EXCLUSIVE Cannabis producer Cresco nears $2 bln purchase of Columbia Care - sources

The logo for the Columbia Care marijuana dispensary is seen though a window outside the clinic in New York
The logo for the Columbia Care marijuana dispensary is seen though a window outside the clinic in New York January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

March 22 (Reuters) - U.S. cannabis producer Cresco Labs Inc (CL.CD) is in advanced talks to buy rival Columbia Care Inc (CCHW.NLB) for around $2 billion, three people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

If a deal is finalised it would be one of the largest in the U.S. cannabis industry to date. The industry, still in its infancy, continues to operate in a regulatory environment defined by a patchwork of laws that vary from state to state.

A deal could be announced as soon as Wednesday, the sources said. Exact terms of the deal could not be learnt.

The people cautioned that talks could still fall apart and highlighted that the companies have overlapping footprints in multiple states, including in the key New York market, and could require significant divestitures - a possible hurdle in reaching an agreement.

The sources requested anonymity as the discussions were confidential.

Cresco Labs and Columbia Care did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Cannabis sales in the United States have been booming and are forecast to reach $46 billion by 2026, according to industry research firm BDSA, as states like New York and New Jersey open up.

Still, margins and profits remain thin and analysts and investors have called for consolidation to improve profitability by finding savings in scale.

The AdvisorShares Pure U.S. Cannabis exchange-traded fund (MSOS.P) has lost 19% of its value so far this year.

Columbia Care stock has risen about 9% this year but it is down almost 70% since it started trading in 2019. Cresco Labs shares have slumped 63% from a 2021 peak.

Both companies are listed in Canada and trade over-the-counter in the United States as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and the two large U.S. stock exchanges cannot allow companies that grow or sell the plant to list their shares.

Cresco is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter financials on Wednesday, while Columbia Care last week postponed its earnings to Thursday.

Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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Shariq reports on energy markets with a focus on US physical refined products and global financial oil markets. He is a regular contributor to energy M&A and corporate moves at top shale companies including oil majors and top oil focused private equity firms. He was nominated for 2020 Reuters journalist of the year for exclusive coverage of mass layoffs and bankruptcies in the shale patch during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shariq graduated in journalism and holds six years of experience covering energy equities and markets. Contact: 918884014512