Cannabis companies are hemorrhaging jobs, and no one's happy.
Canopy Growth is cutting 35% of its workers. Trulieve lost over 1,000 workers in the past four months. And that's not it — welcome to the wild world of Cultivated.
Welcome to Cultivated, my work-in-progress name for this “B2B-ish” newsletter leaning into my expertise, network, and hopefully positive reputation covering the cannabis industry. I’m calling it “B2B-ish” because while I believe my primary audience will serve those who work in the cannabis industry, I want it to be generally interesting for those that don’t, or just want to learn more about it. I also think calling it B2B will eventually help me earn more money from this than I would otherwise, because I read a lot of media newsletters written by people with much more business sense than me talking about how B2B is good. So, here we are.
The rapid legalization of cannabis is a huge social change, despite the doom-and-gloom in the industry. It’s a moment in history I’ve staked my young-ish (I’m now 30, and yeah, my back hurts a bit) career in journalism on and I want to be there to chronicle it all. I think many of the 250 or so of you subscribing to this first edition are probably aware of my resume and track record of delivering timely scoops, interviews, and unique analysis so I won’t rehash it all here. But if you’re interested, you can find my past work on my Insider author page, and follow me on Twitter (I apologize in advance) or LinkedIn.
Yes, this is an MVP
I haven’t yet thought through exactly what I want to do with this, nor do I know anything about whatever programmatic ad sales are, how much to charge for subscriptions, or, like, any of the nuts-and-bolts of actually running a business and creating a coherent revenue strategy but here we go: Consider this my minimum viable product. I initially wanted to wait until I had all of those things figured out, and admittedly my brain is quite frazzled from spending the entirety of my 20s chasing traffic goals and subscription quotas and not surfing and skiing nearly enough to maintain my precarious mental health at my previous job, but I can’t help myself from writing. It’s one of the only things I know how to do, and I can do it pretty well.
One last point I’ll make on this before I get to actually discussing cannabis. Media is a bit broken. Reader trust in institutional brands has cratered — and not just because of Donald Trump and partisanship and whatever. Publications can only chase clicks to sell ads against or up-and-to-the-right subscriber growth while limiting churn for so long. Growth isn’t limitless. It will hit an asymptote, venture investors who expected huge, software-style returns will come to collect, and good reporters and editors will get laid off. This is not my unique insight. We’ve seen this play out over and over again.
But the consequence of this is a decline in reader trust. People, especially in cannabis — which despite influx of suits and stocks still leans countercultural — are increasingly eschewing mainstream media, and readers of all opinions and political stripes are unable to agree on a basic set of shared facts. That gives writers like myself, who have built an audience in a hyper-focused space, an opportunity to go directly to you, the readers. I’ll use a little bit more of my voice and my opinions in the reporting than I would at a mainstream publication, especially so my job isn’t usurped by ChatGPT. My hope is that this will align incentives between writer and reader in a much healthier way and I’m so excited to get started.
We’ll talk to workers, comb through filings, and tell you what’s really going on in cannabis-land
This newsletter will pay close attention to my specific interests: We’re going to talk to more workers about what it’s like to work for big cannabis companies. We’re going to highlight craft and small-scale brands creating awesome, high-quality products. We’re going to get wonky about cannabis policy, and the explosion of scientific research into cannabinoids. I’ll comb through securities filings and talk to sources who’ll tell me the unvarnished truth beyond press releases.
We’re going to hold big cannabis companies accountable to their employees, their investors, and society. We’ll talk about the good things emanating from cannabis legalization, and the bad. We’ll talk to those who have big voices in cannabis, like CEOs, but we’re only going to write about them if what they’re saying is actually smart. I’m going to publish irregularly at first or really whenever I feel like it, or if something interesting is happening and I have something to say about it, before I professionalize this operation. I’m also going to curate some of the best work from my stellar colleagues on the cannabis beat from around the internet. There’s so much information and writing out there, sometimes it’s just easier to have someone tell you what’s actually important and worth your valuable time.
I’m thinking about how best to do events, and how to put together communities of readers to make this whole project a two-way street, and *cultivate* a network of like-minded, smart, and ambitious readers. I may also delve into curating and talking about other topics I care about too, like work-life balance, the future of cities, outdoor sports, business, or whatever. You can tell me if that’s not interesting and I should stick to the program.
I’m going to iterate in public. Some of what I do will be great. Some won’t, and you’ll tell me. I want your feedback. Come along for the ride.
You’ve let me prognosticate for way too long. I need an editor (anyone… want that job?). So, let’s get to it.
Do you have any thoughts about this newsletter? What do you want to see? What did I do well, or what did I do terribly? Reach out, this is my newsletter as much as it’s yours.
Canopy Growth’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Waking up to this news this morning is what spurred me to just start writing rather than wait.
Canopy Growth said it’s planning on cutting 35% of workers, or around 800 jobs, and closing its gigantic Smiths Falls cultivation facility at 1 Hershey Drive. Beyond that, the company said it would stop cultivation in Canada (!) — which it called transitioning to an “asset-light" model in corporate-speak — and source its edibles, vapes, extracts and what-have-you products from third parties.
I can’t underscore how much of a massive shift this is from founder and former CEO Bruce Linton’s original big idea almost ten years ago. Weed was supposed to save Smiths Falls after the Hershey plant closed, the heartwarming story of a shuttered factory town with new life breathed into it by a cutting-edge industry. Irrationally exuberant investors pumped billions into this idea for demand that never seemed to materialize like the armies of equity analysts on Bay Street initially thought. Cratering wholesale prices and choosy consumers — who say that Canopy’s weed was mostly not very good — didn’t help.
