By Omar Sacirbey
Prospective marijuana growers who lack the money to bankroll their own sites increasingly are turning to companies that specialize in leasing land to cannabis cultivators.
That has created a mini boom in the emerging real estate leasing business – and given cultivators a new avenue for launching their companies.
Executives with real estate firms that lease to marijuana growers say the market for their services is large and growing, fueled by increased demand for cannabis and the need for land to grow the plant.
Investors, meanwhile, are pouring millions of dollars into these businesses. Looking ahead, the expected growth of these companies is expected to transform cannabis cultivation, with mega grow sites becoming more the norm, some experts said.
“Cannabis is going to be a $20 billion industry in 2020. Someone is going to have to build millions of square feet of infrastructure, which is going to take billions of dollars to produce the product that will generate that forecasted revenue,” said Tim Keogh, CEO of Denver-based AmeriCann, which has properties in Colorado, Illinois and Massachusetts. “As of now, the infrastructure isn’t there to meet those numbers.”
Leasing company executives don’t actually touch the plant – so they don’t carry any personal risk – and there is relatively limited competition because of the specialized skill set and the large amount of money needed to bankroll such an operation.
“In this industry, there’s plenty of room for people who have the skills that we bring to the table, and an opportunity for everybody to be successful because the growth within the industry is quite high,” said George Stone, CEO of Kalyx Development, a Manhattan real estate company that leases property to indoor cannabis growers and operates properties in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
The companies that have started in this business are attracting the attention – and checkbooks – of small and not-so-small investors.
FutureLand Corp., a Denver-based cannabis cultivation leasing company, made waves recently when the Kodiak Group, a mainstream private equity firm, bought $1 million of its stock.
Publicly traded Kalyx, a real estate investment trust, or REIT, raised $25 million last November and announced in May it was out to raise a Series B round of between $25 million-$35 million.
And AmeriCann made headlines in April when it invested $4.15 million in a nearly 1-million-square-foot cultivation and processing facility in Freetown, Massachusetts.
Later that month, it converted itself into a REIT. These companies provide investors certain advantages, including comparatively high yields, relatively straightforward tax rules, and liquidity because their shares are bought and sold on a stock exchange.
A Better Cultivation Model?
The exploding need for grow property is expected to drive what cultivation facilities look like in the near future. Smaller facilities, as in 10,000 or 20,000 square feet, will be supplanted by gigantic sites with hundreds of thousands – even millions – of square feet of space, some experts predicted.
The “path forward” will look more like today’s commercial agricultural produce cultivation operations, Keogh said. “Look at produce, grown in master-planned greenhouses with built-in efficiencies. Those efficiencies haven’t been brought to the cannabis industry. We are bringing them in,” AmeriCann’s Keogh said.
The numbers are alluring, and renting property to money-making cannabis cultivators seems like a simple enough business model to manage, given that business owners aren’t technically touching the plant.
Because few companies currently are in this emerging real estate business, there’s plenty of room for competition. And those companies that are getting into it account for only a miniscule amount of cannabis-related property in this country, observers said.
“In all forms of real estate, there are hundreds of competitors, and there seems to be enough business to go around,” Kalyx’s Stone said.
So why aren’t more players jumping into this business sector?
It’s tough to launch such a business. Renting commercial-scale grow space requires significant investment capital and a specialized skill set that few people possess.
Companies don’t simply buy land, lease it and leave tenants to fend themselves. Rather, they invest significant capital – Stone said the low seven figures – to outfit a site for cultivation, including climate control equipment, power, drainage, and even testing equipment.
Moreover, not everyone thinks leasing is the best way to go.
“There are some potential quagmires there,” said Cameron Cox, CEO of FutureLand, which owns two cultivation properties in Colorado. By quagmires, he meant local political foot-dragging that can make it hard to get all the permits required to start such a grow site.
“It’s not nearly as lucrative as growing itself,” Cox said, although he’s not done with leasing. “As the industry matures, there will be people who need this.”
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]