Image of Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Privateer Holding a Cannabis Investor Group
IF YOU LIKE puns, then you’ll love the American pot industry.
Whether it’s bongs, brownies, or the buds themselves, pot-treprenuers (see what I did there) never saw a product they didn’t think could be improved by adding “Green,” “Canna,” or “Mary Jane” to the name.
“It’s like moths to a light. They go right for the cliché,” says Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm that invests exclusively in post-legalization marijuana startups. On stage today at the WIRED Business Conference, Kennedy said the first crop (it’s so easy) of businesses seeking to take advantage of more liberalized marijuana laws in recent years suffered from a general lack of professionalism and standards. The cheesy branding is just one symptom of an industry whose aesthetic standards are still stuck in the college dorm room.
But for Kennedy, at least one cliché still holds an ounce of truth: for entrepreneurs, problems present opportunities.

'Cannabis is a mainstream product consumed by mainstream Americans.'

That opportunity, as Kennedy sees it, is nothing less than the professionalization of pot. Kennedy quit his standard-issue Silicon Valley day job five years ago to go all in on the prospect that marijuana would soon be widely legal, and as such an industry with immense room to grow. The key insight that led Kennedy to take the risk was the realization that, even as an illegal substance, marijuana was in no way a product on the margins.
“Cannabis is a mainstream product consumed by mainstream Americans,” he said.
To cater to the sensibilities of mainstream consumers, Privateer has raised more than $80 million to fund a portfolio of pot-related companies that reflect the firm’s emphasis on professionalism. Its investments include Tilray, a Canadian mail-order medical marijuana service; Leafly, a kind of Yelp for pot; and Marley Natural, a marijuana and marijuana accessories brand founded in cooperation with Bob Marley’s family.
The idea, Kennedy says, is to build global cannabis brands prepared to meet increasing consumer demand as the tide of legalization rises. Legalization is leading to the commodification of marijuana itself, he says, which is shrinking margins for people who are simply selling pot. The premiums will come to those businesses able to see that cannabis will no longer just sell itself; that innovative products and branding will command consumer attention, just as they do in any other legal business.
Of course, all this depends on the political winds continuing to blow in the right direction, and Kennedy is necessarily bullish that they will. He believes the 2016 election could be a turning point that leads to legal medical marijuana across the country within the year. He also predicts recreational pot could become the national norm by 2017.
If he’s right, the next big wave of pot-related businesses could, once and for all, send the goofball stoner puns up in … .

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