What Is Horizontal Integration in the Cannabis Industry?

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Contributor, Benzinga
March 30, 2023

Companies are looking for ways to expand their operations and increase market share in the rapidly growing cannabis industry. Horizontal integration is one popular strategy that involves merging with or acquiring other companies operating in the same or related fields. 

By horizontally integrating, cannabis companies can diversify their product offerings, increase their distribution channels and gain a competitive edge in a crowded market. Read on for a closer look at how cannabis companies are using horizontal integration to scale their operations and explore some of the benefits and challenges associated with this strategy. 

How Does Horizontal Integration Work?

Horizontal integration in the cannabis industry refers to the strategy of expanding a business by acquiring or merging with other companies operating in the same or related fields. This approach allows existing companies to scale their operations, increase their market share and diversify their product offerings. In the rapidly evolving and highly competitive cannabis industry, horizontal integration has become a popular way for companies to strengthen their position and capture a larger share of the market.

By horizontally integrating, cannabis companies can expand their reach and distribution channels, streamline their operations and gain access to new markets and customers. For example, a cannabis producer may acquire a cannabis retail store chain to gain more control over the distribution and sale of its products. A cannabis brand could acquire a company that specializes in cannabis extraction to improve the quality and consistency of its products.

Types of Horizontal Integration in the Cannabis Industry

In the cannabis industry, horizontal integration takes the form of acquisition, merger and internal expansion


Mergers involve two companies that are roughly equal in size combining into one larger entity. This allows both companies to benefit from shared resources while still retaining some autonomy over their individual operations. For example, two cannabis delivery companies might merge in order to combine their fleets and increase efficiency while still allowing each company’s management team to remain in charge of their respective operations. 


Acquisition is a common method used by companies to expand their market share and product offerings within the same product category. It typically involves buying out smaller companies. For instance, if you own a cannabis edibles company, you might acquire a competitor to gain access to their customer base and recipes. 

This can also give you an opportunity to explore new markets or technologies that may have been difficult to obtain through other means. Essentially, acquisition provides a means to achieve business growth by bringing in external resources to supplement or complement an existing operation.

Internal Expansion

Internal expansion involves taking existing products or services and adding new ones without acquiring another company or merging with another firm. This could include launching a new line of products or expanding into a new geographic market with existing products and services. For instance, a cannabis dispensary might launch an online store to reach customers outside its geographic area without having to acquire another company or merge with an existing one. 

Advantages of Horizontal Integration for Cannabis Businesses

When it comes to the cannabis industry, where the market is constantly evolving, and opportunities are growing rapidly, horizontal integration can offer many benefits to existing cannabis business owners. 

1. Improved Market Share and Increased Revenue

Combining forces with similar cannabis businesses allows for an immediate expansion in market share, customer base and distribution channels. When two businesses operating in the same product line merge, the combined entity benefits from the collective revenues and customer base. This helps in gaining a competitive advantage over other players in the industry, potentially increasing their profitability and further strengthening their presence in the market.

2. Expansion of Product Offerings

Horizontal integration enables cannabis business owners to expand their existing product offerings to include a wider variety of strains, infused products and accessories. By partnering with other businesses that specialize in different aspects of the market, they can offer a broader range of products to their customers, ultimately improving customer loyalty and making their business a one-stop shop for cannabis enthusiasts.

3. Enhanced Economies of Scale 

When two businesses join together, their combined production capacity often leads to reduced costs and improved economies of scale. This advantage is particularly crucial in the cannabis industry, where production and distribution costs can be challenging to keep in check. The larger scale and scope of operations can result in efficiencies through pooled resources, workforce and supply chain integration. These cost-saving measures can then be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices, leading to increased demand and greater market share.

4. Sharing Resources and Expertise

In a rapidly advancing industry like cannabis, having access to the latest technology and expertise can be a game-changer. Horizontal integration allows cannabis business owners to not only share resources but also benefit from the professional expertise of their counterparts. Sharing knowledge and expertise can lead to improved cultivation, processing, distribution, marketing and management practices, paving the way for faster growth and higher market penetration.

