Marijuana Industry Takes More Steps Toward Viability

With high-profile venture capitalists beginning to invest in legal cannabis businesses and a pot-focused nonprofit credit union launching in Colorado, the industry is gaining momentum on the financial front.

For the legal weed industry, the roots of financial growth and stability may be taking hold.

And a big reason for that—beyond, of course, the improving legal status of marijuana—is the infusion of fresh capital into the industry, thanks to a guy who was once portrayed in the Oscar-winning film The Social Network.

Founders Fund, the venture capital fund that counts Facebook investor and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel among its founders, announced that it would invest millions in Privateer Holdings, a private-equity firm focused on expanding the legal cannabis industry. The investment is significant, particularly as the firm has backed big-name companies such as SpaceX, Airbnb, Lyft, and … Facebook.

“We always try to find founders with huge, audacious visions and the chops to actually pull those visions off in markets where they’re going to grow massively,” Founders Fund partner Geoff Lewis told The Washington Post last week. “And this company checks all those boxes.”

The move was welcomed by the National Cannabis Industry Association, which called it a significant step in building the industry’s long-term future.

“It’s a big moment in terms of planting a flag for the industry,” NCIA Deputy Director Taylor West told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Up until now, almost all of the investment has come from individuals, from private investors—often from friends and family of the business owners.”

A Pot Startup in Action

One thing that’s helping startups in the cannabis world is a willingness by businesses in the industry to work together, often with nonprofit groups.

A great example is the Colorado-based Fourth Corner Credit Union, a banking institution focused solely on marijuana purveyors. The business, which received a state charter in November, will remove a long-standing hurdle for pot operators in the state: a lack of access to banking services.

Founder Alex Mason, who worked with his family to launch the credit union, says he was inspired by the challenges that the restrictions were causing for his friends, many of whom worked with businesses and charities taking advantage of the state’s marijuana-legalization law.

“I didn’t think it was fair that my friends in Colorado’s legal cannabis industry were deprived of the one tool they really needed to succeed—access to banking,” Mason told Rolling Stone. “They are legal. They pay taxes. They provide good jobs. They used the system to change the law, but now the law was punishing them for no reason.”

One advantage that may help Fourth Corner get off the ground: It’s well connected through a series of partnerships. Beyond helping businesses, the credit union will offer checking and savings accounts to members of several trade groups, such as NCIA, the Marijuana Industry Group, NORML, and the Cannabis Business Alliance.

“My friends in the legal marijuana business have been given an amazing opportunity, and they all want to do good things for society,” Mason said. “Charitable work is important to me and to them.”

The credit union is expected to open sometime in early 2015.

Founders Fund, the venture capital firm that includes Paypal cofounder Peter Thiel (above), just made a big bet on marijuana. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!