When Sukhpal Bhupal read that Canada’s biggest licensed cannabis producer, Canopy Growth Corporation, had been listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange last summer, he took the little savings he had and dumped them into the company. It was his first time investing.
In April of this year, with much encouragement from her cousin, a regular smoker and a passionate supporter of legalization, Chian Perkins also took the leap and bought shares in Canopy Growth.
Two years ago, Abdul Osman saw a Worldstar video of a parking booth attendant who got rich through investing and was now advising others, and was inspired to do the same. It was around then that he discovered marijuana penny stocks, and invested in Nutritional High International.
“Obviously, for people like us, coming from the bottom of the food chain, we need something with high risk and high reward because what are you risking when you’re at the bottom? That was my mentality… I found penny stocks and at the same time, I realized the marijuana industry was starting to boom, and the government is going to legalize.”
Despite the legal limbo marijuana is in right now, Osman, a weed user with an encyclopedic knowledge of cannabis, is confident it’ll be a profitable industry. Specifically, he’s eyeing concentrates and infused products, which the average person won’t be able to make at home. And he’s banking on a sky-high profit margin.
“We’re all starting the race at the same time. You can invest in one of these companies in their infancy and make crazy gains,” he said. “You can make money real fast, and that’s why it’s intriguing to young people.”
Between 2011 and 2015, only 11 percent of all Canadian investors were 34 and under.
All 25, Bhupal and Perkins and Osman are part of a wave of relatively inexperienced millennial investors looking to cash in on the young market. Bhupal has expanded his portfolio beyond cannabis — he’s invested in hemp and is now looking at the mining sector and technologies like Dbox. Perkins, who wants pass her knowledge onto other young black people, has enrolled herself in a college course about stocks. Osman, who has already taken a course in personal investing and has inspired a number of his friends to buy stocks, has become obsessed with the stock market and reads the news religiously to make sure his money is safe.
Unlike the majority of millennials, who would apparently rather travel than save for their financial future, all three, by way of their investments in the cannabis industry, have become enthralled by the stock market and the possibilities it opens up for them.
“In general, there’s a high degree of interest,” said Dan Nicholls of the LA-based Marijuana Index, which tracks the top weed stocks in North America. “A lot of younger people, millennials, people in their 30s understand that this is going to be a big industry and they see there’s going to be a lot of money made.”
Overall, between 2011 and 2015, only 11 percent of all Canadian investors were 34 and under. A TD survey last year revealed that 37 percent of millennials didn’t invest at all, 36 percent didn’t know if it was the right time, and and 22 percent felt it definitely wasn’t the right time. For those who didn’t invest, 46 percent cited a lack of money as a reason, while 40 percent said it was due to a lack of financial knowledge. Experts say many of them were also spooked by their parents’ financial losses during the financial crash of 2008.
There’s no hard data that shows an investor breakdown for the cannabis industry, but anecdotally at least, the level of engagement among young people has been high. Experts, like Houston-based cannabis industry analyst Alan Brochstein, say they’ve talked to many investors who describe themselves as young and inexperienced, and that they’re the ones who light up company discussion boards and forums like the Weedstocks subreddit, in conjunction with the industry’s peaks. According to Marijuana Index’s latest survey of about 280 investors, 20 percent were under 35.
“Last month, out of 36 companies on the index, only five increased.”
“I do not regret buying that stock,” Bhupal, who works as a quality technician at a cookie factory, told VICE Money. “My knowledge of stocks and markets has grown exponentially. I’m pretty much looking at any stocks that a young person can afford to buy.”
But some observers say investing in cannabis hasn’t been driven by traditional indicators of financial performance like earnings and cash flow, but the anticipation of a massive recreational market and the hype created by the media over the industry’s path towards legalization.
“It’s highly correlated,” he explained. “There are periods when every stock is up, and other times, like last month, where every stock is down. Last month, out of 36 companies on the index, only five increased.”
These fluctuations could potentially be dangerous, if you’re not a seasoned investor who understands market cycles. Nicholls, 29, told VICE Money he advises his own friends, many of whom are also interested in putting their money into cannabis, to be very cautious.
Stocks rose earlier this month, for example, as Ontario unveiled its plan to open 150 government-run weed stores and to allow online purchases, creating a bit more certainty in what the recreational market will look like.
In August, a relatively slow month in the world of weed news, the Canadian Marijuana Index, which tracks the performance of 18 publicly-listed cannabis companies, dipped nine percent from a month earlier, and average volumes went down 38 percent. Compare that with April, for example, when the federal government unveiled its legalization plans —the index went up by 24 percent, reaching an all-time high in the first week.
“I don’t know much about their competitors, but they are clearly number one in my eyes.”
While the industry has definitely drawn in big pockets, Brochstein said he’s seen spikes in Canadian weed stocks that are not based on the fundamentals of the industry but rather, on the tendency of amateur investors to get caught up in the excitement of legalization.
Perkins does admit she invested in Canopy Growth before she completely understood what it should take to be confident in a stock. She hadn’t looked at the company’s balance sheet or cash flow, but was convinced by her cousin and impressed by a video of what she described as a “beautiful, state of the art facility”
“I don’t know much about their competitors, but they are clearly number one in my eyes,” she said.
Since then, however, she’s started reading extensively about the stock market and also enrolled herself in a college course about investing.
“I know people are interested that are our age, but they just don’t know how,” she said. “I’m black and a lot of my black friends have no idea about investing. So now I’m taking steps to find out more information so I can educate more young people about it so we can grow our wealth.”
Osman, whose goal is to make enough money off the weed market in the short term, eventually wants to pivot to safer, more stable stocks, like Apple or Tesla,
“That’s just my financial goals right now. I just wanna make quick money,” he said. “Most people are taking a wait and see approach, but it is young people who are taking the risk and saying this is something I know, and I’m going to stick with it.”
“Investing has made me feel safer. It gave me knowledge and knowledge is power,”
Bhupal is now saving for retirement, a fund to start his own business, and travel, but wishes he could’ve started earlier. If it were up to him, financial education would be mandatory in schools to help them avoid getting stuck with a pile of debt, as is the case for most of his generation.
“They teach you what a parabola is, but they don’t teach you how to do your taxes, what kind of investment tools are out there, how to use your Registered Retirement Savings Plan, how to take advantage of your Tax-Free Savings Account,” he said. “These are all things I had to learn on my own.”
“But investing has made me feel safer. It gave me knowledge and knowledge is power,” he continued. “My goals have only gotten crazier and bigger because my understanding has grown.”