Private Equity Fund Raises $100 Million for Cannabis Startups

November 4, 2016, 3:45 PM UTC
Marley Natural's line of cannabis, branded for iconic reggae musician Bob Marley.
Photograph courtesy of Marley Natural

With several more states poised to legalize marijuana in some form, investors continue to pump money into the burgeoning legal cannabis industry.

On Friday, Privateer Holdings, the Seattle-based private equity firm focused on cannabis industry investments, said it is the first company in the nascent industry to raise more than $100 million. The proclamation came as Privateer announced that it has brought in an additional $40 million that brings the firm’s fundraising total since its 2011 launch to $122 million.

When Privateer co-founder and CEO Brendan Kennedy told Fortune ahead of Friday’s announcement, he noted that a handful of other companies and funds across the cannabis industry have made announced the opening of $100 million investment funds—but, so far, none of those companies have actually reached that lofty fundraising total.

“We tend not to make bold announcements of things we intend to do, but things we’ve actually done,” Kennedy said of Privateer’s industry-first fundraising tally.

Kennedy told Fortune that the $40 million financing came from a mix of high-net-worth individuals and family offices, with half coming from a single institutional investor (who Kennedy declined to name). Kennedy added that Privateer will use the money to fund strategic acquisitions as well as to grow its existing brands in the U.S. and overseas. The firm’s portfolio includes the Bob Marley-branded cannabis line, Marley Natural, as well as Canadian medical cannabis cultivator and distributor Tilray, and Leafly, a website and mobile app that acts as a sort of Yelp for cannabis products and dispensaries with more than 10 million monthly visitors.

Kennedy also said Privateer plans to invest more than half of the $40 million in foreign markets where further marijuana legalization is either in effect or very close to happening, including Australia and Germany, while Canada plans to discuss legalizing recreational pot. There is more uncertainty in the U.S., where nine states will decide next week on ballot initiatives that would legalize marijuana in some form. Depending on how the voting shakes out on Tuesday, the legal marijuana market in the U.S. could grow by tens of million consumers—particularly if California’s 38 million residents vote to legalize recreational pot.

“Our investors see . . . the end of [marijuana] prohibition as inevitable, so they wanted exposure now, they wanted exposure across multiple geographies, multiple industry verticals, and multiple consumer segments,” Kennedy told Fortune.


The $40 million financing is just the first part of what will eventually be a Series C equity round that Kennedy said will be worth at least $100 million. That would follow the $75 million Series B round the company closed in 2015, which included a multi-million dollar investment from Founders Fund, the investment firm created by tech billionaire Peter Thiel.

The investment from Founders Fund was one of the first instances of institutional money being invested with a company that directly handles cannabis—a major step forward for an industry that has long been mostly ignored by large investment firms, as well as major banks, due to the fact that cannabis remains very much illegal on the federal level.

Now, with California expected to legalize marijuana recreationally (the state legalized medical pot two decades ago) and several other states moving toward their own legal cannabis markets, more and more big investors are warming to the industry. Kennedy did not put an exact timeline on when Privateer plans to close its planned $100 million Series C round, but he confirmed that the firm is currently in discussions to raise the additional $60 million. And, he expects the process “will accelerate after next Tuesday” with the impending votes on legalization.

Certainly, next week’s election results will have a ripple effect through a rapidly-growing industry that some expect to reach nearly $22 billion in legal sales in the U.S. by 2020. “There’s a fear of missing out,” Kennedy said. “The smart investors that we’ve been talking to over the past six months are afraid of waking up in a panic on Nov. 9 and not having some exposure to this industry.”


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