Big Tobacco Spends C$2.4 Billion To Invest In Cannabis

Today, Cronos Group Inc. (NASDAQ: CRON) announced that it had received a CAD $2.4 billion investment from Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO), the owner of Marlboro cigarette marker Phillip Morris USA.

The investment comes a little more than a year after Corona beer distributor Constellation Brands announced that it would invest billions of dollars in Canopy Growth Corporation (NYSE: CGC). For some, the investments from both Constellation and Altria represent the maturation of the cannabis industry and a sign that cannabis has truly gone mainstream.

For others, however, the investments mark the beginning of the end for the independent cannabis industry as Big Tobacco and Alcohol, which have fought against cannabis legalization for decades, start to take over the market.

The private placement investment will give Altria a 45% stake in Cronos Group. Altria will receive 146.2 million Shares of Cronos at closing at a price of CAD $16.25 per Share, representing a 41.5% premium to the 10-day VWAP of the Shares on the TSX on November 30, 2018. In addition, Altria will receive purchase share warrants, valued at CAD $1.4 billion, which if exercised would give the company an additional 10% in Cronos.

“Investing in Cronos Group as our exclusive partner in the emerging global cannabis category represents an exciting new growth opportunity for Altria,” said Howard Willard, Chairman and CEO of Altria. “We believe that Cronos Group’s excellent management team has built capabilities necessary to compete globally, and we look forward to helping Cronos Group realize its significant growth potential.”

Under the agreement, Altria will have the right to name four directors to Cronos Group’s board of directors, which includes one independent director, and the board will be expanded from five directors to seven. Altria will make Cronos its exclusive partner for all world-wide cannabis-related investments, with some limited exceptions.

News of the deal has caused to Cronos’ stock price to jump by nearly 25% in pre-market trading. Altria’s stock price rose by nearly 2% in pre-market trading. As of publication, Cronos is trading at or around USD $13.00 per share, and Altria is trading at or around USD $55.43.

Pending regulatory approval, the deal is expected to close within the first half of 2019. Earlier this morning, Cronos held a conference call discussing today’s announcement, and a recording of the call has been made available at https://thecronosgroup.com/investor-relations.

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