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UPDATE: Aurora Cannabis makes a 'blessed' buy of organic marijuana producer

7:51 am ET January 15, 2019 (MarketWatch)

By Max A. Cherney

Whistler agrees to sell for $132 million in stock, Aurora exec calls it the 'crown jewel' of organic pot

Aurora Cannabis Inc. said Monday it intends to acquire the one of the last independent members of the so-called "blessed eight," a group of marijuana companies given the first approval to move cannabis genetics from the black market into the legal regime.

Aurora (ACB.T) (ACB.T) said it would pay up to C$175 million ($132 million) in stock for Whistler Medical Marijuana Corp., a privately held British Columbia-based producer of cannabis, which is known in Canada for its ability to produce organic cannabis. "I would call [Whistler] the crown jewel of organic cannabis production world-wide," Aurora Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley said in a phone interview. "It's the first organic-certified company, and now we've essentially got the market to ourselves."

Battley said Whistler will help with its near-term strategy of growing cannabis itself ( until the company is able to secure high-quality product from suppliers at a low enough price, which at the moment isn't possible.

As recreational cannabis legalization has kicked off, consumers have faced a confusing swath of products to choose from, said Rebecca Brown, chief executive of the cannabis ad firm Crowns Agency. "It's hard for people to decode who is who, what is what," she said. "It's a good buy for Aurora because it gives them an ability to make the kind of differentiated claim people are familiar with."

Don't miss: The weed middleman that expects to make billions as the Sunkist of pot (

Brown said the words "organic" and "Whistler" are also a declarative, clear statement of the brand, -- and Whistler, the British Columbia resort town, is associated with positive things and as a "place brand" Canadians are very familiar with it. "It feels outdoorsy and natural and makes sense," she said.

The "blessed eight" used to have a considerable advantage in the market, because they were able to amass large libraries of genetics when their competition wasn't able to do so, Robes Cannabis CEO Maxim Zavet said over the phone. Zavet founded and took cannabis company Emblem Corp. public in 2016. The advantage for the eight companies in terms of their control over the best-quality cannabis genetics is less pronounced today, but they still retain advantages.

"They have been able to plant their flag and build a reputation in the medical cannabis industry and industry as a whole," Zavet said.

Delta 9 Cannabis remains the only independent member of the blessed eight. All of the other companies have been acquired by the likes of Aurora, Cronos Group Inc. and other large, public cannabis producers.

Marijuana IPOs in 2019: These companies could be the next hot pot stocks (

Battley said buying Whistler would contribute to Aurora's plan to log positive EBIDTA in the fiscal second quarter and positive cash flow in the fiscal third quarter. Aurora is set to report its fiscal second-quarter results Feb. 11 before the opening bell. The company issued guidance last week and expects revenue of C$50 million to C$55 million, which missed analyst estimates (

Aurora stock rose 6.1% Monday, as the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ) climbed 2%. Rival Canopy Growth Corp. (WEED.T) (WEED.T) stock surged 12%, after announcing its intent to invest $100 million to $150 million in New York state ( and that it was granted a license to process and produce hemp there.

-Max A. Cherney; 415-439-6400;

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 15, 2019 07:51 ET (12:51 GMT)

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