[Canniseur: Why are bureaucrats always wrong about how much product will be needed for an adult-use cannabis market. This describes what’s going on in each and every state that has legalized cannabis for adult use. When there’s no product in an adult legal state, where does the money go? Why the black market, of course. Are the regulators idiots or just unaware of the consequences of their actions? I do not believe they’re idiots, but in many ways, they’re behaving like they don’t understand what’s going on in their own states.]
It seems that whenever a new recreational cannabis market rolls out, reports of exaggerated lines, product shortages, and store closures never seem to be far behind.
The primary cause of these cannabis shortages is a lack of production capacity, although that in itself is quite vague. Business owners in states that have an existing medical cannabis market often find themselves overwhelmed when it’s time to make the necessary changes required to transition into the recreational scene. These often include additional licensing, which can be financially prohibitive, as well as possibly having to relocate due to certain zoning issues, hire and train new staff, and a number of other changes.
Regardless of the reasons, cannabis shortages put additional stress on business owners and consumers alike. That said, let’s take a closer look at what’s been going on in North America, with Illinois being our key sample area.
The newest recreational program to launch in the United States is Illinois, with legal sales starting on January 1, 2020. Almost immediately, reports of long lines began popping up online, with people claiming to wait hours in cold temperatures as lines to get into dispensaries wrapped around the buildings and through parking lots.
After only one week, many businesses had already run out of cannabis, and these shortages are expected to last six months to a year or more. The reason for this? Despite having planned this launch for quite some time, and despite the fact that cannabis use is becoming increasingly mainstream, Illinois only authorized 21 cultivation centers to supply the state. This is far fewer than most other states with legal cannabis.
This problem was seen in just one month prior in neighboring Michigan, when legal sales opened up on December 1, 2019. The limitations on the number of growers is partially based on the assumption that existing medical growers in both states could supply the new recreational market – although studies from older markets predicted that would not be the case.
For now, some retail owners are delaying recreational sales until they can guarantee a reliable supply, a move that can have a devastating impact on their bottom lines.
The West Coast is home to the largest cannabis market in the world, California, as well as one the first adult-use markets, Washington. The region has a long history with progressive cannabis reform and lenient views on recreational use.
However, that doesn’t mean that these areas are immune to cannabis shortages. The problem hit California when the state changed their laws and required growers and dispensary owners to meet a number of new standards (mostly lab testing and licensing). Reports of increased testing wait times and testing failures caused widespread product shortages. This lasted until labs were able to expand capacity and growers were able to meet the new requirements, which for some meant waiting until their next harvest.
California struggled with supply issues when farmers were forced to adhere to new testing standards
When Washington began selling recreational cannabis in 2014, there were only about 20 stores and 80 growers licensed to serve the entire state. This led to statewide flower shortages and prices skyrocketed as consumers tried to get their hands on the minimal supply that existed.
Many were convinced that Washington’s program had failed, but after a thorough expansion, the state now has 1,100 and close to 500 stores. Prices have been steadily dropping since 2014 and they seem to have leveled out at around $150 for an ounce.
Our neighbors to the North struggled with this dilemma after their October 2018 launch as well, with some stores running out of buds within hours of opening. Also stemming from cultivation issues, the Canadian shortages lasted over a year and are just now beginning to level out.
Many licensed growers ‘over-estimated their ability to produce cannabis at scale’. For example, some may have promised 1,000 kilos but were only able to deliver 200-300 that was good enough quality to sell in dispensaries.
This was a very common problem across the industry as top shelf cannabis – the quality that many consumers have begun to expect – is very difficult to grow to scale. Many also just didn’t expect it to be as popular as it turned out to be. The demand was tremendous and it wasn’t from the anticipated demographic. More women, parents, and elderly people are using cannabis for a variety of different reasons – something officials in Canada were just not ready for.
Many supply problems start at the root of the operation
As you may have noticed, most of these delays start at the level of cultivation. Although not necessarily the fault of the growers themselves, there are a lot of factors at play that can make it difficult to produce large amounts of high-quality, legally-compliant flowers.
