The marijuana industry is one of the hottest new business sectors on the planet, and the lucrative potential of legal pot is drawing a growing number of wealthy entrepreneurs to set aside their former enterprises and cast their fortunes with cannabis. William “Beau” Wrigley Jr. II, heir to the Wrigley’s chewing gum fortune, is the latest billionaire to throw his hat into the reefer ring.
Wrigley, who sold off his family business to Mars Inc. in 2008, just led a $65 million equity financing round for Surterra Wellness, a Florida-based medical cannabis firm. The company currently operates 10 dispensaries in the Sunshine State's embattled medical marijuana market, but the company intends to use some of these funds to expand into other regions.
The chewing gum scion, who will now become chair of Surterra's board, said that he initially had reservations about investing in a federally-prohibited drug, but now believes that Congress will eventually loosen restrictions on cannabis now that 30 states and the nation’s capitol have legalized medical marijuana.
“When I understood the massive benefits, it really changed my mind about the industry,” the 54-year-old billionaire told Bloomberg. “You don’t see too many opportunities to have that kind of an impact in an industry that is being created from scratch.”
Surterra also has an eye on the country's growing recreational market, which is expected to hit $5 billion in value this year, and may soon expand even further since several more states will be voting on adult-use legalization measures this fall. Combined with medical sales, the total American cannabis market is expected to reach $11 billion this year, according to projections from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics.
“Everyone seems to be [investing in the cannabis industry] because they think they’re going to make tons of money,” Wrigley said. “Some will and some will be sorely surprised when they understand how complex it is.”
Wrigley isn’t the first major industry heir to move beyond his family business and invest in legal weed. Just two months ago, Jim Beam heir Ben Kovler announced that he was leaving alcohol behind and putting his money behind Green Thumb Industries, a cannabis cultivation, processing, and dispensing business legally operating across six states.
Many other alcohol industry executives from companies like Budweiser and Blue Moon have also jumped ship and taken positions with marijuana firms, and a number of current alcohol execs have directed their companies to invest in the cannabis sector as well. Even politicians like former Speaker of the House John Boehner — once a hardline cannabis prohibitionist — have been making bets on legal bud.
As America’s business titans finally lose their reservations about legal marijuana, let’s hope the federal government also comes around to seeing the light.