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Marijuana investment firm gets more cash to plow into the pot business

April 7, 2015, 9:00 PM UTC
Droplets of oil form on the surface of a Cannabis plant in a state-owned agricultural farm in Rovigo
Droplets of oil form on the surface of a Cannabis plant in a state-owned agricultural farm in Rovigo, about 60 km (40 miles) from Venice, September 22, 2014. Italy legalised marijuana for medical use last year, but the high cost of buying legal pot in a pharmacy meant few people signed up. Starting next year, a high-security lab in a military compound in Florence will grow cannabis for Italy's health care system in an experiment the government says could bring safe, legal and affordable marijuana to suffering patients. To match Feature ITALY-MARIJUANA/ Picture taken September 22, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (ITALY - Tags: HEALTH DRUGS SOCIETY BUSINESS AGRICULTURE POLITICS) - RTR49U7K
Photograph by Alessandro Bianchi — Reuters

Marijuana investment company Privateer Holdings has closed a $75 million fundraising round that it will use to grow its existing cannabis industry businesses and seek out potential acquisitions.

As Fortune reported in January, the Series B funding includes a multi-million dollar stake from Founders Fund, the investment firm created by PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel. Tuesday’s closing, which Privateer claims is the largest influx of private capital into the legal cannabis industry, brings the four-year-old company’s fundraising total to $82 million.

Privateer currently owns and operates Tilray, a mail-order medical marijuana operation based in Canada that boasts one of the world’s largest federally-licensed cannabis research and growing facilities. The company also owns Leafly, a Yelp-like website for dispensaries that has more than 5 million monthly visitors, and it recently announced Marley Natural, a company that will sell recreational cannabis strains branded under the name of legendary reggae musician Bob Marley.

The investment in Marley Natural, launched in partnership with members of the deceased singer’s family, generated headlines for Privateer last fall. But the backing from Thiel and Founders Fund played a major role in attracting the latest round of investors.

Though researchers expect the legal cannabis industry to bloom into a market worth more than $10 billion by 2018, companies within the industry have struggled to attract big investors. After Privateer getting the backing of institutional investor Founders Fund, the company was immediately able to enter into “a new series of conversations with people who were large, strategic investors who were interested in making seven- and eight-figure investments — something that was really unfathomable five years ago,” Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy told Fortune.

Kennedy declined to name any of the new investors, but he said that group included some institutional firms. That represented a major shift from Privateer’s earlier fundraising conversations, which mostly included wealthy individuals and small, independent investment offices.

“[Prior to Founders Fund’s involvement] smart investors were aware of the opportunity, but didn’t necessarily feel comfortable about making an investment in this industry. And, that changed with Founders Fund and Peter Thiel,” Kennedy said.

With additional funding now secured, Privateer plans to spend money expanding its current subsidiaries while also exploring strategic acquisitions along with other new ventures, according to CEO Kennedy. He added that the potential for more losening of marijuana laws could open up new opportunities domestically. (Kennedy specifically mentioned the CARERS Act, a bill currently under consideration in Congress that would remove federal restrictions on medical marijuana in the nearly two dozen states where it is legal.) Privateer is also interested in overseas investment in countries where marijuana laws are shifting — just like in the U.S. — including Israel, Spain and even Jamaica.

At the very least, Kennedy said, Privateer expects Marley Natural’s sales operation to be up and running by the end of this year. The brand currently has about a dozen employees and has been busy recruiting others to a team that is developing Marley Natural’s line of products, which will include cannabis strains as well as a variety of lotions and accessories.