Week in Review: New Financing Benchmark, Oregon Weighs Early Rec Sales & Gardening Giant Enters MJ

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By John Schroyer

Privateer Holdings wraps up a record-setting financing round, Oregon lawmakers consider accelerating the recreational marijuana sales timeline, and Scotts Miracle-Gro dips its toes into the cannabis industry via a huge acquisition.

Here’s a closer look at several notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.

New High for Green Rush

The marijuana industry is coming into its own more and more every year, and 2015 is no exception. Privateer Holdings, the Seattle-based private equity firm that specializes in the legal marijuana trade, has broken new ground in the investing arena, closing a $75 million round of funding this week.

“This was really important. For the marijuana industry to succeed over time, there are a lot of barriers that have to be overcome, and capital is certainly part of that,” said Alan Brochstein, a cannabis stock analyst. “(Privateer has) raised the bar for this industry. I only wish there were more people in the industry of that caliber.”

The news that Privateer successfully raised $75 million to bolster its various business interests – which include the popular website Leafly and Marley Natural, a global cannabis brand based on reggae legend Bob Marley – could have an immense ripple effect that translates into big benefits for other marijuana companies, Brochstein said.

Brochstein emphasized that Founders Fund, started by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, took the lead in publicly putting money into Privateer’s financing round. That could kick off a domino effect of even bigger capital influxes into the industry from other high-net worth investors.

The fact that Founders Fund got involved “is really one of the biggest events of 2015 so far, because it’s opened the door for other institutional investors to get past the stigma and potential risks associated with this industry,” Brochstein said.

Rec Sales in Oregon by Summer?

A novel idea being floated around the Oregon Capitol has taken hold of several high-profile lawmakers: Allow established MMJ dispensaries to start selling recreational cannabis on July 1, the same day adult use and possession becomes legal, in order to undercut the black market quickly.

Of course, the concept is a long way from becoming law, and so far there isn’t even a bill that’s been written or introduced. The original timeline that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is working with would allow entrepreneurs to begin applying for business licenses in January 2016, with shops likely opening up in the second half of next year.

But just the fact that Republican state Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli is talking about moving up the start of recreational sales has been enough to get the ball rolling. And many dispensaries are chomping at the bit when it comes to that possibility.

“It would be great for us,” said Shane McKee, owner of Shango, a Portland dispensary.

Scott Grenfell, the co-owner of Rip City Remedies, another Portland dispensary, said such a move could triple or quadruple the number of customers dispensaries get on a weekly basis. He estimated that there are around 65,000 MMJ patients currently, but noted that the state has nearly four million residents, and that about 20% of those are likely marijuana consumers.

“I would say it’s several times more customers possibly. There’s a lot of people that it would open it up to,” Grenfell said. “Let’s keep Oregon money in Oregon. Why send people to Vancouver (in Washington State) when we have options here that can be making money for the state?”

The Oregon legislative session runs until July 11, so lawmakers have plenty of time to come up with a bill to make the idea a reality. There are plenty of logistical hurdles to consider, not the least of which is the question of inventory at dispensaries, and it’s far from a done deal. But lobbyist Brian Boe said he thinks the notion has enough support to pass, even if it is a last-minute deal approved in June.

A ‘Miracle’ Acquisition

Yet another indication that the marijuana plant is working its way further into mainstream corporate America: Earlier this week, Scotts Miracle-Gro announced it has acquired the California hydroponics firm General Hydroponics, along with its sister company, Bio-Organic Solutions Inc.

General Hydroponics is quite popular with cannabis growers, giving Scotts exposure to a booming industry.

The price tag is impressive: The deal is valued at $130 million, according to Columbus Business First, which ranks as the most expensive acquisition in 16 years for Scotts. The move is expected to bring Scotts another $40 million in annual sales.

Talk about a sign of how established businesses view the financial opportunities that marijuana represents.

The longtime gardening company is already worth $2.8 billion, but Scotts’ CEO, Jim Hagedorn, has been talking openly about the marijuana industry for at least four years. Hagedorn sees marijuana as an up-and-coming agricultural opportunity, and the move to acquire a hydroponics manufacturer means that he and the company are likely going to be targeting cannabis cultivators as potential new customers.

Scotts is just the latest in a string of mainstream businesses to capitalize on the burgeoning popularity of marijuana, as well as the likelihood that the industry will get even larger in coming years. Hagedorn said last May, for example, that he views cannabis as a way to attract younger customers and expand the company’s bottom line. And the fact of the matter is, Scotts won’t be the last longstanding non-cannabis company to realize that.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizmedia.com