Investor Peter Thiel's fund buys into marijuana business

AP News
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Posted: Jan 08, 2015 8:01 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — The pros are getting into pot.

Founders Fund, the $2 billion San Francisco venture capital firm run by Silicon Valley stars including Peter Thiel, co-founder and former CEO of Paypal, is investing in Privateer Holdings, a marijuana company that owns several pot-related brands.

The companies declined to disclose the size of the investment Thursday, but described it as a "multi-million dollar" participation in a $75 million fundraising effort by Privateer. The deal had been rumored last year.

Privateer, based in Seattle, owns the Canadian medical marijuana producer Tilray and the pot information service Leafly. It is also launching a brand of marijuana and products with the family of Bob Marley called Marley Natural.

Founders Fund partner Geoff Lewis, who is leading the firm's investment in Privateer, said in an interview that he believes the broader legalization of marijuana is inevitable.

"Public sentiment is there, and it crosses political lines," Lewis said.

There are 23 states that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and Colorado has legalized its recreational use.

There has been some pushback, however, despite growing public support. The states of Nebraska and Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, saying that they are being overrun with marijuana from across their borders.

And Founders Fund does not expect a quick turnaround on its investment in Privateer, Lewis said. Founders is investing in Privateer because it believes Privateer can eventually establish mainstream brands that will be recognized and trusted as marijuana becomes legal and socially acceptable, he said.

Privateer was founded in 2010 and has previously landed $22 million in funding.

Before the announcement Thursday, Privateer's funding came mostly through wealthy individuals and investment offices that steer private family funds.

Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy thinks the Founders investment will lead to more professional investment into marijuana-related businesses and help advance the push toward legalization.

"One of the important milestones for this business is having access to capital, and significant capital," he said. "There will be a lot of people who wake up (now) and realize they need to look at this industry just as they have looked at other emerging industries around the world."

Founders Fund was an early investor in Facebook and has current investments in SpaceX, Spotify and Airbnb.