Linton was forced out of the company in 2018 a little less than a year after Corona beer-maker Constellation Brands pumped $5 billion into the company, a bet on the future of legal weed that has yet to pan out.
Let’s quantify that a little bit. If you invested in Canopy’s TSX-listed shares at $28.17 per share five years ago in February 2018, you might’ve looked like a genius by September when the price neared $68. Flash forward to today, and the stock’s down nearly 90% — it’s just a hair over $3. Ouch.
Linton himself gave a revealing quote to CityNews today: “[W]ho knows, some times you get to buy things back at pennies at a dollar.” I’ll wish him luck, I guess.
In a fun reporter’s notebook aside, the company’s press release said it would reduce headcount by 60% in the coming months. When I tweeted that, directly from the press release, the company told me that there was a mistake in the press release that wasn’t caught before it went out. And 60% to 35% isn’t, like, a missed decimal place or a slight miscalculation — that’s a massive mistake, and hundreds of jobs. I guess that’s what happens when you cut staff before a complex announcement?
Trulieve, Curaleaf and other cannabis companies aren’t spared from the bloodletting
On the US side, things are similarly grim.
As many of you know, long-awaited legislation that would free up regular banking services for the cannabis industry didn’t pass the House last year, and its prospects aren’t, shall we say, rosy for this year.
American cannabis companies are left to deal with the fallout. I don’t envy these management teams. It’s a really, really hard business. They have to fight the untaxed and unregulated illicit market, deal with cratering weed prices, and they get no help and hardly any attention from lawmakers. But it’s also fair to point out that many of these executives have made a slew of mistakes that has only made a tough job even harder.
I should mention that most of these executives have always been available to me and generally helpful in my past reporting, even when my stories weren’t necessarily positive. But I wouldn’t be doing a good job if I wasn’t critical of their performance.
I’ll save the horror stories I’ve been hearing from workers at some of these firms for another newsletter when I have more time and resources to fully report them out and put legal protections in place to do so (and if you have something to share, please hit me up and we can move things to Signal or meet in person in the New York City area) but it’s worth a high-level overview of the numbers in the context of what I’m writing about.
Florida-based Trulieve, a company that’s no stranger to highly public controversy, has lost around 1,100 workers over the past four months, per routine Canadian Securities Exchange filings. Now, many of these workers may have left to pursue other jobs — the filings don’t specifically indicate layoffs versus firings or resignations, but that’s still a massive reduction in headcount. The company’s stock is down over 75% in the past year.
Trulieve competitor Curaleaf, who’s founder, Boris Jordan, has been linked to Russian billionaire and owner of two DOJ-seized jets, Roman Abramovich, has cut hundreds of workers in a slow-drip of layoffs in the past few months as I scooped in my last job, and shuttered its operations in California, Colorado, and Oregon. (Abramovich has reportedly loaned the company money, though neither Jordan nor Abramovich have been sanctioned by the US).
In another weird quirk of the cannabis industry, workers who were laid off from Curaleaf were sent an exit survey in December asking why they had left the company, as I reported.
Embattled cannabis-tech firm Weedmaps cut 25% of its staff and replaced its CEO in December. Dutchie, a Tiger Global-backed cannabis tech firm that was valued at nearly $4 billion in late 2021, laid off employees in November and is mired in a dispute between its founding brothers, Zach and Ross Lipson, and its board. The Lipsons were forced out of the company and are now suing a group of investors and the board for what they called a “blatant ambush” at a November meeting, reports Law360.
And another Florida-based cannabis company, Ayr Wellness, cut 180 jobs earlier this month and had to back out of a $55 million deal to acquire a Chicago dispensary, reports Marijuana Business Daily.
Here’s what I’ve read recently and think you should too:
Cannabis isn’t a ‘gateway drug’, science says (University of Colorado Boulder)
New York has been conspicuously silent about cannabis sales. (Green Market Report)
What doctors are learning about marijuana and surgery (The Wall Street Journal)
Inside Dutchie’s civil war (Forbes)
Help me make this thing work!
I’m crowdsourcing this: I’d love to work with a graphic designer who can help me put together a logo and figure out a coherent creative vision for this newsletter. If that’s you, reach out. We’ll figure out compensation.
Likewise, I’m looking for someone to work with who can help me map out a revenue strategy, sell ads, or just shoot the shit on how to make this thing profitable. And anyone on Substack who can help me network into the recommendation engine world and optimize the various features and landing pages of the platform, that’d be much appreciated.
I’m also interested in figuring out legal protection, as well as getting an editor to save me from myself, and potentially freelance writers so my income isn’t solely tied to my working hours. Again, if that’s you and you’re interested, reach out.
A call to my readers: What other sections do you want to see? Research roundup? A breakdown of deals? People moves? Job boards? What else should I cover? Give me tips because I need them.
For the cannabis public-relations industrial complex: I want to work with you, but here’s how you can help me: I want my inbox to function like a news feed. Send me deals you’re representing, people moves, companies releasing new features, products or partnerships. I’ll figure out what’s interesting to my readers and highlight it in my newsletter. I probably don’t want to hop on a quick call to discuss what I’m working on, and I likely won’t be interviewing your client unless it’s super interesting. That’s a high bar. The whole purpose of this newsletter is to go beyond the press release (other than announcements), so please keep that in mind when you pitch.
I realize once I say this, my inbox might be a deluge, so please don’t expect a response each time. But it’s super useful for you to keep me and my inbox in the loop, so we can work together to educate readers.
Okay, and that’s the first edition. Let me know what you think!