Canadian Banker Snags $750 Million in Marijuana Business as Rivals Say No

Canadian Banker Snags $750 Million in Marijuana Business as Rivals Say No

Rob Paterson, the chief executive officer of Alterna Savings & Credit Union Ltd., has become the go-to banker for the cannabis industry.

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April 4, 2018

In a down-and-out Canadian town, Bruce Linton dreamed of transforming an abandoned Hershey Co. chocolate plant into the Next Big Thing, a medical marijuana factory. But the cannabis entrepreneur faced a crisis typical of his edgy industry: Banks shut their doors in his face.

It began with Royal Bank of Canada. The 148-year-old blue-chip company dropped him as a customer when it discovered he ran with the cannabis crowd. “We must regretfully inform you,” read the financial Dear John letter he was sent. Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Montreal--they stiffed him, too. He queried Bank of Nova Scotia and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. No luck.

Scouring Google, Linton lowered his sights, but the rejections kept piling up, like roaches at a Grateful Dead concert. No “respectable” bank wanted to take a chance on an untried business selling a product with the whiff of vice.

Then Linton turned to an old-school credit union--that paragon of community, rectitude and caution--and found a middle-aged banker named Rob Paterson. The chief executive officer of Alterna Savings & Credit Union Ltd. seemed an unlikely mark. He barely drank and hadn’t smoked a joint since his university days.

Initially, Paterson dismissed the idea. But then, like any good banker, he hit the books. He and his crew spent several months studying Linton’s business plan. They scoured the regulations on medical marijuana and even interviewed doctors. Paterson was impressed. He came back to his team and declared: “Look, why would we not do this business?” The marijuana company with the funky name, Tweed Inc., had found its bank.

That was three years ago. Since then, Paterson has become the go-to banker for the marijuana industry, and his first cannabis customer, Linton, the no-longer-desperate marijuana executive, is proud to show off his 650,000-square-foot cannabis facility in Smiths Falls, Ont.--a burg of 8,885 slowly rebounding from the shutdowns of the Hershey and Stanley Works tool plants a decade ago.

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