For example, it took Illinois growers months to get permission to expand their cultivation centers. Many didn’t get their licenses approved until December 23rd, only one week before recreational sales were slated to begin. Experienced growers note that it can take over a year to go through the entire process of getting permits, building or expanding a warehouse, and actually producing a crop.
According to Beau Whitney, senior economist at New Frontier Data, Illinois other new markets aren’t expected to reach full supply for around two years. “You fix it by issuing additional licenses,“ he said. Until then, he added, “look for continued constraints on supply, higher-than-market prices and a robust illicit market.”
Another problem is the amount of space issued to new applicants. Many were limited to only 5,000 square feet of growing space, while existing growers could utilize up to 210,000 square feet. Smaller growing operations – or microgrows – are known to produce much higher quality cannabis. Canndescent in Desert Hot Springs, CA, is one company that’s capitalized on this discovery.
However, farmers wanting to produce larger amounts of boutique-style cannabis should opt for an expansive warehouse broken up into smaller, microgrowing areas. Until then, growers will just have to make do (and get a bit creative) with the limited amount of space the currently have.
Skyrocketing Demands Hit A Brick Wall
Demand for legal cannabis during Illinois’ first recreational week was among the highest of any state, with a total of $20 million worth of product sold in the first 12 days. Even before adult-use sales started on new year’s day, medical cannabis patients were stocking up and buy most if not all of the inventory at local dispensaries, in anticipation for the coming wave of shoppers.
It’s important to note that these inventory shortages only applies to recreational cannabis. Illinois marijuana czar Toi Hutchinson pointed out that dispensaries are required to have a one-month reserve of inventory for medical cannabis patients, to ease their growing concerns about not being able to find the products they want.
To maintain supply and keep the doors open, recreational stores are limiting the amount of cannabis customers can buy each day or week. Take Chicago’s Mission Dispensary, for instance, which imposed a $200 maximum spending limited, broken down to 4.5 grams of edibles, up to 100 milligrams total in edibles, and two vaping cartridges.
One of the chief sponsors of the law, Illinois state Sen. Heather Steans, said these shortages come as no surprise, based on similar patterns in other states. “Hopefully, within six months or a year or two, the supply gets ramped up so you’re not having the same challenges,” Steans said. “There’s an initial burst of excitement from the public, so some of it is the nature of the beast.”
Some people are more optimistic though, like executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, Pam Althoff. She expects legal growers to meet demand and level out the market by May. “There’s always bumps with new things, but I think it’s going extraordinarily well,” she said.
Other states that have seen these scarcities, also saw the market regulate fairly quickly – sometimes in just a matter of weeks. Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board noted that, “There were a lot of people overreacting to how we got started,” indicated that the problem of shortages wasn’t nearly as bad as the media made it seem.
In The Meantime…
For now, there isn’t much that can be done to mitigate supply issues, long wait times, and fluctuating prices. For consumers, many would advise shopping on Monday and Tuesday afternoons to avoid wait times, although there’s no guarantee that they will actually find what they’re looking for, even if they get into the shop quickly.
“You definitely get a little grumbling, ‘I waited in line for an hour and all I could buy was this much,’ ” says Kris Krane, co-founder and president of 4Front Ventures. “But most people are just happy they can come into a store and buy legally. They’re willing to abide by these minor pains. People might be more upset three or four months from now (if cannabis shortages continue). But we can’t grow the plants any faster.”
[Canniseur: Mexico has it right. Their draft legislation is geared towards keeping Mexican cannabis businesses smaller. The guidelines set forth discourage big business from entering Mexico’s legal cannabis market. This has all the promise of supporting a thriving craft cannabis market in Mexico.]
Right now, around 41 million people have access to recreational marijuana that’s legal at a federal level. Two countries have legalized recreational pot — Canada and Uruguay. We can’t include the millions of Americans who live in the 11 states that have legalized recreational marijuana in our total since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level in the United States.
But very soon another 128 million or so people will gain access to legal marijuana. Legislators in Mexico are finalizing regulations to make marijuana legal. The legislative effort came after the country’s Supreme Court ruled last year that Mexico’s ban on recreational pot was unconstitutional.
