The US hemp sector was unshackled in December and one IPO is evidence of the vast gap between what is allowed there, and what is achievable in Australia.

Ecofibre (ASX:EOF) is nominally Australian — its head office is in Brisbane and they’ve been registered here since 2009.

But the money making business is in the US, where they make nutraceutical products for humans and pets, as well as topical creams and salves. A fibre business is being set up there too.

The fledgling Australian business sells seeds as food. Ecofibre’s US products are impossible to produce here legally — we’ll get to that shortly.

The company is planning to raise $15-20m at $1 a share to list on the ASX at the end of March, and is likely to be the first cannabis-related IPO in 2019.

They’re making a pile of money — mostly out of the US — with fiscal 2018 revenue of $5.7m, yet the last six months returning an unaudited $13.3m.

The full year loss over the last two years has been stubbornly stuck at $8.7m, however.

The Australia-US split

Industrially-grown hemp and the cannabidiol (CBD) compound that comes with it was legalised in the US in December when the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law.

It means all parts of the plant can be used, within the restrictions on medical marketing and food put in place by the regulator, the FDA.

Thanks to state legalisation of cannabis, hemp has been able to grow quickly in the US as an industry.

Hemp is the same species as its more famous cousin marijuana, but generally contains minimal THC (the compound that’ll get you high). It can contain high levels of CBD if bred for that purpose.

In Australia, the shape of hemp is different: it was legalised a year earlier than the US in November 2017.

But the sector did not benefit from prior under-the-radar growing and is heavily restricted: farmers here can only use the seed, although it’s possible to get a licence in NSW to use for fibre as well and that may also be the case in WA.

This is because the cannabis industry emerged as a recreational and dispensary system, whereas in Australia the sector has been set up purely medical which means there are medical-level restrictions on the active elements of the plant.

ASX star Elixinol Global (ASX:EXL) made its fortune in US hemp and while they’re working on a hemp and medical cannabis strategy in Australia, it’s the US hemp business that’s providing the lion’s share of the cash.

Why Ecofibre wants your money

The majority of the money raised is going to commercialise the new fibre business in the US, dubbed Hemp Black — that’ll be about $10m.

Another $4m is going to the Australian Ananda Foods arm.

And anything raised above the minimum $15,000 level will be bank account padding, available for future plans.

Existing shareholders are giving up just 7 per cent of the company to newcomers in the IPO.

Chairman Barry Lambert is actually adding a per cent to his holding, ending up with 24 per cent after a convertible note he lent to Ecofibre is converted to stock in the IPO.

The prospectus can be accessed here.