U.S. Markets

Q&A: Canada tries trading marijuana in new ETF

NEW YORK (Reuters) - You can smoke it or eat it, and now in Canada, you can trade it in your stock portfolio.

A marijuana plant is seen at Tweed Marijuana Inc in Smith's Falls, Ontario, Canada March 19, 2014. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo

The $120 million Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF HMMJ.TO - the first exchange traded fund in North America that focuses on the legal marijuana market - launched in April on the Toronto Stock Exchange. There are no U.S. competitors, at least initially, as federal law prohibits the drug, making it difficult to set up a fund.

Canada is on track to legalize recreational marijuana by July 2018 after the government put forward legislation in April that will allow it to regulate production but leaves the details of how the drug will be sold up to the provinces.

At least one detail of the new ETF has already changed: in June, its Canadian-based fund sponsor dropped “medical” from the fund’s name in anticipation that recreational marijuana will soon be legal in Canada.

With positions including marijuana grower Aurora Cannabis Inc ACB.TO, medical marijuana companies such as GW Pharmaceuticals Plc GWPRF.PK, and fertilizer company Scotts Miracle-Gro Co SMG.N, the fund attempts to capture the full extent of the Canadian marijuana industry, which Deloitte expects could grow to $22.6 billion if the recent bill to legalize recreational use is successful.

Reuters spoke with Horizons Exchange Traded Funds President and Co-Chief Executive Officer Steve Hawkins recently about what is next for the firm’s marijuana ETF.

Q: With few pure plays for medical or recreational marijuana, how do you decide what goes into the fund?

A: We didn’t want to make this one actively managed, even though we are the biggest provider of actively managed ETFs in Canada. This is more index-rules based. It’s a very new and growing industry and we expect to add new constituents with every quarterly rebalance. With the full legalization news in Canada, there’s a lot of strong growth prospects for this industry.

We worked with Solactive, a German index provider, to create an index that fits in all aspects of the industry. Scotts Miracle-Gro is a part of it because they have been extremely public about their investment in the growth of the marijuana industry going forward with respect to hydroponics and specialized fertilizer. Then there are biopharm companies which are not specifically marijuana growers or distributors but are involved directly or indirectly in a derivative.

Q: Do you have as sense of the fund’s ownership base? Is it mostly Canadian, or are there U.S.-based investors as well?

A: More than 95 percent of the fund unit owners are Canadian. It’s very difficult for Americans to trade Canadian ETFs. That’s just the way that the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) set things up.

Q: Do you expect to launch a U.S.-listed fund?

A: We do have a sister company in the U.S. and we are looking at it but there are number of regulatory issues. It’s only at the state level in the U.S. where marijuana is approved and it creates a lot of legal concerns with respect to banks and stock exchanges. The fact that no large U.S. stock exchange has listed a marijuana stock is very telling. How could we list a marijuana ETF if they won’t list a marijuana stock?

Q: The fund is trading about 8 percent below its level in April. How do you expect to attract more investors to the fund?

A: We launched very quickly and raised $120 million in the first week and a half. Unfortunately from there we saw marijuana stocks themselves take a substantial hit from a performance perspective. We haven’t really seen any outflows from the fund. We are extremely pleased with the progress of the fund.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Matthew Lewis