The time is rapidly approaching for the federally legal global marijuana market to more than quadruple. What does this mean for marijuana stocks?
What’s in the draft legislation
At least for now, Mexico’s regulations for legalized marijuana aren’t finalized. However, a document on the Mexican Senate’s website appears to be the draft legislation that’s potentially on the road to approval. This document outlines several key aspects of the country’s plans for legalizing marijuana.
Perhaps most importantly, a new entity called the Mexican Cannabis Institute would be created to oversee the implementation of marijuana legalization in the country. This institute must be established by Jan. 1, 2021, at the latest. With this relatively lengthy period for the Mexican Cannabis Institute to be up and running, it could take longer for marijuana to be legalized than many anticipated when the Mexican Supreme Court made its ruling last year.
One key function for the Mexican Cannabis Institute is to issue licenses for four types of businesses: cultivation, sale, transformation, import/export of cannabis. But there are a few catches with these licenses.
A single entity won’t be able to hold more than one license for a given type. In other words, vertical integration where one company is involved in cannabis cultivation and retail sales won’t be allowed.
However, one entity can have multiple licenses within a single type, with the institute to establish the maximum number of licenses permitted with the exception of retail licenses — the proposed legislation includes a maximum limit of three. Importantly, the draft regulations don’t allow licenses to be transferred in any way.
In addition, the kinds of products allowed to be sold will be limited. Cannabis-infused beverages and edibles won’t be allowed in the recreational market but are permissible as medical products. Cannabis cosmetic products won’t be allowed, either.
These proposed rules appear to present some major obstacles for major Canadian or U.S. cannabis producers in expanding into the Mexican market. Winning in Mexico could prove to be very difficult.
The limitation on vertical integration will probably be especially disappointing for U.S.-based companies. Two of the biggest U.S. cannabis companies, Cresco Labs (OTC:CRLBF) and Green Thumb Industries (OTC:GTBIF), play up their vertical integration.
Both companies, along with well-known U.S. cannabis retailer MedMen (OTC:MMNFF), also have business models that rely on owning and operating a relatively large number of retail stores. But Mexico’s proposed limit of the number of retail licenses to only three per license holder would mean that significant retail operations are out of the question.
Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC) surely hoped to be able to launch cannabis-infused beverages in the Mexican market. But the restriction of these products for only medical use is likely to throw a wet blanket on any plans along these lines.
And none of the big Canadian or U.S. companies will be able to buy their way into the Mexican marijuana market after licenses are granted. The prohibition on transferring licenses ensures that this won’t be a viable option.
Still, there are some marijuana stocks that could be winners when the large Mexican marijuana market opens for business. I’d put Aurora Cannabis (NYSE:ACB) at the top of the list.
Aurora acquired Farmacias Magistrales S.A. last year. Farmacias was the first federally licensed importer of cannabis containing THC in Mexico. You can bet that it will try to secure licenses in the new legal marijuana market that’s on the way and will probably have a good chance of winning at least one license.
Canopy Growth could also still have a good shot at the Mexican market. The company already has significant Latin American operations in Colombia and Peru. Canopy has hinted in the past that it was keeping a close eye on developments in Mexico. Look for the company to make a move when the country’s regulations permit.
But with the limitations that appear to be on the way, it seems clear that Mexico doesn’t want its legal recreational marijuana market to be dominated by companies from other countries. Don’t count on the quadrupling of the legal recreational marijuana opportunity resulting from Mexican legalization to dramatically change the fortunes for Aurora and Canopy Growth anytime soon.
[Canniseur: What glut indeed? Markets based on natural products or anything in agriculture have ups and downs. As predicted about 5 months ago by Canniseur, the prices will go back up as the oversupply diminishes. This is exactly what’s now happening in Oregon. If the growers of poorer quality are eliminated, then so much the better…for the consumer.]
Oregon legislators established a moratorium on new recreational marijuana producer licenses earlier this year to manage an oversupply of product in the state.
