Hilary Bricken on Investing in Cannabis

Hilary Bricken heads the cannabis law group at at Harris Moure, PLLC  and will lead the panel on “investing in cannabis” at the NYU Cannabis Science & Policy Summit two weeks from now. She has some good advice both for firms in the cannabis business seeking investors and for potential investors about the risks the firms need to disclose and the investors need to consider.

Since Hilary is a lawyer, her primary stress is on risks posed by the fact that the entire industry – even the part regulated by the states – is still completely illegal under federal law.  I’ve read some pretty scary prospectuses in my day (back before Harold Pollack warned me about investing in individual companies), but I’ve never seen anything quite as bracing as this:

The federal government may raid us, seize all of our equipment and inventory, and arrest all of our employees, officers, and investors, including you.

Since I’m not a lawyer, but merely a close substitute for an economist, I would put even more stress on a less spectacular but far more probable risk, which I might put in prospectus language about as follows:

Future prices in the state-legal cannabis markets, or under federal legalization should that take place, are unpredictable, but almost certain to be far lower than current prices in those markets or in the illicit market. Cannabis is naturally cheap to produce, and competitive pressures will relentlessly force market prices for cannabis as a commodity down toward the level of costs. There can be no assurance that the Company’s best efforts to secure durable market advantage through branding, product innovation protected by intellectual property rights, or regulatory favoritism will succeed; if they do not, your investment will almost certainly become worthless.

So while all of Hilary’s legal advice is solid, I’d add one more word of economic advice about investing in the emerging legal cannabis industry.

Don’t!

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.