Ep 295 – Cannabis Stocks – Opportunity In The Storm with Alan Brochstein

alan brochstein 420 investor

If you’re concerned about the wildly fluctuating cannabis stocks, you’re not alone. But could there be a light at the end of the tunnel?

Here to answer this is returning guest Alan Brochstein, founder of New Cannabis Ventures and 420 Investor.

Learn more at https://www.newcannabisventures.com

Key Takeaways:

  • Alan’s background in the cannabis stock space and how he came to start New Cannabis Ventures and 420 Investor
  • A 10,000 ft view of the cannabis stock space and Alan’s predictions for the future
  • The meteoric rise and fall of cannabis and pharmaceutical company Tilray
  • Stocks Alan is asked about most and where he sees them heading
  • Companies creating shareholder value and how that can set them apart
  • Popular challenges and opportunities discussed among cannabis executives
  • Alan’s views on sovereign debt, class warfare, and other issues threatening the economy
  • Where Alan sees hemp and cannabis laws heading in his home state of Texas
Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com, that's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now here's your program.

Matthew: If you feel that cannabis stocks are all over the place with wild swings between euphoria and lately despair, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. As the smoke clears, weak players go out of business to restructure and drive toward profitability emerges. A more sustainable landscape begins to come into focus. Here to tell us more about cannabis stocks is returning guest Alan Brochstein, founder of New Cannabis Ventures and 420 Investor. Alan, welcome back to CannaInsider.

Alan Brochstein: Hey, it's great to be here. Thanks for including me, Matt.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Alan: I am in my home office in Houston Texas, where I spend a lot of time.

Matthew: Okay. For listeners that may not be familiar, can you quickly summarize what New Cannabis Ventures is and what 420 Investor is?

Alan: Sure. I'll go chronologically. I started 420 Investor back in 2013 if you can believe it. The idea was to expand upon some of the things that I had done with individual investors or retail investors in more generic stocks but to really focus on the cannabis space in-- This was a time when there wasn't really a lot of professional attention being paid to space, it was a very dangerous time, was OTC stocks. I created 420 Investor then and it still does the same thing. It's a community to help assess publicly-traded cannabis stocks and I have model portfolios there and share a lot of research in news and information and videos and chat. It's a great community.

Then two years later, with my partner Joel, we founded New Cannabis Ventures. The idea there was to take some of the filtration skills that I have that I was demonstrating it, 420 Investor. A lot of people care about the cannabis industry from a financial perspective, business news perspective, but there's just so much noise. I always like to say, we're the news, not the noise. We prove that and so we're public-facing, there's no paywall or anything like that or registration required. What we try to do is really shine the light primarily on really good cannabis companies and good investors and we take some time also to highlight some bad ones as well.

Matthew: To give some background on you, you've been in the investing arena for a while, you're a regular contributor for major news outlets, you're a chartered financial analyst. I mentioned all these things so listeners can get a sense that you're really focused on this cannabis stock space, and you have some credentials. Now that we got that out of the way, where are we at a 10,000-oot level with cannabis stocks for people that have been paying some attention, maybe, but really not at the granular level that you do?

Alan: Yes, we are in- I hate to use the word crisis mode, but I would say the industry is having a crisis. I've seen the ups and the downs over the years and a lot of times, it's been stock prices of bad companies that should be zero going to zero and that's not the situation these days. Just to back up a little bit, the window opened for large multi-state operators or MSOs to go public in late 2018. That was a time when the overall stock market was retrenching, if you recall, and said It was just a debacle. These companies went public and their stock prices plunged. We saw a big rally at the beginning of 2019, that lasted all of a quarter. At that point, it was like a 55% gain.

At that point, we were hit with a series of issues. First of all, we started to see, insider selling and founders and early investors, taking some chips off the table. That wasn't super concerning, but more concerning was, we saw these companies needing to raise a lot more capital, and it became more and more challenging. The stocks were holding up, Matt, but then at the end of the year, if you recall, the vaping crisis hit. That really changed everything. The reason for that there was a lot of fear about what was going to happen on the demand side, which has never been a problem, right? There was a lot of fear and we saw states like Massachusetts implement a ban for cannabis vaping.