But not everyone agrees there’s an oversupply.
SB 218 authorized a producer moratorium through Jan. 2, 2022, based on a January 2019 OLCC study that said in part, “As of Jan. 1, 2019, the recreational market has 6.5 years’ worth of theoretical supply in licensees’ inventory accounted for and contained within Oregon’s Cannabis Tracking System.”
Some wholesale and retail outlets at an OLCC listening session in July in Ashland said they were having trouble sourcing quality product. They were also concerned that the moratorium was a short-term fix that would cause market swings with unintended consequences.
“They [the Oregon Legislature] wanted a moratorium because we had a glut of marijuana in this state and a lot of the industry itself was asking for controls on reduction,” stated OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks at the listening session.
“Our study said there’s 6.5 theoretical years of supply inside the system, and there wasn’t,” Marks admitted. “That’s all products, and that didn’t include waste. So people’s understanding was conflated.”
“Across the board in the last 3 to 6 months, everyone is reporting a shortage in a significant portion of the supply chain,” said Brad Bogus, vice president of marketing at Confident Cannabis, a company that analyzes Oregon’s metrics through its sales and inventory management software. “Either they’re not able to find flower at the conditions they’re looking for or they can’t find the lower-price flower they could find six months ago, and the prices are starting to rapidly rise.”
Higher prices for recreational marijuana means better margins for producers and everyone else in the seed-to-sale continuum. Consumers are feeling the pinch as retail prices go up for mid-market, premium and ultra-premium product.
“Three months ago I could find marijuana as low as $250 a pound, and I’m seeing that same pot today at $600,” said Jeff Dillard, who runs West Coast Organic in Brookings. “But if you want a quality product, you have to pay for it.”
The recreational marijuana market is driven by flower, big perfect buds for retail and the thousands and thousands of pounds that processors require weekly.
BDS Analytics, which monitors aggregated industry data, reported that for 2019 2nd quarter, Oregon had $197.34 million in recreational marijuana sales with 29.99 million gram units sold, 46% in flower, 30% in concentrates, 12% in edibles and 11% in other products.
Some say that in late 2018 and early 2019, processors bought up available marijuana inventory at low prices and processed bud for concentrates and edibles, because these products store well and can wait in inventory for price increases.
One problem, says Spencer Mullen, who runs Pharmer’s Market in White City as a wholesaler and Rogue Valley retail stores called Pharm to Table, is that cannabis molds easily, so warehoused bud or “fresh” product may be lower quality, and while it can be stored, it is expensive to do so.
Stable temperatures, lower storage temperatures, nitrogen injection and low humidity can help preserve freshness and smokability in warehoused marijuana for up to about two years, according to Dillard, though others suggest 8 months is the maximum storage time before weed turns dark and loses potency.
Regulating a new controlled substance is complicated at best, and predicting market demand is never easy. The cannabis industry and OLCC expected some early disruption and market adjustment. With Oregon’s easy entry to the market in early years, more recreational marijuana was grown in 2017 than could be absorbed by Oregon’s processing and warehouse infrastructure, and prices for flower dropped in 2018.
“Small mom and pops to really large scale, really well funded companies collapsed because they underestimated the amount of money it would take to survive through the crash,” explained Mullen.
“You saw people who were barely staying alive in 2018; even indoors cut way back on their production. Now that the market is stabilizing, we’ll see what happens,” Mullen added.
Confident Cannabis metrics suggest that the current shortage is more than a mid-summer seasonal dip — indoor grows can’t produce the volume needed for the current market, and outdoor harvests won’t come to market until January.
Bogus says that many greenhouses have shut down, savvy rec growers have reduced production and countless growers have diverted agricultural production to hemp.
“By limiting the market it might fix the problem right now, but when the market opens up [with federal deregulation of interstate commerce], I’m concerned that we won’t be able to find any product,” Mullen said. “It’s going to be messy, and a lot of money lost until we have a larger market to give us more stability.”
As of Sept. 19, there were 1,147 active recreational marijuana producer licenses statewide, with another 2,216 new producer license applications in the OLCC backlog — meaning the number of growers statewide would triple if OLCC approved all of the applications in the backlog.
