Aphria Inc. says it is taking steps to improve its corporate governance by adopting a formal policy for how company insiders can invest in other cannabis companies and sit on their boards.
The grower of medical marijuana, which is based in Leamington, Ont., announced the new policy for its directors, officers and other key employees on Wednesday in a press release, adding that non-compliance would result in sanctions. However, Aphria didn’t disclose specifics and didn’t reply to a request for comment.
But the effects of the new measures are already being seen.
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Aphria chief executive officer Vic Neufeld and director Renah Persofsky stepped down from the board of Scythian Biosciences Corp. on Tuesday “to ensure best arms-length compliance as part of an expanding partnership” between the two firms, Mr. Neufeld said in a separate press release on Wednesday. Aphria owns 10 per cent of Scythian, a company exploring ways to treat brain injuries with cannabis. Aphria also has a deal in place to sell oils to an Argentine company that Scythian is in the process of buying.
In addition, on April 10, multiple Aphria directors and its chief financial officer disclosed personal holdings they acquired as early as mid-2017 in Liberty Health Sciences Inc., the Florida marijuana producer that has ties to Aphria, according to insider disclosure filings.
The fresh measures come one month after The Globe and Mail reported that six Aphria directors and its CFO personally held stock in newly acquired Nuuvera Inc. Their holdings weren’t disclosed to the market until late March when the Nuuvera shares converted into Aphria stock, raising questions over the potential for conflicts of interest.
Some executives, directors and investors in cannabis companies have made millions amid the Canadian government’s move to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. At the same time, countries around the world are developing their own medical regimes, further piquing investor interest in the sector.
Listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Aphria is one of Canada’s biggest legal marijuana producers, with a market capitalization of a little more than $2-billion.
But many marijuana companies are still in the startup stage. The swift rise in investor interest has boosted the scrutiny on their internal controls and processes. Bolstering these practices is seen as key as companies try to attract bigger investors and better talent by gaining legitimacy.
“The requirement for good governance has never been more important to the company in achieving its corporate objectives,” Mr. Neufeld said in a statement. “We look forward to fulfilling a leadership position in governance in the emerging cannabis industry in Canada.”
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Aphria also said it clarified the role of lead independent director, but didn’t offer details in its press release. The role is held by accountant Dennis Staudt. He has been an Aphria director since 2014 and is the chair of its audit committee.
Mr. Staudt was one of the directors who personally owned shares in Nuuvera, according to trading records. He also acquired shares in Liberty Health last year, a position that was disclosed on April 10.
Aphria also announced other appointments, including hiring Jakob Ripshtein to be its first chief commercial officer starting on May 1 and Christelle Gedeon for the role of chief legal officer as of June 1. Mr. Ripshtein spent the past decade at alcohol company Diageo, whose roster of brands include Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Guinness. Ms. Gedeon was most recently a partner at law firm Fasken, working on a few recent Nuuvera equity sales.
The company added that it’s looking to add to its board.
Shares of Aphria fell more than 2.75 per cent in Wednesday trading to close at $9.79. Since mid-March, Aphria’s share price has dropped by more than 30 per cent.