Founders Fund invests millions in cannabis venture Privateer Holdings

Silicon Valley investing heavyweight Founders Fund takes a chance on pot

The nation’s burgeoning legal cannabis industry now has a major tech player on its side.

Founders Fund, a leading San Francisco venture capital firm, said Thursday it was making a multimillion-dollar investment in Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that’s backed Leafly, a Yelp-like website for marijuana dispensaries, strains and doctors, and Marley Natural, a premium cannabis brand founded by family of the late reggae legend.

Founders Found is a heavyweight in Silicon Valley circles, led in part by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. The firm’s $2-billion portfolio includes Airbnb, Lyft and Spotify. It’s known for its moonshot investments such as its one in SpaceX, the private spaceflight company.  

“Privateer Holdings has emerged as the market leader in legal cannabis, which we believe will become a massive industry within the next decade,” Founders Fund partner Geoff Lewis, who is leading the firm’s investment in Privateer Holdings, said in a written statement.

“We’ve been evaluating the cannabis industry for several years and we haven’t seen another company that comes close to Privateer Holdings in terms of strategy, professionalism, talent, expertise, and potential for growth.”

Lewis did not respond to a request for further comment.

Privateer’s chief executive, Brendan Kennedy, said the investment was a breakthrough for the cannabis industry, which has so far failed to entice institutional investors -- in no small part because of conflicting state and federal drug laws.

“It’s a key milestone as this industry transitions from a state of prohibition to a state of legalization,” Kennedy said.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have some form of legalized marijuana or decriminalized marijuana possession.

Kennedy said momentum toward legalization was irreversible and the investment by Founders Fund would signal greater acceptance of cannabis in the financial sector.

“I think there’s going to be a sense of panic in the financial world that they don’t understand this industry,” he said. “Six-to-12 months from now there will be investment banks who will have analysts following cannabis like they follow healthcare or agricultural commodities.”

Kennedy said Founders Fund began courting Privateer in 2013 after a friend of Lewis’ used Leafly to fulfill her doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.

The two firms met for 16 months. Lewis even toured Privateer’s holdings north of the border, a company in British Columbia called Tilray, which grows, processes and ships medical marijuana to patients across Canada.

Kennedy declined to say how much exactly Founders Fund was investing. Privateer is aiming to raise $75 million in its Series-B round. The firm previously raised $22 million in Series-A fundraising and a convertible bridge note, a type of loan.

Privateer hopes to accumulate a slew of cannabis brands that will position the company as a market leader if federal prohibition is lifted.

Follow @dhpierson for marijuana business news.

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