July 25, 2024

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Raising Money In The Cannabis Industry Is Like Squeezing An Elephant Into A Keyhole

In an emerging industry that’s full of unknowns, we turn to an entrepreneur in the field to get some insight. 

Benzinga’s Jaycee Tenn spoke with Erich Mauff, president and co-founder of multi-state cannabis operator Jushi, to learn about raising capital, buying distressed assets, and how the licensing process differs across states.

Jushi is a multi-state cannabis operator. Their name comes after a discovery of cannabis that was buried alongside a shaman of the ancient Jushi Kingdom 2700 years ago.

The CEO of Jushi, Jim Cacioppo, joined three other entrepreneurs to talk about adjusting brand strategy in a quickly evolving market at the past Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Miami.

Benzinga: As someone with over 20 years of experience in Finance, how did you become interested in Cannabis?

Erich: We thought this was an industry that needed some business builders with acumen and with history. That’s Jim and ourselves, we are financiers, we [have] distressed backgrounds, we turned around companies in the past, we sponsored companies. I think we know how to take a diverse group of assets, put them together and start to push everything in the right direction in terms of business focus, the financing behind it, the accounting, the legal. 

I think the ability to bring that together and mix both finance sponsors and cannabis is the right way to build a business with which, quite frankly, no one has a blueprint on how to do it. Now, I think when you open up a McDonald’s franchise, you get a starter kit that tells you where to put it and, you know, literally, it’s cookie cutter. All you need to do is make sure you open and close the doors every day. Many states like Illinois are switching for the first time from medical to adult use. Places like Virginia are just putting in a program. So I think it’s dynamic. It’s exciting. There’s no exact blueprint for what you need to do to try to find the best of the best, put it together and then get everyone running in the right direction.

Benzinga: Do you find your experience with distressed assets to be particularly useful in this environment?

Erich: Well, no doubt I might lose credibility in the distressed industry. We operate in a business which is federally illegal. Capital is incredibly difficult to come upon. Traditional sources of capital don’t exist. Chapter 11 is not available. We have to go into receivership, which is an incredibly messy process. So, yes, ideally every deal from a distressed asset and structuring that deal in a way that you get to think through the potential downsides and how you would work your way out of a downside situation. It’s something that is sorely lacking in an industry where people really have been buying the dream. And we are now living with the negative ramifications of that deal, not meeting expectations at all.  

Benzinga: Considering the state of the market right now, can you talk a bit about the environment around raising capital? How has it changed from what it was 12-18 months ago?

Erich: I make this analogy that for financing in the cannabis industry it’s like the keyhole and the elephant.  

The keyhole is the size of the capital available, the elephant is the need for capital. The problem is the keyhole. The keyhole is the amount of capital that is even allowed to participate in Cannabis. So being a traditional financier and having raised a lot of money in my professional career, when you go out and raise capital, if you were to say to someone, I want you to start a tech company but you know what, asset managers, hedge funds, portfolio managers, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies cannot participate, you’d be like, well, I’ll never be able to raise money. 

The massive elephant in this keyhole is the biggest challenge that we in the industry face which is it’s very difficult to raise money in the size and quantum that is needed in order to participate in the industry. So we are in a very challenging capital environment and in my view will be in this environment for 12 to 18 months. 

Benzinga: What states are you most focused on and what has the licensing process been like?

Erich: We are in seven states of which we are highly focused on three of the seven. Three of the additional seven are in development and then one in the hemp state. So I aforementioned Virginia, we are one of five in Virginia. Pennsylvania we own 10 percent of the retail footprint in Pennsylvania. And then we have two of the 55 dispensaries available in Illinois. Each of those dispensaries, each of those 55, get an additional dispensary license, so they go up to 110. So we’ll have 4 of the 110. Again, a market we’re very focused on. Those would be the three big markets. 

And then we have smaller operations in Ohio and Las Vegas, although the development market within the final markets where we are very focused is California on retail. Again, being distressed people, when you hear a market like California is challenging and difficult to do business in, we find that to be true. But that’s also where value can be acquired if you understand what you’re doing.  

Benzinga: What is the most important thing Jushi is working on in 2020?

Erich: Operations, operations, operations.  

That’s one, two and three. We need to now take the assets we have, we need to get them operational and we have to get them revenue-generating and we have to create a positive portfolio. We need to do that within the confines of cost control, making sure that we are within regulatory compliance.  

So it is really an operational cost control and then maintaining our balance sheet. Those I think are for 2020 the most important aspects. And I think the secondary and ancillary things are looking continuously for opportunities. Opportunities in distressed where we are able to potentially procure assets. A very good term that you can feel confident that over time you will look back at your entry point and feel that you have really created value for your shareholders. 

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

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