All posts by Emily Jarvie

Experienced Team Ready to Ride the Safe Supply Drug Trend With Patience and Prudent Investmentsexperienced Team Ready to Ride the Safe Supply Drug Trend With Patience and Prudent Investments

Governments around the world are pivoting away from a prohibition approach to the street-level drug trade in order to mitigate the harm related to its often toxic supply. 

Safe Supply Streaming (CSE:SPLY) was founded two and a half years ago in response to the opportunity presented by the burgeoning safe supply ecosystem. Its goal is to help end the opioid crisis, which claims the lives of 21 people in Canada every day.

Bill Panagiotakopoulos, Chief Executive Officer, told Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine that the company sees tremendous promise in what he calls the “third wave of drug reform,” projected to be a US$360 billion–plus total addressable market.

This “third wave” follows cannabis, which was legalized for recreational use in Canada in October 2018, and then psychedelics, which have shown promise in clinical trials as potential treatments for a range of physical and mental health conditions. 

“People, politicians and regulators are waking up to the fact that ‘The War on Drugs’ is a failed policy,” Panagiotakopoulos explains. “It’s cost us as a society over $1 trillion, millions of lives and left us with a highly toxic drug supply.”

Safe Supply Streaming believes that as more jurisdictions decriminalize and legalize psychoactive compounds and other drugs, new opportunities will emerge. As such, it acts like a venture studio and invests in and incubates companies positioned to play a pivotal role in the safe supply space. 

The company’s streaming model allows institutional and retail investors alike unique access to up-and-coming companies in the safe supply environment. 

“We’re going out and identifying companies, in most cases startups, and looking to see which ones are going to win. Being really early investors, we are giving our shareholders the first mover advantage,” Panagiotakopoulos says.

In some cases, Safe Supply Streaming can offer investors the ability to own a stake in these companies before they reach the capital markets. “That’s something not traditionally available to your average investor,” he notes.

Panagiotakopoulos says the company is looking at the entire safe supply space and placing bets on a diverse range of entities.

The company’s initial investment is in a business at the forefront of ensuring the safety of drugs: London, Ontario–based CannaLabs. The laboratory services company is researching a range of psychoactive compounds, including MDMA and DMT, and is Health Canada–licensed to conduct analytics and testing for compounds both imported and made in Canada to support safe supply programs. 

Safe Supply Streaming also has a pipeline of other candidates that it expects will lead to the expansion of its portfolio in the next six to 12 months.

“There’s so much going on in the third wave of drug reform,” says Panagiotakopoulos, pointing to fentanyl test strips as an example of the type of safe supply product or service the company would look to invest in.

Fentanyl test strips are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is also a major cause of overdoses and often shows up in MDMA, cocaine and other street drugs.

Until recently, fentanyl test strips were considered to be drug paraphernalia in the United States. But they can serve as an important tool in preventing opioid-related deaths. In Canada, 81% of apparent opioid toxicity deaths between January and March of 2023 involved fentanyl, up 42% since 2016, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The market for fentanyl test strips is expected to reach US$12.64 billion by 2030 and $6.77 billion in the United States alone by 2027.

Safe Supply Streaming is also exploring opportunities around new uses of the coca plant — known for its psychoactive alkaloid cocaine — such as in energy drinks, functional foods and pharmaceuticals.

Safe Supply Streaming’s leadership team features former executives from across the cannabis and psychedelics industries, as well as finance professionals who have the experience and knowledge required to make informed investments in the safe supply ecosystem. 

Collectively, the members of Safe Supply Streaming’s team have raised and deployed more than C$3.5 billion in capital during their careers and created more than $10 billion in shareholder value. 

Panagiotakopoulos believes it is important that the company be led by professionals who have worked in the drug ecosystem and have a deep understanding of its rules and regulations. Still, he says it isn’t easy to pick winners when it comes to cannabis and psychedelics investments.

