Privateer Holdings Helps Cannabis Industry Rapidly Transform from Taboo to Transparent

It’s high time the cannabis industry got some serious attention from investors. So it’s a good thing that Privateer Holdings, a company focusing on producing, distributing, and educating consumers about legal cannabis, recently closed on a $75 million round of funding it will use to create new brands of cannabis products.

Privateer Holdings was designed to create, incubate, and to acquire companies in the cannabis industry.  Privateer Holdings portfolio of disclosed investments so far includes:

  • Leafly – Online cannabis information community, with more than five million visitors per month and the world’s largest database of user-generated reviews of cannabis strains, products and dispensaries.
  • Tilray – Grows, processes, packages and ships medical cannabis to thousands of Canadian patients from its state-of-the-art, $25 million, federally licensed research and production facility in British Columbia, Canada.
  • Marley Natural – A premium cannabis lifestyle brand deeply rooted in the life and legacy of Bob Marley, which plans to begin offering cannabis strains, cannabis- and hemp-infused topical products, and accessories in North America later this year.

That’s just the start, though. Privateer has big plans to expand and add new brands as time goes on. And it hopes that the brands it creates and incubates will not only appeal to customers, but will also help legitimize the cannabis industry.

TechCrunch spoke with Privateer CEO and co-founder Brendan Kennedy, who said, “We’re in this really interesting stage at the end of prohibition.  Our focus is on creating brands that fuel change, that change perceptions of the product and user — brands that inspire trust, and brands that create legitimacy.”

Kennedy launched Seattle-based investment firm Privateer Holdings five years ago as a way to back marijuana-related startups. The organization has come a long way since 2010, most recently raising a $75 million Series B round that will help grow the firm’s portfolio further.

“Ultimately, we see the recreational product being somewhat close to a commodity,” Kennedy said. “So, we’ll certainly have different levels: Mass consumption brands, premier brands, connoisseur brands. It will probably be closest to something like micro-brewing, or the wine industry in California.”

With this in mind, Kennedy and his partners decided to build a portfolio of products users could identify with and grow an affinity toward.  This makes Privateer very similar to McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Apple, or any of the other massive consumer-facing brands, but quite different in that they are building brands around a market that, depending on where you live, is not totally legal today.  Kennedy sees that tide rapidly turning.

“This is the next logical step in the transformation of this industry, as it changes from a market that operates in the shadows to a fully transparent market that’s out in the open,” Kennedy said.

A lot of progress has happened in the five years since Privateer was founded. As Kennedy notes, in 2010 medical cannabis was legal in just 15 states, and only about 29 percent of the U.S. population lived in areas. But now medical cannabis is legal in 23 states plus Washington, D.C., and fully legal in another four states. Today more than 72 percent of the population lives in areas where some form of marijuana is legal.

The broader availability of legal marijuana today means not just a bigger market opportunity, but also the chance to be a front-runner in standardizing how people buy — and really, how they think about — marijuana, whether it’s for medical or recreational use.

“Our thesis was that this will be a mainstream consumer product used by mainstream Americans, and they will be looking for mainstream professional brands that don’t insult or offend them,” Kennedy said.

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