What this did was, it really woke up investors to the fact that the industry is undercapitalized. If you fast forward a little bit, we've seen this year some of the better companies access capital in different ways, whether it's sale-leasebacks or straight debt. I think it's a two-edged sword because on the one hand, the companies that can do that are going to in your intro, they're going to come out of this on the right side, so that's good. The downside though is when you're stripping out your assets for sale-leaseback you're taking on rent, and when you're taking on debt, when you have another problem like we're having right now a global economic crisis, all the sudden it's is a little bit more challenging. I maybe gave you a little bit too much detail, but I think the Cannabis industry always goes through ups and downs. That's for sure, for regulatory reasons, capital reasons, what have you investor sentiment reasons, but right now, it is the most trying time that I've seen in my seven years of coverage.

Matthew: Wow. Now, most people that are listening still might know the name Tilray and obviously, hardcore cannabis investors definitely know that name. Tilray had our meteoric rise as you mentioned, with a lot of stocks went up a lot and then it's crashed back to Earth. Peter Thiel has taken Tilray and then he sold off part of it. I can't remember exactly when it was going up into its heights. Do you consider Tilray still a leader in the space? Sometimes I feel like they are but I don't really know.

Alan: Yes. Your listeners should understand, Tilray is a Canadian LP. I think they're below a billion now, but I've been including them in the top five in terms of market cap that were all above a billion. I think Yesterday changed that for Tilray, but maybe in Canadian dollars, maybe [unintelligible 00:07:13]. When I was talking about meteoric rises, I was really talking about the more distant past. That was a more recent one and that thing was spooky. The parabolic spike there. $17 IPO next thing, it's 300. That's insane. Unfortunately, the company wasn't able to raise any equity at that time. Because going public, they had to wait a certain amount of time.

They did something that was really detrimental. They issued convertible debt, and it's really debt and they issued a lot of debt. That's not detrimental in and of itself, but when you have a business, it's not cashflow positive. When you take on that much debt, you really run a risk and so what's happened subsequently. Like a lot of companies, they've had huge operating losses, they haven't really made a ton of progress on the revenue side. They're running these big losses. They're losing, I'm sorry, their revenues not growing fast enough to excite people and they did. They've done some acquisitions.

Their cash balance, it's got really low, and now people are really worried about whether or not they're going to make it through 2020. Through 2020, actually. This is the state of the industry. Philosophically, it's interesting that these companies, all five of the large Canadian LPs, they know that Canada has been just a terrible market. The reason for that, by the way, is regulatory issues on two fronts, or maybe more. One certainly is the lack of stores that have been open primarily in Ontario. Also, the conservative nature of the- it's not the Conservative Party, it's the Liberal Party, but the conservative nature of government in Canada has led to just regulatory strangulation of the market.

They can't really advertise. They haven't been able to sell very many products and I know, you know, the cannabis industry. If you walk into a Colorado dispensary, you can buy or basically most states, Oregon's different but you can buy edibles hundred milligrams, 10 pieces or broken up into more a bit of milligram max. Well in Canada, each package is only 10 milligrams max. You can sell two fives or for two and a half, but it's so inefficient, especially in a world where everybody cares about packaging waste, but it just adds a lot of costs. That's just an example of some of the regulatory failures. All these companies in Canada as well is where I was going [unintelligible 00:09:51] with this, they all have their eye on the United States and the CBD developments here since hemp was legalized in the end of 2018, have also been a regulatory failure. I think that's a big problem for Tilray to get to your point.

Matt: Okay. Besides Tilray, what stocks do you get asked about the most and what are your thoughts about them?

Alan: I think more and more focus is on the largest companies. It's always been a lot of focus, but many of the smaller companies, especially in Canada have gone by the wayside. Their stock prices have dropped to 2¢, 5¢, 10¢. There were just way too many of them. I get a lot of questions about the big five in Canada, which would be in alphabetical order, Aphria, Aurora, Canopy Growth, Cronos and Tilray. Then in the United States, there's a big four and that would include alphabetically, Cresco, Curaleaf, Green Thumb Industries or GTI, as people call that one, and Trulieve, which is operating mainly in Florida.