“The best people to deal with these types of investments are those who have spent significant time in the cannabis world through its scheduling and ultimate legislation here in Canada or who have navigated the complex legal framework of having a ketamine clinic or conducting clinical trials of psilocybin to treat various ailments,” Panagiotakopoulos explains.

Safe Supply Streaming’s President is Ronan Levy, who has 15 years of capital markets experience building cannabis and psychedelics companies.

Levy co-founded and was Executive Chairman of Reunion Neurosciences, served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Field Trip Health & Wellness and founded Canadian Cannabis Clinics and CanvasRx, which were both acquired by Aurora Cannabis in 2016. 

Setti Coscarella, Vice President of Corporate Development, worked as lead strategist of reduced-risk products at tobacco giant Philip Morris. Panagiotakopoulos notes that Coscarella’s experience in the highly regulated tobacco industry is important, in addition to his consumer packaged goods expertise.

The CEO himself brings around a decade of experience working in Canada’s cannabis sector, including participating in roundtables with Health Canada to shape the country’s licensing regime.

Among Safe Supply Streaming’s advisors are Aaron Sonshine, a partner at leading law firm Bennett Jones, and Michael Astone, a former managing director at Cantor Fitzgerald and current Chief Executive Officer of ArcStone Securities and Investments.

“You can have the right thesis but the wrong timing or the right timing but the wrong company — we’ve mitigated those risks,” Panagiotakopoulos says.

“We’re at the right time, which is early on, and the right sector, which we believe is going to be big.”

Safe Supply Streaming listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange in October, as well as on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange under the ticker QM4, and is working toward an OTC listing in the United States.

“We didn’t wait another two years until we were at a different valuation, and this allows everybody to make that investment with us,” Panagiotakopoulos says.

“We are hyper-focused on where the market is going to be in the next three to five years, and we’re making our bets. The fact that we’re publicly traded allows everybody to make those bets along with us.”

This story was featured in Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine.

Learn more about Safe Supply Streaming at https://safesupply.com/.

BIGG Digital Assets: Diversified Company Portfolio Positions This Cryptocurrency Innovator to Succeed in All Environments

The future of cryptocurrencies lies in a compliant and regulated ecosystem, according to BIGG Digital Assets (CSE:BIGG), a diversified, “compliance-first” crypto company.

The Vancouver-based group adopted this ethos in 2019 and has since made it its motto of operations, Chief Executive Officer Mark Binns told Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine in a recent interview.

Given catastrophes of late in the crypto space that include the collapse of crypto exchange FTX and the failure of crypto lender Voyager Digital, governments are pushing for regulation to better protect consumers, says Binns.

“The market is moving toward us. The need for products of our nature, a compliant nature, is rising, and the existence of non-regulated entities in the space is decreasing,” Binns notes.

“To operate in Canada, we follow very strict regulations for the storage and security of our customers’ data and their crypto assets, so that makes us safer than other, non-regulated exchanges.”

BIGG Digital works across three different areas within the cryptocurrency space: trading, forensics and Web3/Metaverse.

“We invest in and run businesses that we believe can profit from a compliant and regulated future of cryptocurrency,” Binns explains.

Additionally, BIGG Digital’s operations are agnostic to crypto prices. Regardless of a digital asset’s value, the company generates revenue from crypto transactions and its forensics and Metaverse deals, sheltering it from the sector’s price volatility.

“You can have access to multiple different plays inside the crypto universe by investing in BIGG Digital Assets, with the security of diversity as well,” says Binns.

“If one sector is hotter, like crypto trading, we have a trading platform, or if trading is a bit quieter and the US government is pushing for crypto regulations, our crypto forensics business would be stronger.”

The company also has minority investments in crypto tax software company ZenLedger and lightning network developer LQwD Fintech, in addition to having about 200 bitcoins on its balance sheet.

BIGG Digital wholly owns and operates one of the few regulated cryptocurrency trading platforms in Canada, Netcoins.

