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Big Tobacco Makes Major Move into Canadian Cannabis Market

It was another roller coaster week in the world of Canadian pot stocks.

Cronos Group (NASDAQ: CRON) shares vaulted more than 50% after it agreed on December 7 to sell 45% of the company to U.S. tobacco giant Altria Group for $1.8 billion. Altria (formerly Philip Morris), the world’s largest tobacco company and owner of the Marlboro and Virginia Slims brands, has been hunting for a deal for a while.

«Altria provides many benefits to Cronos Group including their experience in regulatory, compliance and government relations as well as their expertise in device technology, supply chain management and marketing,” PI Financial analyst Jason Zandberg said in a research note. «Altria benefits from Cronos’ expertise in cannabinoid-based products and is an immediate channel for product development in the Canadian marketplace.»

Faced with fewer tobacco smokers, competition from Juul and other e-cigarette makers and rising resistance from some stock market investors, linking up with Cronos is a good bet for Altria. While more investors are steering away from so-called “sin stocks,” such as tobacco and coal companies, due to their negative social impacts (cancer and global warming). Cronos decided to partner with Big Tobacco.

“On the one hand, their tobacco products make people sick and then now they want to get into the business of helping people feel better through cannabis before they die,” Matt Karnes of GreenWave Advisors, a cannabis research firm, tells Freedom Leaf. «Why don’t they just buy a chemotherapy company?

Canopy Growth (NYSE: CGC) and Hexo Corp. (OTC: HYYDF) are two other Canadian cannabis companies that have made deals with Big Liquor. This past summer, Constellation Brands invested $4 billion in Canopy, the largest cash infusion yet in the budding marijuana sector. Molson Coors and Hexo have also formed a partnership.

Quintessential Capital Challenges Aphria

Meanwhile, Aphria (NYSE: APHQF), another closely-watched Canadian cannabis company, has been beaten up on after a short seller—a hedge fund that bets on stocks to go down—made negative comments about the company on Bloomberg TV, which led to a 50% stock dive in three days. It was Quintessential Capital, focused on Aphria’s new alliance in Latin America, who raised questions on whether the company could continue to raise cash. It certainly comes as no surprise that a firm positioned to benefit if a stock loses value would make disparaging remarks about it. But it was more than enough to have investors rushing to the exits in recent days.

The Rise in ESG Investing

Environmental and social governance investing, also called ESG investors, will likely see medical pot as a positive place to put their money, but recreational use may fall into the sin stock bucket. Cronos, which is mostly a medical producer at the moment, may want to avoid being in the same investing category as cigarettes, smoggy fuel for power plants and makers of automatic weapons. Still, many investors won’t care, as long as they see a big return ahead.

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