Matt: Do you think the pessimism in Malays in the cannabis stocks is warranted then? The way I think about is, it's almost like a wild west in that. We've got a lot of I don't know, you could call them crooks, charlatans, and unsavory characters in the space, but then there's also really legitimate players. Sometimes when things are going poorly, they get lumped in together and then-- but then when things are going well, we forget that there's a lot of charlatans and scary things going on too. Would you feel like the pessimism is here and no one likes it, but do you think it's warranted and necessary like going through some sort of illness to reemerge healthier?

Alan: In the past, I think I've seen this earlier, these stocks would go up and you'd look at the underlying fundamentals and there was no way, even at the depressed price, you could justify it. I mean, they were headed to zero. A lot of these companies have actually been delisted, they're gone. This is a totally different environment in-- I think, yes, we still have the charlatans and I have to subscribe to something just to keep up with all the lawsuits going on. It's a service that I pay for, just to keep on top of it. Through that, I learn about more and more charlatans emerging.

I always like to say, Matt, opportunity breeds opportunists. To your point, we are seeing-- This industry is so much different than when you and I talked probably even the last time.

We're seeing much more professional managements and that's been a big story of CEO departures, especially up in Canada. I guess I'm talking more about the United States, much more professional managements and they're bringing in people from the consumer packaged goods industry with appropriate experience to help scale people that have solved similar challenges in different industries.

The access to capital while it's not as good as I'd like it to be, and there's a lot of reasons for that. I think it's much better than it ever was. The hardest question is as an investor is what's priced in? I really think some of these large US operators can achieve their goals of- and we'll see $1 billion in sales and the Canadian licensed producers were supposed to get there a lot quicker and the US companies are going to beat them to that.

Matt: As you mentioned, you subscribed to some service that allows you to see the lawsuits and if you follow Ellen on Twitter or on New Cannabis Ventures. You're not scared to call people out and call companies out for not doing the right thing. Is there any right now, top of mind that you feel like is not doing the right thing or that's shareholder or investors should maybe be wary of?

Alan: Interesting. You may not remember, but I got sued for $100 million for libel. It was fixed pretty quickly but I'm actually a little bit more careful about calling things out that I will call one out because I have been calling out publicly. It's not like it's a fraud or anything like that and not necessarily unsavory characters or anything to that effect, but high times has been out there very aggressively trying to raise capital. I just have never understood the value. It's been a sad situation in my view because they have been out there selling their stock in small amounts to unsophisticated investors at a level that I don't think can be justified and they're about to go public in-- when they go public.

I think that their investors are going to be very disappointed, that's one. There's a lot, I don't know if I want to call them out now, but I would say at the same time as we've seen a lot of progress in the industry, we're still seeing these situations. I called out something publicly recently. I don't want to go into the names. It's not that important, but we're still seeing some aggressive stock promotion. To me, that's like a last-ditch effort. Well, people do it as a shortcut or it's a last-ditch effort to get some interest in the stock and that never works and to me, it's ridiculous that's still going on in this space.

Matt: When I say the words creating shareholder value, which cannabis companies come to mind right away without having to think about it?

Alan: Well, one that's really interesting, in that I think shines a good light on the cannabis industry for a lot of reasons is this company Trulieve, down in Florida, is where they're based and where the vast majority of the revenue comes from now. We're an industry that's progressive yet you look and there's a pretty valid criticism that the industry's too White and too male, like other industries. Nothing special there but it is refreshing that this company is run by a female CEO. That's one little distinguishing thing.

The more important distinguishing factor about the company and why I think people outside the industry should at least start with this company in terms of seeing if value can be created is that the company has- they were all startups in Florida market when it went legal and this being one of them, but they somehow have managed to be a 50% market share leader. On top of that, they generate more revenue in that single state than these Canadian LPs generate when they can sell into lots of markets, whether it's Canada or globally, so high revenue and then this is where it gets really different Matt, they're profitable.

