Aspen’s Jordan Lewis teams with ‘High Times’ to create one of biggest investment firms in marijuana industry
May 1, 2014
Aspen businessman Jordan Lewis has joined forces with two influential partners to create an investment firm that they say will be a heavyweight in the budding marijuana industry.
Lewis, owner of Silverpeak Apothecary, a recreational marijuana store in Aspen, has teamed with cannabis industry entrepreneur Michael Kennedy and agriculture investor Ben Zaitz in the private equity venture. They said they aim to raise $300 million for investment in all aspects of the marijuana business, from genetics to distribution and sales.
Lewis said the retail and medical marijuana industry provides "the single greatest agriculture opportunity of the century."
They announced their partnership Wednesday at the Agriculture Investment Conference in New York, which was attended by about 800 investors from around the world.
“Aspen has always been a great incubator of ideas but not always a great incubator of industry.”
Aspen entrepreneur in marijuana industry
Kennedy was part of the entity that already had started High Times Growth Fund earlier this year. High Time's endeavor will merge with the business entities of Lewis and Zaitz and keep the High Times Growth Fund name. The men said in a conference call from New York this week that they "reached an agreement to agree" and directed their attorneys to attend to the details.
The three partners bring different expertise into the investment fund — as well as the goal to raise $100 million each.
Lewis provides hands-on experience and insight in operating a recreational pot shop. He also is building a greenhouse in the midvalley to grow marijuana and supply his operation. Silverpeak will provide the prototype for retail, wholesale and growing operations that High Times Growth Fund wants to help nurture through investments. However, Silverpeak will remain independent of the new venture, and there will be no direct investment into it by the venture fund, Lewis said.
Kennedy brings the branding and vast connections of High Times Magazine and affiliated businesses. He helped found the magazine 40 years ago. The magazine and Kennedy, who is also its general counsel, have been at the forefront of the fight to legalize pot.
Zaitz is a major agriculture investor who has made his mark in crop production, daily farming and cattle operations.
Lewis said he has known Zaitz for years and has been persistently urging him to hop into the rapidly expanding marijuana industry.
"He would brush me off, thinking I'm nuts," Lewis said. In reply, Lewis said he told his friend he was an "f—ing idiot."
Eventually the expanding sales and projected growth of the marijuana sales turned the debate in Lewis' favor. Colorado and Washington legalized sales of recreational marijuana for buyers 21 years of age and older this year after approval by voters. A growing number of states have approved sales of medical marijuana.
Estimated sales of legal marijuana will reach $3 billion in 2014, and it will balloon to $6 billion by 2018, according to the trade journal Medical Marijuana.
Zaitz said he would bring expertise in vertical integration in the agriculture industry to the marijuana business. He has helped build operations that milk the cows, grow the feed for cows, and package and deliver the milk.
High Times Growth Fund will invest in companies that strive to perfect the genetics of marijuana strains, establish sustainable and environmentally friendly growing operations, distribute the products efficiently and create effective retail operations, the men explained. Investments could range from $5 million to $50 million.
"We're pioneering these operations out of the ground," Zaitz said.
The booming industry is attracting many people that know nothing about it, he said. High Times Growth Fund will provide its expertise as well as capital to business operators that pass muster. The investment firm will issue operating licenses under the High Times name and recoup its investments.
Lewis said High Times' ability to bring its famed marijuana leaf logo to the table is invaluable. Kennedy said the High Times website is visited by 4 million unique visitors per month.
"We'll flaunt the leaf," Kennedy said. "There's no one in the cannabis industry that hasn't had a relationship with us."
Kennedy acknowledged that there is "some risk" still facing the marijuana industry, though he feels it is minor. The rapid growth has occurred during the Obama administration. Kennedy said he doesn't see the federal Justice Department's position changing on states' decisions to sell recreational and medical marijuana if the next president is a Democrat, Libertarian or Republican.
"They will essentially have to deal the hands dealt them," he said. He anticipates 32 to 35 states will allow sales of medical marijuana "by the time a new regime comes into Washington, D.C."
Kennedy, 77, has been working for more than 40 years for the legalization of marijuana. "I frankly never thought I'd see the day," he said.
It's odd to experience High Times emerging from a "subterranean" role, Kennedy added.
Lewis said the Aspen roots of his business could well shape the marijuana industry on a national scale, since Silverpeak is providing the business model that High Times Growth Fund will promote.
"Aspen has always been a great incubator of ideas but not always a great incubator of industry," Lewis said.