Jackson County had 237 active producer licenses as of Sept. 19, with 438 applications in the OLCC backlog, the most in Oregon in both categories.
Josephine County had 171 active licenses, with 358 stalled by the moratorium, the second-most in both categories.
[Canniseur: Over time, market prices go up and down and this fluctuation is normal. The legal cannabis market is still too new to give a lot of credence to market ups and downs because, as regulators are trying to find their way, many bad decisions have been made. The regulators should look to the alcoholic beverage markets for guidance. They’ve been around a lot longer. Eventually, the cannabis market will operate just like any other market.]
The wholesale market for legal cannabis is marked by great regional variation, but the oversupply that has sent prices plummeting in Oregon and other Western states has not been able to dampen the general upswing on the national level.
Amid stratospheric hopes for the industry’s growth, there have been growing fears of a market correction. An account on Motley Fool notes that investment bank Stifel foresees $200 billion in global annual adult-market and medical cannabis sales within a decade — amounting to a compound annual growth rate of nearly 34%. In addition, the U.S. is projected to generate between a third and a half of worldwide legal sales within that same timeframe.
But the report warns that the famous oversupply in Colorado, Washington and especially Oregon —itself “a result of everyone wanting in on cannabis” — may be undermining the dream.
Regional and Seasonal Variation
In response to the flooded market, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) announced in May that it was to suspend the processing of license applications as of June 15. Back in January, the OLCC reported that the state was producing two times more cannabis than was being consumed —with more than six years’ worth of supply wasting away at farms, warehouses and retail outlets.
The market reaction to overproduction is noted by New Frontier Data. Hardly surprisingly, Oregon saw a 64% decline in wholesale prices from October 2016 to March 2019, while Colorado experienced a 60% drop from January 2015 to April 2019. However, the “downward slides in wholesale prices are not linear, but in both cases reflected seasonality.” Prices partially recovered in both states in the second and third quarter of this year. And in March, Oregon wholesale prices matched Colorado’s for the first time.
The report notes that a moment of reckoning looms with the approaching harvest season in Oregon (more of an issue than in Colorado where only indoor is permitted). “Will it lead to further price declines, or are prices in both Colorado and Oregon bottoming out?”
As New Frontier Data’s vice president Beau Whitney writes in an analysis for Bezinga this week, “Oregon’s woes are directly attributable to the (originally unlimited) number of licensed cultivators in its program.” Whereas Colorado had guarded itself against glut by requiring any growers applying for an increase in capacity to demonstrate proven demand for their previous crop.
In Colorado, where legalization took effect in 2014, it took until 2017 for the state’s legal market to effectively absorb the pre-existing illicit market, with legal supply effectively meeting demand. This more cautious approach has led to a somewhat more stable market.
On a national level, Cannabis Benchmarks finds that the simple average wholesale price increased $65 to $1,557 per pound by August this year. The lower prices in the western states are in part offset those on the East Coast. Marijuana Business Daily, citing interviews with local industry leaders, reports a range from $2,000 a pound for the medical market in Maryland to as high as $4,200 per pound for the adult-use market in Massachusetts. This contrasts Colorado, where last month the wholesale price stood at $850.
There is also a considerable price differential between indoor (the most highly valued), greenhouse-grown (the middle range) and outdoor (least valued, however disappointing this news will be to its hardcore aficionados).
As Cannabis Benchmarks writes: “California’s market has seen a surge of sun-grown supply recently as light-deprivation harvests are dried, trimmed, and brought to market… In contrast, Oregon and Washington state reported transaction stats indicate that wholesale buyers continue to favor indoor flower this summer, with increasing relative volumes of such product helping to push up Spot prices in those markets.”
[Canniseur: Some of the data Ms. Lukas presents in this article is specious. Some of it is valid. Make your choices in whatever you believe, but the market for cannabis is going to be enormous especially as the states and federal government figure out how to properly regulate this market. If they don’t they’ll become Michigan where the black market is far far ahead of the legal medical market, because there’s no product in the legal market.]