With that said, this is the cannabis industry they were attacked by a short report recently and it was interesting. There was nothing in the short report, at least in my view, that wasn't something that somebody could find by reading their filings. Every company has some issues and like an example, I think that there were some insider transactions with respect to real estate. Or the CEO's husband, his company helped on construction.That stuff's all disclosed with somebody, said, "This company's a fraud." because of this which isn't the right thing.

I think that's a good place to start, on can value be created? Here's a company that started up very quickly went into huge revenue generation and great customer satisfaction and profitability.

Matt: You talked to a lot of cannabis executives at conferences and probably in other ways. What challenges and opportunities are top of mind that they mentioned the most recently?

Alan: Oh gosh. It's capital, capital and capital really. That's top of mind right now. I think if you go a little bit deeper, right now their biggest challenge obviously is the raising of the capital, but when they raise capital, it's not going to be-- Let's back up. In Canada, the operating model was raise as much money as you can plant as many flags around the world as you can and then raise more money. That model never really took off in the United States because you couldn't raise as much money as you could in Canada if you are a federally legal Canadian licensed producer.

The planting of a flag as many places as you can was definitely a mistake that many of the companies made. When you hear about it, obviously, it's capital capital capital. Then the second thing would be how do I grow my business when I have all these opportunities set and a limited amount of capital? There's a prioritization. It's tricky because do you go into New York or do you stay in New York, which is a terrible medical market? It's better than it used to be, but it's just not significant economically and it costs you money to be there and then they legalize. I think that's really the thing they talk about is which markets do they want to really focus on given the constraints?

Matt: Billionaire Ray Dalio is among probably the most successful hedge fund managers in history. He's been writing a lot about secular trends, like sovereign debt, class warfare, and other issues, threatening the stability and very fabric of the economy. Do you identify with any of those concerns that Ray mentions, and what are your thoughts on how those issues may play out?

Alan: Yes. I have to confess, I know exactly who he is. I know him more for kind of some idiosyncrasies around the [unintelligible 00:20:00] office runs didn't-- I haven't really read his stuff, Matt, so I'm not real prepared to comment on that. I think one of the issues that you may have just said or one of the issues that he's talked about is healthcare, right?

Matthew: Yes.

Alan: This is a big issue of mine, I'm self-employed essentially, a small business person and I'm in Texas. How much I have to pay for insurance and how hard it is to get help for health insurance is abominable. The other part is, I look at how much people have to pay for health insurance. I'm a libertarian so don't get me wrong, but this system is broken. We can't expect families to pay 30% of the median for healthcare. You don't have any money left over for the basics of life, for healthcare insurance I should say.

That is a huge problem for our own future. I think a broken healthcare system. I don't think Medicare For All is necessarily the answer either. I think there's some better approaches like allowing insurance companies to right across state lines that would create some more competition or something like that but we're way off track from the cannabis space.

Matthew: No, I totally agree. We spend more than any other country in the world per capita for healthcare and our outcomes are not even in the top 20 anymore, so it's what are we spending it all on? I have to disagree with you and say, that it's the system is actually, I think it's working as exactly as designed and that is to extract as much profit out of every patient as possible, whether it be from the pharmaceutical or to the care. Even by the fact that the pricing isn't transparent.

I went and got some dental work done in Prague when I was there and they have a menu up on a board that just says, "This is how much--" because they're known for their dental care. That's why I went when I was there. They had a menu up on the board that tells you how much everything is. I asked someone back here in the States and they said, "That's illegal for dentists to do here."[chuckles] I was like, "What happened? What's going on?” we talk pf no transparency.

I think just having price transparency would be a big thing, being able to sell over State lines would be big. I'm really curious to see what Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Jamie Dimon come up within their joint venture to try to bring down the cost of healthcare because it's neither a free market nor is it like a public utility, so it's the worst of both. If we could get either a free market and I wouldn't want a single-payer system, but it'd be better than what we have now.

I'm possibly, I don't know, I could be wrong, but I would love to see it go free market. You think, if I want to get an MRI done and I have to pay for it, wouldn't it be great just to do an online search and to see like, “Oh, it's $700 here, $300 here, $500 here." That just bringing those forces to play with these [crosstalk].

