange venture division listed as TMX.com, and our ticker symbol is TWD. Those two sources kind of correlate who we are and how we present ourselves in a fully exposed basis.

Matthew: Great. Thanks so much for being on CannaInsider, Bruce. We really appreciate it.

Bruce: Thank you.


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