"Luck and being prepared to seize opportunities when they come," Rifici told Civilized. "I was fortunate to be looking for opportunities when the regulations changed in Canada, which gave me an early-mover advantage and I was able to parlay that early."
And if you're worried that you've missed your chance to take a slice of this new industry, think again. Rifici - who is best known for co-founding Canopy Growth Corporation - says he once thought he'd missed the boat, then opportunity came knocking.
"Looking back, it really started in 2010, when California almost became the first state to legalize cannabis. I thought I was really missing the boat, but it was defeated, and I vowed never to miss that opportunity again, if and when it would happen in Canada.
"To my surprise the opportunity to create a large scale federally legal production platform came two years later under the Harper government. In 2012, the government announced major changes to the medical marijuana system. It was the first time in Canada where the door was opened to the creation of a commercial industry for medical marijuana. I really saw this, as many other entrepreneurs, as an immense opportunity to build something at scale, a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to create a brand new industry where demand was already incredibly well known. Because I’d been curious about where this industry was going since 2010, I was fortunate enough to already be scanning the landscape for upcoming changes. The Harper government quietly issued a press release late on a Sunday night and I was reading the regulations within an hour of being posted to the government website. Ultimately that head start gave me a huge advantage in building up what became Tweed."
What makes your company different from others in the cannabis space?
What differentiates Auxly Cannabis Group is that our platform spans the entire cannabis value-chain, minimizing risk while simultaneously maximizing exposure to multiple, geographically-diverse cannabis companies through a single source. We’re creating a world-class platform by forming partnerships with best-in-class cultivators, product innovators and developers, researchers and marketers.
Sure there are others who have followed or created similar platforms, but what keeps us in a class of our own is our team. We’re a very diverse crew who are passionate about cannabis and all of the opportunities within it. What we have in common is that we all want to work together to ensure the industry continues to be diverse, energetic, innovative and prosperous. We brought together industry leading experts and we provide our partners with ongoing support in cultivation, regulatory, construction, retail, branding, medical and financing to help them realize their full potential.
Walk us through a normal day.
In the last six years, I’m not sure I’ve had many normal days, but I’ve had a lot of good ones. I spend a big part of my day on the phone and Slack, talking to the team, investors and potential ones, partners, lead agents, and media. On a normal day there’s a lot of opportunity to do new and innovative stuff in this industry, but there are also distractions and misleading information that I spend a lot of time correcting. Right now, any day that brings us one step closer to building this business alongside our partners, is a good one.
What has been your biggest lesson about working in cannabis, and in business in general?
Hard to narrow it down to one. I’ve had some pretty public challenges. I think this sums it up - Create your own luck. I’ve found you can’t do that on your own. Find the best, smartest, honest, hard-working group of people and start something with them.
What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
The ability to set our sights on the world. That head-start I was talking about earlier, has certainly served me well here in Canada, but a lot of what we are doing now is looking outside our borders. Over the coming years, as other countries consider and move towards legalization, we expect to see a significant increase in global cannabis demand.
Our first international production operation is Inverell, a federally licensed “Cannabis Operator” based Uruguay. This helps us secure a significant amount of CBD-rich hemp production that can be exported to other federally legal jurisdictions for further processing into nutritional and pharmaceutical products. I’m also founder and CEO of Nesta Holding Co., a private equity firm that creates wide ranging partnerships and brands within the cannabis industry, our international strategy, included launching the Indica Strategy Fund, to offer options for European-qualified investors who are seeking risk-mitigated exposure to the North American Cannabis Industry.
What sets you apart to make you a potential leader in cannabis?
Luck. And being prepared to seize opportunities when they come. I was fortunate to be looking for opportunities when the regulations changed in Canada, which gave me an early-mover advantage and I was able to parlay that early.
What is the most frustrating aspect of the cannabis industry today?
The most frustrating piece is the prohibition mentality that still lingers in Canada's banking sector. The large majority of our big banks are not supportive of this industry. They lack the willingness to participate in this federally legal industry. It’s disappointing, but from a business perspective, I’ve found that those who are willing to embrace these barriers to entry have had a competitive advantage in this space.
We recently forged a relationship with BMO. Their diversified industry group have been a refreshing addition to the cannabis sector’s capital market infrastructure. They approached the sector with a focus on building relationships and learning the intricacies of the industry from the ground up, rather than focusing on just providing financial services and capital raising on the back of their brand name, they have sought to learn the landscape of the industry and have become sought after advisors and partners.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the cannabis space?
I say come on, jump in. It's a lot of fun and moves incredibly fast, nothing like any other industry I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone that I associate with in the cannabis industry looks at this as an exciting opportunity to both build and acquire companies that we believe can make a lasting mark as we move into the future legalized world. And finally, be passionate.
What are your biggest tips for branding cannabis?
Along with my colleagues, our branding focus right now is around retail innovations and concepts. Initially legislation will make it so we have a limited amount of choice, there won’t be a lot of options on how you design and retail, but over time it will evolve until the industry settles.
Which is why our team is focused on building real brands around quality products. For all we know, one of our brands could be the next Jack Daniels, only way we’ll ever know is if we set and own the vision from the outset.
Do you see any big changes coming in the future of cannabis?
Again, I see big changes coming on the retail side of things. Some 50 years ago, we didn’t have a good sense of what a coffee shop feels and looks like, but over time that model developed and is relatively established today. Same can be said for bars. So what does a cannabis establishment look like? We are going to see a lot of different versions in different parts of the world. I believe cannabis will emerge as that third product we consume in public places, like caffeine or alcohol.