In fact, the company’s leadership actually helped Canada pioneer its cryptocurrency regulations, working with regulators as far back as 2018 toward robust crypto trading regulations to ensure customers’ investments are safe and secure within exchanges.

The holder of restricted dealer licences approved by the British Columbia Securities Commission and Canadian Securities Administrators, and a money services business designation from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, Netcoins offers investors easy access to cryptocurrencies through compliant and regulated brokerage services.

Following its success in Canada, Netcoins launched in the United States in California, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia in December 2022, followed by Utah, Kentucky, Colorado and Kansas in the first quarter of 2023.

“We’re going to continue pushing into the US market, which is moving toward a regulated and compliant model,” Binns says.

BIGG Digital also plans to continue adding products to its Netcoins offering. “We expect to add staking for our customer base and more assets, more coins,” Binns says.

Through another of its businesses, Blockchain Intelligence Group (BIG), BIGG Digital provides tools to law enforcement that help to reduce crypto crime.

Among its offerings is Qlue, a technology designed for law enforcement, investigators and compliance that can track blockchain transactions, and BitRank Verified, which provides risk scoring of Bitcoin and Ethereum addresses and transactions for financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges, Bitcoin ATM operators, audit firms, retailers and funds.

BIG also offers cryptocurrency training to organizations. Its clients so far include employees at major banks such as Scotiabank, TD Bank, CIBC, BMO, Citibank and HSBC, as well as entities such as the US Secret Service, the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Interpol Singapore.

“Our customers range from police forces in small towns all the way up to the US government,” Binns explains.

Binns believes that as Bitcoin and crypto grow in relevance to the broader financial system, they will also be used more in crime. “That’s just an unfortunate fact,” he notes.

As a result, law enforcement and governments globally will need to have a better handle on what is going on, Binns says, so BIG’s products will become more valuable.

Binns also points out that BIG faces limited competition within the crypto forensics space and that there are high barriers to entry for new companies.

“We have 3 billion attributions on our blockchains, pieces of data that anonymize the blockchain dating back to 2015, and probably $25 million in investment, so it’s very hard for a startup company to come into this space,” he explains.

“The players are set and the pie keeps getting bigger which, in turn, is going to make our market share by dollars bigger. Every time we go into a pitch, there may be only two or three competitors pitching for that business, not 20.”

In the months and years to come, BIG intends to add more blockchains and coins that it can track with its crypto forensic tools, as well as to enhance the tools’ other features.

BIGG Digital also believes the upside on the Metaverse is huge, which is why the company holds a 30% stake in Web3 company TerraZero.

“When Facebook renames itself Meta you know that there’s a reason and a significant amount of investment going in,” says Binns.

Run by Dan Reitzik, the founder of DMG Blockchain Solutions, TerraZero generates revenue from a range of Web3-related services, including land purchase and resale, land leasing and renting, virtual asset design, land brokering, statistics and predictive analysis, and event hosting.

The company has carried out brand activations in the Metaverse for big names such as cosmetics conglomerate Estée Lauder and beer brand Miller Lite.

Binns says that brands are increasingly seeking to interact with their customers in the Metaverse.

“We went from Web1 where they pushed messages to customers, to Web2 where they interacted on social media, and now Web3 is going to be the virtual environment,” he explains. “It won’t be uncommon for every major brand in the world to have a presence in one Metaverse or another in the next few years.”

Binns says he expects big things from TerraZero, with the company set to go public in the next month or two. “I expect to see significant growth from them on the revenue side in the coming months and years.”

While BIGG Digital is agnostic to crypto prices, Binns is confident Bitcoin prices will top six figures in the next crypto bull run.

He believes the next Bitcoin halving, which is projected to occur about a year from now in April 2024, will be a significant catalyst for digital assets like Bitcoin. “Bitcoin is currently sitting around US$30,000, and I believe the future of Bitcoin is in excess of $100,000 in the next bull run and even higher in the future. Today’s bear market will give way to another bull market, but I don’t know if that will be in six months, 12 months or 18 months. But when crypto runs, it usually runs very aggressively.”

