Who Will Fund Start-Up Pot Businesses?
Liquor Board May Ban Out-of-State Investors
Most cannabis-related investment advice I've seen seems to distill down to this: Avoid companies that actually sell pot and instead invest in "ancillary" businesses—such as the hash-oil-machine maker, pot-selling software, and web-based weed advertising services. The typical reasoning for this reservation is the big federal question mark, the uncertainty about whether the Feds might start forfeiture proceedings against legal pot investments.
It turns out there might be another reason for investors to shy away from state-licensed cannabis companies: Initiative 502 may prohibit out-of-state investors from profiting from Washington's legal pot businesses.
At least that's been the state's interpretation. "The current thinking of the board is that all members of any license structure will need to have resided for three months in Washington," wrote Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, when I asked him two weeks ago.
But Troy Dayton of the Arcview Group, a network of accredited investors interested in pot businesses, fears that a lack of outside capital could cause the state's legal pot experiment to fail. "When people are undercapitalized, they cut corners, they are unable to meet the consumer's need, and they are unable to commit energy to the things that matter to the public," he says. Dayton was buoyed by draft rules issued by the liquor board in mid-May, which make a distinction between owners—so-called "true parties of interest"—and financiers. "There is a residency requirement to be an owner, even a partial owner," he says. "There doesn't seem to be that requirement for financiers."
Can an investor really share in pot profits and not be considered an owner? "It's definitely a little ambiguous," says Hilary Bricken from Canna Law Group in Seattle.
But the state, upon further consideration, seems to be interpreting its own rules more conservatively. In response to my questions last week, the liquor board has clarified its position on out-of-state investments. "Being entitled to a percentage of the profits from the business would make someone a true party of interest," Smith tells me. "So, in essence, there is no allowance for an out-of-state financier that expects a percentage of the profits in exchange for a loan."