Efforts to get American cannabis companies to list shares on several Canadian stock exchanges are heating up with representatives from the exchanges competing for Los Angeles’ deep roster of marijuana firms.

Canadian exchanges looking to attract pot companies include the Canadian Securities Exchange; Aequitas NEO Exchange Inc., or NEO; and Toronto Stock Exchange offshoot TSX Venture Exchange.

As more and more U.S. cannabis companies mature — and while federal law maintains that the businesses are illegal, keeping them off domestic stock exchanges — the competition for listing north of the border is growing. Canadian exchanges are jostling for position and making bids to be the premiere pot trading venue.

“We listed our cannabis companies at an early stage. We probably have a leg up over the other exchanges,” said Mark Faulkner, the Canadian Securities Exchange’s vice president in charge of listings and regulation. “There is definitely a competition between the exchanges.”

The Canadian Securities Exchange, or CSE, has 167 cannabis stocks listed.

TSX, which lists 49 cannabis firms with a combined market capitalization of $57.8 billion, has been more cautious in courting U.S.-based cannabis outfits and has so far not allowed U.S. companies to list.

That hardline stance could be softening, however. Loui Anastasopoulos, president of capital formation for the Toronto exchanges, met May 13 in Santa Monica with a handful of cannabis-related companies, among other businesses.

He declined to identify the cannabis company executives with whom he met, but he did say they were executives at “early stage companies” looking for financing, and that they were in the medicinal marijuana business.

“The cannabis companies we are seeing are very interesting, not just plain Jane,” Anastasopoulos said. “We always see new and innovative sectors developing. We saw clean tech, blockchain and heard about cryptocurrencies. Most have come and gone, and not shown a lot of longevity. Cannabis seems different and seems more real.”

Some competitors believe Anastasopoulos’ Los Angeles expedition is a sign of how competitive the race to list marijuana stocks has become.

“Our competition with the TSX is heating up indeed, and this competitive pressure has caused them to start evolving,” Jos Schmitt, president and chief executive officer of the NEO, said in an email.

“Cannabis is an area of tremendous growth in Canada, in the U.S. and globally,” he added.

Domestic options

There are only a handful of cannabis companies in Los Angeles County looking to list on Canadian exchanges, but the number is growing. Local companies that have listed or are close to listing on the Canadian exchanges include Culver City-based MedMen Enterprises Inc. and Commerce-based ManifestSeven, formerly known as MJIC Inc., as well as Agoura Hills-based Vertical Cos.

MedMen was an early U.S. lister on the CSE, going public on that exchange nearly a year ago. It has struggled in recent months with a number of senior executives resigning. MedMen operates in California, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada and New York.

ManifestSeven, which bills itself as a cannabis logistics company building a network of distribution hubs in California, plans to delay the timing of its listing on the CSE until September as it pursues acquisitions.

Vertical Cos. is also giving serious thought to listing on the Nasdaq a portion of its holdings that trade in the non-psychoactive part of the marijuana plant.

Smoke Wallin, chief executive officer of Vertical Cos., raised $62 million in a private funding round in April that valued his company at slightly more than $287 million. Wallin said the move was considered a first step toward listing its hemp line, which it officially spun off May 1 as Vertical Wellness, on the Nasdaq. He said the company was targeting a date in September and hoped the spinoff would be valued between $500 million to $1 billion by then.

“That would be a significant valuation,” he said.

He said Vertical Wellness is looking to raise $50 million in the next 30 to 60 days as part of a pre-initial public offering round.

Vertical Wellness can list on the Nasdaq due to a recent development in U.S. federal law that allows some cannabis products to be sold legally if they include only low levels of the psychoactive molecules found in the plant.

If all goes according to plan, Wallin said the main cannabis business, Vertical Cos., would likely be listed publicly on the CSE this fall as well.

The push into publicly listing on the Canadian exchanges is already underway, but how long it lasts is uncertain. The biggest factor is whether federal officials ultimately decriminalize or fully legalize cannabis, which would allow marijuana stocks to trade on U.S. exchanges.

If that happens, it could draw a number of publicly traded U.S. pot companies away from the Canadian markets.

“Upon federal repeal, we’ll file for listing down here,” Wallin said.

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