Ottawa pot industry pioneer Chuck Rifici launches cannabis ‘streaming’ firm


Marijuana industry trailblazer Chuck Rifici is turning to streaming – a business model often used in mining – to tackle what he says are growing pains facing the rapidly expanding sector.

There are 1.4 million square feet of licensed medical marijuana production facilities in Canada, says Rifici, one of two co-founders of Smiths Falls-based Tweed Marijuana Inc., now a part of Canopy Growth Corp. (TSX:WEED). That’s about one tenth of what will be needed to satisfy demand once the drug is legalized for recreational use, he says.

Enter Cannabis Wheaton (TSXV:CBW), Rifici’s latest venture in the marijuana space. The company, which bills itself as a cannabis streaming company, began trading Monday on the TSX Venture Exchange after a reverse takeover of another firm.

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Streaming refers to when a company strikes a deal with a miner to purchase all or part of its future output of a metal in exchange for upfront cash.

Rifici says applying the streaming model to marijuana will help licensed producers get the capital they need to expand and ramp up production ahead of legalization.

“We’re going to see tremendous growth in the industry,” says Rifici, the former chief financial officer for the Liberal Party of Canada.

“There have been a lot of announced expansions that fill maybe a third of that gap. But there’s still six or seven million square feet that needs to be built out.”

Medical marijuana producers have a tough time accessing loans from traditional, low-cost sources such as banks, experts say.

Khurram Malik of Jacob Capital Management, who researches the marijuana industry, says that’s because it’s a relatively new sector that still has somewhat of a stigma attached to it.

“We’ve got a very strong banking sector and a lot of that is based on the fact that our banks are way more conservative compared to other lending institutions in other parts of the world when it comes to lending money to risky sectors,” says Malik.

Cannabis Wheaton says it has inked deals with 14 streaming partners, including both established producers and those in the process of getting licensed by Health Canada to produce medical marijuana.

Under the deals, Cannabis Wheaton will provide those companies with capital in exchange for a minority equity stake and a portion of their output at an agreed upon price.

Where needed, it will also offer its partners guidance and expertise on facility construction, cultivation and the licensing process, Rifici says.

Cannabis Wheaton is not the only company to apply the streaming model to the marijuana industry. Canopy Growth Corp. launched a streaming platform called Canopy Rivers Corp. earlier this month.

Rifici has been scanning the industry for his next opportunity since he was terminated from Tweed in August 2014.

His dismissal is a point of contention between the two parties that’s now before the courts. Rifici has filed a wrongful dismissal suit against his former employer. The company says in its statement of defence that the termination was proper and in good faith.

Rifici says he’s proud of what he created at Tweed but he’s ready to put the past behind him. Last week, he sold his last remaining shares in the company.

“I’m essentially moving on to what I think are far better opportunities in the space,” Rifici says.

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