WAKEFIELD, Mass., and DENVER – Two of the cannabis industry’s most visible public companies are taking dramatic measures to survive market volatility. Curaleaf Holdings Inc. is pulling out of three West Coast states, and Akerna Corp. is leaving the industry altogether.
Akerna (KERN) will merge with Gryphon Digital Mining, a privately held bitcoin mining company based in Las Vegas. The all-stock deal will allow Gryphon to become publicly traded under Akerna’s ticker. Gryphon’s previous attempt to go public, through a similar reverse merger with net-carbon-neutral cryptocurrency miner Sphere 3D, was called off in April “due to changing market conditions, the passage of time, and the relative financial positions of the companies, among other factors,” according to a Gryphon statement.
Once the merger closes, Akerna Corp. will be renamed Gryphon Digital Mining Inc. Gryphon Chief Executive Officer Rob Chang will maintain his role leading the combined companies. Akerna CEO Jessica Billingly will become one of seven members of the board of directors, with the other six to be designated by Gryphon.
Akerna’s industry departure began in early January with the sale of its 365 Cannabis enterprise resource planning platform to some of its original investors in a deal worth approximately $2.8 million. The deal represented a loss of about $14 million for Akerna, which had paid $17 million in cash and stock for the platform in October 2021. The company’s fire sale continued a few weeks later when it unloaded its original product, MJ Platform, along with Leaf Data Systems and Ample Organics to POSaBIT for $4 million in cash.
According to Akerna, “Both [the Gryphon and POSaBIT] transactions are conditioned on the other transaction closing and both transactions are subject to the approval of the stockholders of Akerna.” The company’s stock fell 30.9 percent to $1.23 per share after the announcements hit on Friday.
Curaleaf (CURLF), with a market cap of $2.65 billion and operations in eighteen U.S. states, will begin closing cultivation and production operations in California, Colorado, and Oregon this month. Curaleaf does not operate dispensaries in those states.
The company’s recent cost-cutting measures also included a 10-percent reduction in payroll for an estimated savings of $60 million in 2023.
“These adjustments were necessary for the future success and profitability of the business and were made as a result of recent legislative decisions, price compression, and lack of enforcement of the illicit market,” a statement from the company noted.
No specifics were provided regarding the “legislative decisions” negatively affecting Curaleaf’s business; however, it’s estimated California’s illicit market moves twice the volume of legal sales.
While California’s retail market has been stifled with just 2.1 dispensaries per 100,000 residents, Oregon and Colorado residents enjoy 17.9 and 14.2 dispensaries per 100,000 residents respectively—falling behind only Alaska, where residents enjoy 20.3 dispensaries per 100,000 people.
“Today’s announcement reflects a decision that we did not arrive at lightly, and one that makes sense for our business at this time,” said Curaleaf CEO Matt Darin. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders to improve margins and fortify our balance sheet by controlling what we can in our business. We believe these states will represent opportunities in the future, but the current price compression caused by a lack of meaningful enforcement of the illicit market prevent us from generating an acceptable return on our investments.”
Curaleaf invested $181 million to acquire Reef Dispensaries to bolster its presence in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah in October 2022 and paid an undisclosed amount to acquire a 55-percent stake in Paderborn, Germany-based Four 20 Pharma in August. The company’s third-quarter 2022 financials reflected “$198 million of cash and $599 million of outstanding debt net of unamortized debt discounts” as of September 30, 2022.
CURLF rose 4.74 percent to $3.76 the day after it announced its West Coast withdrawal.