Former Mexican president Vicente Fox is a big booster of the nascent cannabis industry — but he warns that it’s not a “gold rush.”
“Everybody thinks they’re going to make billions overnight,” Fox told Business Insider on Tuesday at the Four Seasons hotel in New York City. “No, they’re not. It’s a new industry. You have to build brick-by-brick.”
Fox led Mexico’s government between 2000 and 2006. He now sits on the board of Khiron Life Sciences Corp, a Canadian medical marijuana company with significant operations in Colombia.
While Fox said that the cannabis industry does offer attractive risk-adjusted returns, he compared building a cannabis business to his oft-stated favorite beverage brand, Coca-Cola.
“Nobody liked that drink when it came out of the pharmacy, everybody thought it was awful,” Fox said. But over time, Fox said, the company put in the work, developed attractive packaging, and became one of the most well-known brands on the globe.
For cannabis, Fox said, the story’s the same. The companies that develop their products carefully and methodically will be the long-term winners.
“Markets need education,” Fox said. “You have to have a strategy, you have to develop a product. You’ve got to have research and development. You’ve got to produce.”
‘Money’s flowing in by the billions’
For his part, Fox was in New York meeting with top-tier investors, playing the role of matchmaker between hedge funds, family offices, high net-worth individuals and Khiron.
“Money’s flowing in by the billions,” Fox said, adding that when Khiron needs the capital, he doesn’t foresee any problems raising “$50 or a $100 million or whatever is needed.”
Though most US institutions remain on the sidelines of the cannabis industry— it is still federally illegal — Fox said investors are eager to get in.
“More and more I see them open their eyes and they see a return,” Fox said. But, he remains realistic.
“In a way, we have to be conservative,” Fox said. “Because if anything this industry could have wrong, it’s this excessive enthusiasm.”
That enthusiasm has only ramped up since Mexico’s new president— the far-left Andrés Manuel López Obrador — took office on December 1. After Mexico’s Supreme Court legalized non-commercial recreational marijuana on October 31, Obrador has made full-scale marijuana legalization one of his chief objectives for his first few months in office.
Khiron is positioning itself to aggressively to enter the Mexican market and dominate the larger Latin American market, which Fox said has close to 500 million people.
“We have a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C,” depending on how the laws are written, Fox said. And though Fox said the new government will be a “positive” for the cannabis industry, he worries about the economy as a whole under his one-time political rival.
“There’s a lot of doubts there,” Fox said. “But those doubts do not exist on the cannabis space or the cannabis spectrum. And I’m very clear on that.”
After all, Fox compared the fledgling cannabis industry to one of Mexico’s most famous exports.
“It’s very solid,” Fox said. “As solid as berries, or as solid as producing corn, or as solid as producing tequila.”