The marijuana industry is flowering before our eyes. Having recently been considered taboo, the legal cannabis industry is no longer. The legalization of recreational weed in Canada this past October, coupled with the passage of the Farm Bill in the U.S., and roughly two-thirds of all states having passed some form of marijuana legislation since 1996, has legitimized the pot industry.
Cannabis investments are coming from some unlikely sources
With the cannabis industry now a valid business model, we're seeing an outpouring of investments and support from what would have previously been unlikely sources.
For example, the beverage industry has been an active investor in the marijuana industry since August. Molson Coors Brewing kicked things off by announcing a 57.5%-42.5% joint venture with Quebec-based grower HEXO in early August to develop cannabis-infused beverages. Never before had a brand-name beverage maker and a pot company purposefully come together with the intent to produce a cannabis beverage product.
In December, Marlboro cigarette maker Altria followed suit by striking a deal to invest $1.8 billion into Cronos Group, which has yet to close. With tobacco cigarette shipment volumes on a constant decline in the United States, Altria believes that a different type of cigarette might be able to fuel its growth moving forward.
Then, earlier this month, we learned that designer shoe retailer DSW had an agreement worked out with Green Growth Brands to carry nearly 55,000 units of topical creams, balms, and lotions that contain cannabidiol (CBD) in 96 of its U.S. stores. CBD is the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid best known for its medical benefits. Alternatives to dried cannabis are usually very high margin and face little pricing pressures, which makes the DSW agreement such a game changer from a retail perspective.
The Comeback Kid lays his claim in the cannabis arena
Of course, big investments aren't just limited to brand-name companies. Well-known celebrities and public figures want in on the green rush, too.
On Thursday, Jan. 24, TechCrunch announced that former National Football League star quarterback, and four-time Super Bowl winner, Joe Montana would be among a group of investors, along with former Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, investing an aggregate of $75 million into Caliva, a San Francisco, Calif.-based dispensary chain. Caliva plans to use this seed capital to open additional branded brick-and-mortar dispensaries in California, as well as provide direct-to-consumer sales and product to wholesalers.
As TechCrunch notes, this isn't the first time the Comeback Kid, as Joe Montana was known in his NFL playing days, has invested in the cannabis industry. He participated in a round of seed funding for Herb, a media company with a focus on cannabis, and is a general partner at Liquid 2 Ventures. Said Montana, "As an investor and supporter, it is my opinion that Caliva's strong management team will successfully develop and bring to market quality health and wellness products that can provide relief to many people and can make a serious impact opioid use or addiction."
To build on Montana's comments, no one has died from a marijuana-related overdose, whereas the National Institutes of Health pegged overdose deaths tied to opioids at more than 49,000 in 2017.
Given the physical toll a playing career can take on NFL players, Montana hasn't been the first outspoken supporter of medical cannabis, and he likely won't be the last.
Other popular figures want in on the green rush
Although Joe Montana's name might not exactly be synonymous with weed investment yet, one celebrity that does have that connection is rapper Calvin Broadus, who's more affably known as Snoop Dogg.
Back in 2016, Snoop Dogg partnered with Canopy Growth (NYSE:CGC), now the largest marijuana stock in the world by market cap, to roll out a line of cannabis products labeled Leafs by Snoop. Tweed, which is Canopy Growth's best-known brand, initially rolled out three strains of Leafs in October 2016. Although Health Canada's regulations surrounding product branding forbid celebrity endorsements of marijuana products, the simple attachment of "Snoop" on the brand name could provide all the celebrity appeal Canopy Growth needs to sell more product and improve engagement.
In 2018, Snoop Dogg struck again -- this time with his venture capital fund, Casa Verde Capital. Case Verde raised $45 million last year before closing to investors, and is looking to make seed and Series A investments in the ancillary cannabis space. Initially, these investments will total around $1 million, with add-on investment of up to $3 million to $5 million to a limited number of successful seed ventures.
Arguably the most famous Casa Verde investment to date was a $10 million stake in Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, or OCT. This is a company that's researching cannabinoids for medical purposes. In addition to Snoop Dogg betting big on OCT, U.K. tobacco company Imperial Brands and British actor Patrick Stewart have also provided backing.
In other words, the star appeal of cannabis is growing. What's unclear at this point, given the restrictions placed on branding and endorsements in Canada and the U.S., is whether these prominent public figures will be able to make a notable impact on the industry. Only time will tell.