By Mike Rogoway
A billion dollars for a Portland marijuana company.
It’s an astonishing figure. Last month’s deal for Cura Cannabis was the biggest acquisition in the history of legalized marijuana in the United States. It’s a sign of just how quickly the market is emerging. And that’s just the beginning of the story.
Curaleaf, the Massachusetts company buying Cura’s recreational marijuana business, is backed by a Russian billionaire whose fortune helped fuel its rise. Investors value the startup at nearly $4 billion and project its value to rise by 20 percent when the all-stock deal for Cura closes.
That would make Curaleaf more valuable than all but three public companies in Oregon, were it based here, despite reporting less than $80 million in revenue last year along with a $56 million loss.
The marijuana market is an industry in flux, caught between its underground roots and a new era of enormous commercial potential. It’s consolidating rapidly as early players like Cura and Curaleaf, both with highly unorthodox corporate histories, race to lock in an early advantage.
Like other new industries, though, the cannabis business is coping with enormous uncertainty and rapid change. Recreational marijuana remains illegal under federal law and it’s not clear when, or how, that might change.
“If I had a billion dollars it’s not where I would put the money,” said Andrew Freedman, who helped guide the legalization process in Colorado and now runs a government consulting firm in San Francisco. “I do think there’s a lot of risk.”
Oregon’s surviving independents, meanwhile, are casting a wary eye on the advent of Big Cannabis. They’re wondering if they have a place in the future of a market they helped create.
“You have to have a product that’s really differentiated,” said Mason Walker, CEO of East Fork Cultivars, which operates a farm in Southern Oregon and a branch office in Portland. He said independents have an opportunity to stand out from commodity cannabis, but they have to invest in creating something distinctive.
“It’s going to be really tough for the folks who have chosen to stay independent.”