“We keep building our business and adding customers, and when the bull market hits, we’ll be able to take advantage of that.”

This story was featured in Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine.

Learn more about BIGG Digital Assets at https://biggdigitalassets.com/

Irving Resources: As Japan Opens Back Up, so Do This Successful Explorer’s Chances to Find More High-Grade Gold and Silver

A softer Japanese economy, technological advancements, more favourable government policies and a shift in the local attitude toward mining mean it has never been a better time to explore and develop in Japan, according to Vancouver-based junior gold explorer Irving Resources (CSE:IRV).

Formed as a spin-out in a 2015 plan of arrangement between Gold Canyon Resources and First Mining Finance, Irving’s Co-Founders, Akiko Levinson and Dr. Quinton Hennigh, created the company with a focus on exploration in Japan.

Levinson, who is also Irving’s President and Chief Executive Officer, has more than 25 years of experience in the junior mining industry, previously serving as President of Gold Canyon Resources.

Hennigh, an economic geologist with more than 25 years of exploration experience with major gold mining firms, is Irving’s Technical Advisor.

They have attracted notable shareholders to Irving, including Newmont, the company’s largest investor, holding a stake of just under 20%, and Sumitomo Corporation, which holds about 5%. 

Through subsidiary Irving Resources Japan GK, Irving has been operating in Japan for six years with a growing portfolio of 100% owned projects located across the islands.

According to Levinson, who is Japanese, the company is not seen as foreign. 

“Most of our team members are Japanese or foreigners who reside in Japan,” Levinson says, adding that having an understanding of the Japanese language and culture gives Irving an advantage while operating in the country. 

Irving’s focus is on high-silica, high-grade epithermal gold and silver veins, with such ore suitable for smelter flux in one of the many existing base metal smelters in Japan. Precious metals such as gold and silver are recovered during the smelting and refining process. 

Hennigh told Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine that this is a simple, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to produce gold and silver, as it does not require significant capital investment and generates very little surface waste. 

“You simply identify deposits that have a high silica content along with appreciable gold and silver that are suited for smelter flux,” says Hennigh. “It’s an absolutely elegant model for developing gold mines.” 

Irving’s flagship project, Omu, is located in an epithermal vein district on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. Exploration to date has focused on three targets: Omui, Hokuryu and Omu Sinter.

“We have completed drilling on all of those targets, in some cases multiple drill programs, and we think we have substantial discoveries of high-grade gold and silver veins,” Hennigh notes. “We’re seeing potentially economic deposits at all three targets.” 

Another main project is Yamagano, which encompasses the past-producing Yamagano Gold Mine, where mining dates back about 400 years. The site has never been explored using modern methods.

Acquired in September 2020, Yamagano is located 11 kilometres southwest of Sumitomo Metal Mining’s Hishikari Gold Mine, which Hennigh points out has produced about 8 million ounces of gold and is one of the highest grade gold mines in the world. “We think Yamagano is a very close analog that could have similar potential,” he explains. 

Hennigh also highlighted a group of tenements that the company has recently applied for on the Noto Peninsula. Totalling 337 square kilometres with four target areas, the tenements have displayed strong stream sediment gold, silver, arsenic, antimony, mercury and gold anomalism.

“We have identified several areas where there are very clear gold anomalies that have no historical record,” he says. “In other words, there could be substantial epithermal vein occurrences that are yet to be recognized.” 

Influencing Hennigh’s and Levinson’s decision to focus their exploration efforts on Japan was a perfect alignment of factors. 

A softening Japanese economy has made exploration and mining cheaper in the country, just as the sensitivity around mining has diminished with past problem projects now cleaned up and remediated. Meanwhile, revamped mining laws have made it more feasible for exploration in Japan.

