Znaimer

To mark the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, we check in with some of the key players in the B.C. cannabis world. From pot growers to government officials to medical professionals, meet the people helping move the industry forward and keep British Columbians safe. Todays subject is Sam Znaimer, founder of Locarno Capital

In 2014, after 30 years with Vancouver’s Ventures West Capital, where he focused on cleantech and communications investments, Sam Znaimer founded Locarno Capital, a private equity fund manager that invests in the fast-growing cannabis industry. He once advised clients in Canada and the U.S., but the latter is no longer part of his current activity.

What types of cannabis businesses are you involved with?
I’ve invested in about 15 companies covering several different sectors: a safety and potency lab testing company, a company developing unique genetic strains, a couple of software companies, a company developing a metered dose vaporizer so patients can control their exact doses of medicine, an organization developing more energy efficient lighting and, yes, a couple of cultivators.

How does investing in cannabis compare to working with startups in other industries?
The industry is moving very quickly, [like] other kinds of tech areas. You’re working with young, energetic, relatively inexperienced teams. There’s a huge emphasis on developing the right strategy and partnerships. There are two areas where it diverges from the typical tech startup world. The first is, most tech startups develop in an environment where they have a hunch that someone is going to need their product but there really is no proof. In cannabis, an established grey or illegal market is transitioning over to a fully regulated legal market. So you don’t have the market uncertainty you’d have in other areas. Compared to most software e-commerce areas, cannabis is a world that is very heavily regulated, and organizations need to be extremely diligent to understand the regulatory environment they’re working in. That’s very hard because you’ve got to operate in a world where you’ve got to get going and you don’t know fully what the rules will be for some time.

What’s changed since you founded Locarno Capital in 2014?
Like, everything. When I got going on this, Canada had in place a consultation process where the Harper government indicated that they wanted to change the thenactive medical marijuana program for something that would be more tightly regulated and where there’d be a small number of licensees. Today, we have a very active medical program where there are 120 licensees, roughly speaking. 

Check out the November issue of BCBusiness for more profiles of B.C.s pot players