Alan: I can't even find out in advance how much certain medications might cost me. It's really [inaudible 00:23:22] as a consumer of healthcare, so yes I'm with you on that.

Matthew: Yes. Obviously it's a hot button for me too. You're in Texas as you mentioned and that's four of the 10 largest cities in the US are there. There's droves of people moving there, particularly from California. What's the deal there? What's going on? How do you think this could play out with hemp and cannabis? I know it's really early there, but I feel like once Texas decides to go as they do with everything, it's just going to be massive.

Alan: Yes. We have a sitting governor that I'm pretty sure nothing will ever happen and it's not just him. If it were up to Austin and Dallas and Houston and San Antonio probably, but certainly those other three, which I'll tell you something interesting in a moment, but maybe we'd have some hope in terms of having a better program. The program right now, it did get a little bit better. It was as bad as it could be. You basically, there were three providers. I think only two of them are operating and to get the medicine, you had to be a child with epilepsy. That was it.

By the way, that's really silly because you can also buy the pharmaceutical and get insurance coverage through GW Pharma, but anyway, they have expanded it very slightly, but it's a CBD only and very limited and extremely limited, Matt. What's interesting is there's so much confusion over CBD and THC that the district attorneys in the three cities I mentioned are no longer arresting. We have de facto legalization. Not 100%, but they are not prosecuting. It's made a social change without a legal change. It's interesting.

I think four or five, six years from now, I don't know how long Abbott can stay there, but in the future, I think Texas will have the great benefit of being able to look at all the state, legalization implementations and come up with a great plan. One of the challenges is Texas doesn't have a ballot initiative and the legislature meets only every two years. This industry is always full of over-optimism. But where I really hear the over-optimism the most seems to be Texas. It ain't happening.

Matthew: I don't know. I feel like something can happen quickly there but you're right while Governor Abbott's in office, I don't think anything will but when he leaves, we'll see. I'll ask you again.

Alan: Let me tell you the path. The path is to get a better medical program and everybody will see that the sky's not falling. Then after that, we can move towards legalization. By the way, outside of Texas, I think that's probably the best path. We've seen California make a huge mistake trying to implement medical and adult-use at the same time. It just doesn't work and we're seeing that in Michigan now as well.

It's funny because you have the civil libertarians that just say, "Legalize it." I understand that and I certainly don't think we should be putting anybody in jail for consumption of cannabis but it's not as easy as that. I think even within the industry or within the movement, there's mixed view. I'm not going to name names, but I was talking to somebody the other day. Medical cannabis operator does very well in a single state and he told me he's against legalization. I'm like, "How can you be against legalization?" He explained his view. I don't agree with it, but it's just prestigious honor.

Matthew: There’s competition probably for him, right?

Alan: Yes. I think that there's a little bit of that, but I don't think that's the whole story. He had views on the products being just not responsible, I think. I don't know. The point I'm trying to make is Texas has a rural opportunity to improve its terrible medical cannabis program and overtime and then let the legalization follow.

Matthew: Before we transition to some personal development questions, Alan, what's one thing that you're still really excited about in the cannabis space? Because we're in a dark mood right now across the industry and there's something that still titillates you. What is it?

Alan: I think I started this year and I'm standing by it, even though I know prices are down like 40% and I didn't say this is the buy right now thing. What I said at the beginning of the year I think holds, which is, the legalization Illinois isn't extremely well understood and I think it really bodes well for the real driver of these companies. People make a mistake when they think about the cannabis industry and they think that the driver is federal legalization. While there will be some benefits as well as some challenges associated with that.

I think they miss the point that the real driver is state legalization.

Traditionally, states have legalized not through just creating laws and passing them, but through ballot initiatives and those are tough. They take a long time and then you have a legislature that hasn't necessarily bought in and it's not the most ideal way to solve the challenge of implementation. Illinois was the first state to go legal through the legislative process and there are others that have talked about it. We've seen some epic fails, New Jersey in New York but they're looking to come back and try again. I think the success of the Illinois program-- It's funny that I'm saying that because I was making fun of their medical program where they used to fingerprint people.