“With Japan’s demographic shift, its aging population, many of these small towns in rural areas would fade away, so they welcome that we bring economic life to their town,” Hennigh says.

On the geology side, Hennigh highlights advancements in the understanding of epithermal gold systems in recent years as another factor. “That bodes well for discovering new blind deposits that were not well recognized previously.” 

For Irving, working in Japan is all about building relationships and trust. The company has made an effort to build relationships with every stakeholder it works with, from local farmers to major players in the mining sector. 

“Akiko has gotten to know and sat down and had tea with many of the farmers in the area,” Hennigh explains. “She knows the mayor of the area where our flagship Omu project is quite well. We see these as important relationships to build to make everyone comfortable about the changes and opportunities within mining.” 

At a higher level, the company has built strong relationships with Japan’s old mining houses and with government agencies such as the Japan Organization for Metals and Energy Security (JOGMEC), an organization administered by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan responsible for the stable supply of various resources.

“These groups that we’ve connected with are part of the overall system that is going to be required to make new mines happen in Japan,” Hennigh says.

In 2023, Irving plans to accelerate exploration across its portfolio by adding a third drill rig after being handcuffed by pandemic-related travel and other restrictions for the past three years. 

It is building up its roster of staff to operate the drills, including expats from foreign countries and Japanese drillers.

According to Hennigh, Irving expects to drill three promising targets at its flagship Omu project and commence testing of a new target at the project, Maruyama, which has returned silica-rich surface samples with good values of gold and silver. 

At its Yamagano project, Irving has been carrying out geophysical work in preparation for a drill program to commence in the latter half of 2023. 

Hennigh says the addition of a third drill rig is a major milestone for the company because it will allow Irving to carry out two concurrent drill programs: one in Hokkaido at its Omu project and one in Kyushu at its Yamagano project. 

“By the end of 2023, I expect to operate three drills on a routine basis in Japan once we’ve got all our people in place,” Hennigh concludes. “This is a big step that dramatically accelerates our drilling and our ability to test targets.”

This story was featured in Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine.

Learn more about Irving Resources at irvresources.com

Trulieve Cannabis: Staying True to Proven Growth Plans and Core Values Turns Trulieve Into a Cannabis Powerhouse

Trulieve Cannabis (CSE:TRUL) is one of the cannabis industry’s major success stories, with many of its biggest achievements occurring in the four years since it became a publicly traded company. The Trulieve team focused on innovating and leading Florida’s medical cannabis market at first and then expanded into new jurisdictions, the prudence of its strategy confirmed by strong profitability.

Importantly, this seed-to-sale, fully integrated multi-state operator is also making a mark by supporting the communities it calls home and championing cannabis policy reform.

As Trulieve Chief Executive Officer Kim Rivers explains, community and advocacy have been at the heart of the brand since the beginning.

In one example, Gadsden County, a majority-minority community in northern Florida where Trulieve built its first cultivation facility, has seen the company grow to become its leading employer, according to Rivers.

“We’ve had a material impact on the jobless rate there and pride ourselves on the difference we’ve made in that community,” Rivers says. “That story has been repeated in other communities that we’ve gone into, particularly on the cultivation and manufacturing side of the business.”

Since its launch in 2015, Trulieve has expanded quickly, now operating more than 4 million square feet of cultivation and processing capacity, more than 175 dispensaries and with operations in 11 states. The company is the largest medical cannabis operator in Florida, having recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of its first retail sale in the state, and is a top player in its other core markets of Pennsylvania and Arizona.

As it grows, the company has been able to keep its values of community and advocacy at the forefront by entering into new markets with specific characteristics. “Where we chose to make investments and how we chose to go into a community is thoughtful and purposeful,” Rivers explains. “It allows us opportunities to have a deeper connection with the communities, customers and patients that we serve.”