While the 3rd Annual Wine & Weed Symposium offered ideas to both camps on how to work together, utilizing marketing strategies, and integrating more women into the ranks, the critical piece of information that many in the audience were waiting for was presented during Jessica Lukas’ session, “The Cannabis Impact on Wine”. Ms. Lukas is Vice President of Consumer Insights at BDS Analytics, Inc, which has world-wide cannabinoid market data. In presenting her information to a crowd that was a little in awe of the graphs and the blitzkrieg of statistical analysis, she nevertheless made her points known and understood.
To understand her data, one needs to understand that this is information gathered from ~80% of the legal market.
The US market is huge, with California coming in ahead of Canada for sales, followed by Colorado. Right now California is enjoying a $2.5 billion dollar market. Projections through 2024 show this to be a $40+ billion dollar industry world-wide in just five short years, enjoying astronomical growth. The US is projected to garner ~70% of that total value.
Although impressive, keep in mind that currently the US Alcohol market is currently roughly fourteen times bigger, and in five years will still be earning five and a half times more than its cannabis counterpart, with a five year projection at around $170 billion dollars. For the three states with the most history regarding this subject, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, alcohol sales do not appear to have been affected by the legalization of recreational cannabis, and the increased sales value seems consistent with the general US trajectory for alcohol. In most areas so far, alcohol grows with cannabis.
For the Wine Industry, her next sets of data looked specifically at a type of edible that seems most in direct competition with wine, which is the cannabis beverages category. Currently comprising only 6% of all edible forms of cannabis (remember edibles themselves only make up ~15% of cannabis products available), there is a growth curve of +15% for cannabis beverages that any stock investor would be pleased to see in a portfolio. With a rapidly changing and capricious market, one of the impediments to beverage sales has been the taste, which Lukas notes, is the “number one consumer driver” for this category.
So who are the consumers of cannabis? Are they also wine consumers? Coming from all walks of life, consumers are a diverse group. In her slides, we saw that of the collections labeled Consumers, Acceptors and Rejecters™ in fully legal states, there has already been a striking change. In Q1 2018, 31% were Consumers, 32% Acceptors (those who don’t use but don’t mind or are open to it), and 37% Rejecters. Lukas illustrated that in just the past year, the shift is there to see, with Consumers climbing to 38%, Rejecters dropping to 33%, and Acceptors dropping to 29%. The dropped numbers together total the increase in Consumers of 7%, and an overall gain of 4% to the grouping of Consumers & Acceptors (those currently consuming or open to it).
An interesting statistic showed that nearly half (45%) of alcohol consumers in fully legal cannabis states also use cannabis products, and that 65% of cannabis users also imbibe in alcoholic drinks. However the risk for the wine industry Lukas laid out was that as Alcohol users are increasingly consuming cannabis, the reverse is not true; cannabis users are decreasing their use of alcohol.
Although she presented that within the alcohol category, wine was more insulated than other alcoholic beverages, the next risk she showed to alcohol was the cross-over effect, where a percentage of people, who presumably used to think of a particular social or recreational occasion as purely a wine occasion, now consider that it could be either a wine or a cannabis occasion.
A last risk cited was that wine consumers, when they pair alcohol and cannabis, consume less wine than they otherwise might, perhaps helping to drop the overall volume consumed. And more and more are considering cannabis as a singular, solo event, playing on the interesting cultural disparity in thought, that being that drinking alone means you are a drunk, whereas using cannabis while alone is more acceptable. That said, of those who use both wine and cannabis, ~70% have not changed the amount of alcohol they consume overall. The risk is highest in the relaxation category, where the substitution of cannabis for alcohol is potentially greatest, and the perception of health and safety dominate, especially among younger adults.
As for the question of the day, is cannabis impacting wine sales, her answer is “not yet”. The amount of cannabis consumption impacting wine consumption is still negligible, but in this changing market and changing environment, and with new users coming online who are not burdened with the stigma of days gone by, next year’s Wine & Weed Symposium may tell a different story.