Tilray joins Nasdaq in first US cannabis IPO

Key Points
  • Canadian medical marijuana company Tilray made its debut on the Nasdaq on Thursday — becoming the first pure-play marijuana company to go public on a major U.S. exchange.
  • Tilray follows in the footsteps of such Canadian marijuana giants as Cronos Group and Canopy Growth.
A Tilray grow room

Amid a big year in markets for cannabis companies, Canadian medical marijuana company Tilray made its debut on the Nasdaq on Thursday — becoming the first pure-play marijuana company to go public on a major U.S. exchange.

And Tilray President and CEO Brendan Kennedy told CNBC that the buzz around cannabis is only going to continue to grow.

"Eight years ago you would have seen 90 percent of the revenues in Colorado would have come from products that would be smoked," Kennedy said Thursday on "Power Lunch." "Today it’s about 40 percent. Long term, I think we’ll end up with smoking being about 10 percent [of cannabis consumption] and all the other products being 90 percent."

In fact, Kennedy envisions a world where consumers can order their cannabis "as a beverage in a bar."

"Instead of alcohol, they’ll have cannabis," said Kennedy, who is also a member of Tilray's board of directors. "And they’ll have a low, or no-calorie product with no hangover."

Tilray offered 9 million shares of its Class 2 common stock, which kicked off trading Thursday morning at $23.05 per share under the symbol "TLRY." The company said in an SEC filing in advance of the offering that it was looking to sell stock between $14 and $16 per share, which valued Tilray between about $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion. The IPO priced at $17 a share late Wednesday.

Tilray cultivates, processes and distributes cannabis products to tens of thousands of medical marijuana patients across 10 countries, including Australia, Canada and Germany, through subsidiaries and agreements with pharmaceutical distributors. The company currently grows marijuana in both Canada and Portugal.

Currently, products are available in 10 countries on five continents. And Kennedy said his company's customer base will only increase as "country after country around the world" seeks to legalize medical cannabis. He said the "shift away from an illicit market to legal market" would increase adult cannabis users globally from 3.5 million to about 40 million people, with other countries modeling Canada's regulatory framework.

"What you’re starting to see in adult-use countries like Canada, is people will buy professionally branded, professionally packaged, tested products that are much safer than what’s available on the illicit market," Kennedy said.

Tilray's move from public to private follows in the footsteps of Canadian marijuana giants Cronos Group and Canopy Growth. Cronos, a $1.1 billion company with medical marijuana growing and distribution operations in Australia, Canada, Germany and Israel, was the first pure-play, "plant touching" company to trade on a major U.S. exchange when it listed on the Nasdaq in February. Canopy, Canada's biggest marijuana company, followed soon after, listing on the New York Stock Exchange in May. Both traded on exchanges in Canada before their U.S. listings.

Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Tilray, poses for a portrait.

Tilray's IPO may come on the heels of the U.S. listings of Cronos and Canopy, but Beacon Securities analyst David Kideckel said he doesn't think there will be a mad dash among Canadian companies to follow suit.

The majority of Canadian cannabis companies "are public already on the Toronto Stock Exchange and TSX Venture Exchange. It is possible they will apply for a dual listing, but the number of Canadian companies going to a direct listing it is hard to say," Kideckel said. "The number of private companies are limited."

American companies, however, still struggle to gain the financial benefits and credibility that come with going public on a major U.S. exchange.

Stock exchanges have stringent requirements for companies looking to list, including restrictions on those that have broken federal law. That means companies based in countries where marijuana is legalized like Canada may meet listing requirements in America, while their U.S.-based counterparts cannot.

U.S. marijuana companies are allowed to list on Canadian exchanges, so long as they fully disclose all risks to investors. But Canada's largest exchange, the Toronto Stock Exchange, has forbidden it. The world's ninth-largest exchange announced in October that U.S. cannabis companies cannot meet listing requirements because they violate federal law in their home countries.