Matthew: Yes, I do too.

Alan: Anyway, and I don't remember her name, but I think she's called the lieutenant governor's her title and she was at the Benzinga Conference in Miami last month. They put so much thought into this and a big part of what they did and this is a hot button in the industry social equity. I actually like the concept. I think it's hard to do it correctly and that's where people will disagree, but they made social equity a big part of that. I think states have to understand-- When we get to the federal level, it's going to be the same thing.

Legalization can't just be a good thing for rich White men. I think Illinois did a reasonable job of addressing this. The rich white men have to understand that's the politics, the cards that they're dealt I think that's the case. I think it was a win-win. I think that the success in Illinois will encourage other legislatures to move forward. I think there's a secondary benefit of a midwest state being legal, two of them now, Michigan and Illinois. It encourages others. Well, by the way, Oklahoma, is de facto legal. I don't know if you know about that. Anyway, that's what excites me. I think we have a lot more legalization ahead of us. That will drive the industry forward.

Matthew: Okay. On to the personal development questions, Alan. I've asked you some in the past so here's some new ones for you. What's one skill you draw on a lot that helps you day-to-day in your business?

Alan: Me, filtration. I think I used that word earlier. That is what I was born with. [chuckles] An ability to fair it out quickly what's important and what's not, because there's just so much information out there. That's what's allowed me to be successful with 420 Industry and New Cannabis Ventures. When you can be a filter and you operate with integrity, which is really my primary goal, I think the people really value that.

Matthew: What's the last show you binge-watched?

Alan: I don't really watch. Okay, so binge-watch. I don't binge-watch, but I will confess that the way I fall asleep at night is watching Friends. It's like, "I've seen these shows over and over and over."

Matthew: There is something therapeutic about Friends. It seems like a simpler time. The shows are funny. I could see why it had this huge comeback.

Alan: I don't watch too much TV. That's really about all that I watched and maybe a few sports things. My wife has convinced me. She's an avid reader. She has convinced me that I need to-- I read so much, but it's all just sitting on my screen and looking at it. She has convinced me that I need to read more. I don't know if she convinced me, but through her example, I've learned that I should read more.

I'll tell you, one of the things that's helping me get through these trying times, I've read some incredible stories. One about a Holocaust survivor. His name is Max Eisen. I'm finishing up a book now that you would like, by Erik, I'm probably not saying his name right, but Weihenmayer, it's called No Barriers. He was the first blind person to climb Mount Everest, but the story is about a lot more than that.

Matthew: Wow.

Alan: I turned you around on that one.

Matthew: Right, you did. You did. [laughs] Alan, what is one thing you believe to be true that most people would disagree with you on?

Alan: One thing that I believe to be true that most people will disagree? Well, I'll be funny and say that people can make money in cannabis stocks because it doesn't feel like it right now. I've seen this play out over the years. I said something to my subscribers, and I don't know if they- some of them didn't fully understand it. It wasn't a guarantee that the prices were going to go up but I used the words, "this time is different", a few years ago.

The reason for that was we were finally seeing-- It finally offers money and real money come into the industry into real companies run by real people. I think still, people don't necessarily agree. They kind of look at the industry-- There still are some of these legacy issues like these silly penny stocks. It's definitely out there, stock promotion. I believe that industries really come a far away. I think some don't agree with that.

Matthew: Okay. Alan, as we close, what's the best way for listeners to find both for 420 Investor and New Cannabis Ventures?

Alan: Pretty easy. The best way is 420investor.com, no S or anything like that, just for 420investor.com. That takes you to something that explains the service. New Cannabis Ventures is free. I want everybody to understand that. There's no charge or anything like that. It's just newcannabisinvestor.com.

Matthew: Well, Alan, thanks so much for coming on the show today. Really appreciate it. I think next time we talk, we'll both be in a better mood, things will turn around a little bit, and hopefully, this coronavirus will be behind us. Thanks for coming on the show.

Alan: I appreciate it, Matt. Always good to chat.

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