5. Stronger Bargaining Power

Collaboration between businesses in the cannabis industry results in a more robust and influential position with suppliers, distributors and regulatory authorities. The increased size and market share can lead to better terms and bigger discounts from suppliers, more influential negotiation power with regulatory agencies and overall increased leverage within the industry.

6. Risk Diversification

Partnering with other cannabis business owners in different locations can provide a level of risk diversification for your business. As regulations and market conditions can vary greatly from one state to another, having a presence in multiple markets ensures that the overall business can withstand unexpected changes or challenges in specific regions.

Disadvantages of Horizontal Integration for Cannabis Businesses

Despite the benefits, there are some disadvantages that can negatively impact a cannabis business’s operations, growth and long-term success.

1. Loss of Autonomy

Horizontal integration typically involves a substantial change in the business model and organizational structure of the companies involved. This often results in a loss of autonomy for the business owner as they become a part of a larger entity with more complex decision-making processes. The unique vision and creative control that made the original business successful could potentially be diluted or lost entirely because of new corporate mandates or initiatives.

2. Increased Regulatory Scrutiny

The rapidly evolving landscape of cannabis legalization in North America and other parts of the world brings with it increased scrutiny from government and regulatory bodies. As horizontally integrated companies become larger and more dominant in their respective markets, they can expect more attention from regulators. This added scrutiny could lead to the imposition of high compliance costs and harsher penalties for noncompliance, which can stifle growth and eat into profit margins.

3. Integration Challenges

Merging businesses with different cultures, systems and operational structures can be a complex and time-consuming process. The initial costs of integration can be significant, and potential issues – such as dissonance between staff from different companies, technological incompatibilities or inefficiencies brought on by combining operations – can persist even after the initial process is complete. These challenges can divert valuable time, effort and resources from the core business as well as introduce uncertainty and instability to the newly merged company.

4. Monopolistic Concerns

A successful horizontal integration strategy can lead to a reduction in competition, thereby raising concerns about potentially monopolistic behavior. Antitrust laws, which exist to prevent such market dominance, could be used to break up cannabis businesses that have engaged in horizontal integration. In addition, consumer perception such as a preference for small, independent cannabis retailers could turn against large, integrated businesses.

5. Dependence on the Acquired Businesses

Horizontal integration generally involves acquiring other companies in the same industry to expand market share and streamline operations. The growth and profitability of the merged entity will depend on the performance of the acquired businesses, introducing an element of risk to the parent company. If the acquired companies do not perform as expected, the parent company's financial position could be negatively impacted.

6. Financial Risks

Industrywide shifts, such as changes in consumer demand, fluctuations in the price of cannabis or changes in regulatory frameworks, can impact the performance of horizontally integrated companies. Because these businesses have a larger market share and a more interconnected network of assets/resources, they could be more vulnerable to such shifts, leading to financial instability and risk for the business owner.

Does Each State Handle Horizontal Integration in Cannabis the Same Way?

Because of various state-specific regulations in place, the extent to which horizontal integration is permissible can differ significantly across the United States.

The diversity in regulatory approaches to the cannabis industry at the state level owes much to the ongoing classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. As a result, individual states have been left to devise and implement their own legal frameworks for the cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis.

Although some states still have vertical integration requirements, many have moved away from this model in recent years. States such as Colorado and California, for example, have eliminated or relaxed their vertical integration requirements to foster a more competitive and diverse marketplace.

A Potential Cost-Effective Way To Grow

Horizontal integration is an effective way to grow your business while saving time and money. You gain access to new resources while saving on overhead costs such as marketing expenses or facility rental fees. And when you have access to more knowledge bases from different team members with different backgrounds and experiences, you open up a world of possibilities for innovation that will help you stay ahead of the competition. Carefully consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of vertical integration to decide whether this strategy can help you meet your long-term goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions


What are two examples of horizontal integration?


Two examples of horizontal integration are merger and acquisition.


What is the benefit of horizontal integration?


The benefit of horizontal integration includes increased market share, economies of scale, access to new markets, diversification and an improved supply chain.


What is the difference between vertical and horizontal diversification?


Vertical diversification refers to expanding a business by integrating forward or backward in the supply chain, while horizontal diversification refers to expanding a business by adding new products or services in the same market or industry.