By Chloe Aiello
California cannabis fixture Harborside kicked off trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the ticker "HBOR" Monday, following a reverse takeover of Lineage Grow Company. An early mover in California cannabis, Harborside has become the latest U.S. cannabis company to turn to Canadian exchanges for the type of capital that is still out of reach for growing companies closer to home.
"We've been on the front lines of many of the issues that are important to the industry. And so us listing today is really the culmination of a lot of effort, a lot of work, but also really just a real showing of the power of keeping the good fight going," CEO Andrew Berman told Cheddar.
A California-focused, vertically integrated cannabis company, Harborside claims about a 3 percent market share in the Golden State. It currently operates two dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area and has agreements in place to acquire a third in San Jose, open two more in San Leandro and Desert Hot Springs, as well as to acquire a cultivation facility in Yolo County, the company said in a statement. Through its Lineage reverse takeover, it also acquired two dispensaries in Oregon.
One of the first six companies to obtain a medical marijuana license in California, Harborside has become an iconic brand over the years, tied inextricably to co-founder Steve DeAngelo and his cannabis activism. But Berman, who started at the company about 18 months ago, said he isn't concerned about losing the culture built by DeAngelo now that the company is public.
"Steve and I know each other very, very well," Berman said. "We share the same values, we share the same mission around helping communities and the people that are surrounding us. And we are going to keep on doing that. Just because the company has gone public, doesn't mean the things around trust and choice and value are changed."
Although Harborside was an early mover in California, it is now the 66th U.S. cannabis company to list on the Canadian Securities Exchange, ABC News reported. The ongoing classification of cannabis as schedule 1, or having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively prevents plant-touching U.S. cannabis companies from listing on major U.S. exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. This reality has kicked off a flood of activity north of the border, as companies in search of capital are forced to look to list or go public on alternative exchanges like the CSE and NEO Exchange that have welcomed cannabis listings.
"The CSE has assisted a very large number of companies in the cannabis space in Canada, the U.S., and increasingly overseas in securing their needed growth capital. To that end, we have genuinely become the center of cannabis in the global markets," CSE CEO Richard Carleton said.
The CSE welcomed its first vetted U.S. cannabis company in 2015. Since then, the exchange has become a haven for cannabis companies in search of the liquidity and reduced cost capital that the federally illegal status of cannabis prevents them from accessing closer to home. The trend toward cross-border listings has not only helped the cannabis companies, Carleton said, but has also aided in the development of Canada's capital markets infrastructure.
"Canada has developed such a strong role in provision of public finance for these companies that even as things open up in the U.S., Canada will be a significant part of the global cannabis finance effort for the foreseeable future," Carleton said.
Berman agreed, adding that "the U.S. is missing out."
"The fact that this is a schedule 1 controlled substance and banking is a problem means that it's a cash business. That's not good for the economy, that's not good for safety. We are missing out on a tremendous opportunity here, plain and simple," Berman said.
Of course, U.S. cannabis entrepreneurs haven't lost hope of someday accessing their home markets. Some see the early success of the SAFE Banking Act, a proposed safe harbor for banks looking to assist the cannabis industry, as a beacon of hope. The bill has more than 200 sponsors in the U.S. House as it makes its way to the floor for consideration. Last month, attorneys general from states across the U.S. united to endorse the bill, imploring Congress to find a solution that makes it easier for banks to support the cannabis industry.
Berman agreed that the SAFE Banking Act would be instrumental for both public safety, and for the health of businesses.
"What's really happening is all of these issues ー banking, taxation, cost of compliance, making the industry harder to evolve ー it's just nurturing a black market, which is more robust than ever these days, so I absolutely hope that Congress acts," he said. "You want to be able to do things that we do in every other retail business."