In addition to Trulieve’s internal community-focused initiatives, such as its supplier diversity program, the company works with a range of organizations, including the Epilepsy Foundation and veteran’s and children’s initiatives. Rivers also highlights the support of individuals qualifying for expungement of low-level cannabis offenses.  Among other benefits, expungement provides these individuals the opportunity to remove the conviction from their record, to participate in the industry and to vote to influence future cannabis policy.

A combination of customer focus and financial discipline has allowed Trulieve to thrive where other cannabis companies have not, Rivers notes.

“We made the decision early on to focus on branded products through branded retail, and we’re not shy or hesitant about growing our scale in both supply chain as well as our retail network,” she says. “That gives us the ability to build more durable relationships with the customer and have more control over the customer journey.”

This approach is clearly working, with the company reporting strong Q2 2022 results despite a challenging macroeconomic backdrop, including pressure on the company’s wholesale segment.

Trulieve reported a 49% year-over-year revenue increase in the quarter to US$320.3 million, including a 3% rise in retail revenue to $298.6 million. “We’re proud to see strong customer loyalty continue in the first half of the year,” says Rivers.

The company also posted a 17% EBITDA increase to $110 million and finished the quarter with $181.4 million in cash. 

The success of Trulieve’s approach is also evidenced by its expansion of operations into other markets, including Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Almost one-third of the company’s retail operations were located outside of Florida as of the end of the second quarter.

While Rivers notes that each new market has unique challenges due to differing regulations, Trulieve has found many aspects of its Florida business model to be transferrable, including operating and manufacturing procedures and market analysis.

According to Rivers, the company has been thoughtful in terms of how it can share resources across its broader platform and gain efficiencies where possible, citing the company’s nutrient program as an example.

Currently, the company is unable to transport cannabis products across state lines, but it can transport nutrients, and its nutrient blends are used across all of its sites in the US. “We also do a good bit of our research, development and innovation work in Florida because we have the ability to do that at scale,” she says.

Rivers also points to the company’s team as a key strategic advantage. “We have individuals who have operated within our Florida market and been a meaningful part of our scaling of operations from when we were initially three stores to now more than 100 stores in the state,” says Rivers. “Being able to take these lessons and apply learnings across different markets has been invaluable.”

For Trulieve, the year 2022 is about organic growth, as more states enhance their medical cannabis programs and pivot toward recreational use. Rivers says the company has focused on its branded products and branded retail while optimizing the portfolio of Arizona-based Harvest Health & Recreation, which the company acquired in a $2.1 billion all-stock deal in October 2021. 

As part of that effort, Trulieve divested non-core assets and operations, one recent example being the decision to discontinue wholesale operations in Nevada. 

“Sometimes it’s just as important what you don’t do as what you do,” Rivers says. “The goal is to enter 2023 as a stronger company positioned for the opportunities we see ahead of us.”

Despite recent remarks by political leaders in support of cannabis policy to cover state banking or criminal justice, Rivers notes that progress around cannabis reform on a federal level has been slow.

However, she remains hopeful that the encouraging discussions will morph into actual policy. “It’s very apparent that this is a popular issue due to the amount of conversation that it is getting before the midterm elections,” says Rivers.

One particularly important jurisdiction for Trulieve going forward is the southeast US. Rivers says the company has been “very bullish” on this region, citing recreational cannabis initiatives in Maryland as just one reason.

Another key area for growth is recreational cannabis opportunities in the company’s home state of Florida, which already has an 800,000-patient-strong medical cannabis market.

Trulieve backs the Smart and Safe Florida Act, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the recreational use of cannabis by people aged 21 or older in Florida. The company is hoping it will appear on Florida’s November 2024 ballot. Trulieve has contributed $5 million to help get the proposed amendment on the ballot.

“That will be a massive catalyst for our industry and certainly for our business, with 21 million residents in Florida and up to 130 million tourists visiting the state a year,” Rivers concludes. “We think our strategy will continue to serve us well in emerging markets as they develop but certainly also as the landscape on the federal side transforms.”

This story was featured in Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine.

Learn more about Trulieve Cannabis at www.trulieve.com