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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wrigley chewing gum heir sinks money into one of Florida's medical marijuana companies

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 10:57 AM

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The Wrigley fortune was built on its domination of the chewing gum market, but an heir to the confectionery dynasty is investing millions in an industry that not so long ago had a far less wholesome reputation.

In a transaction some construe as the normalization of the medical cannabis industry, William “Beau” Wrigley Jr. led a $65 million round of funding in Surterra Wellness, one of Florida’s 14 licensed medical marijuana operators.

“I haven’t been this excited about a business in a very long time. We have an incredible and incredibly professional team that is approaching this industry with a great deal of discipline,” Wrigley, who also became chairman of Surterra’s board, said in a statement.

The Wrigley funding, which took place last month, is the latest in a number of recent transactions in the state’s budding medical-marijuana industry.

In an agreement announced last month, the Canadian firm Scythian Biosciences Inc. said it intends to spend $93 million to purchase a majority of 3 Boys Farms —- a Florida medical-marijuana operator that has yet to begin selling products to patients —- and an unnamed “health care organization.” In June, California-based MedMen announced it was paying $53 million to acquire Eustis-based Treadwell Nursery, another of the state-licensed “medical marijuana treatment centers.”

Surterra also has a license to sell medical marijuana in Texas and has an application pending in Virginia, CEO Jake Bergmann said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The Wrigley stamp of approval could signify a shift in what is quickly becoming one of the state’s hottest commodities, following the passage of a 2016 constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana in Florida.

“This is something that is really validation for what the team at Surterra has been building. We set ourselves apart by having the highest quality and consistency with organically produced products. And having someone who is a well-known American CEO who’s built and sold brands, to not just invest in us but join us as chairman is really a testament to what the whole team has built here,” Bergmann said.

The Wrigley company, established in 1891, was sold to Mars, Inc., a decade ago. But prior to that, with Beau Wrigley at the helm, Wrigley acquired Altoids and LifeSavers.

The Wrigley-led investment in Surterra is “good for the entire industry,” Bergmann said.

“It lets patients, investors, essentially everyone know that the business has evolved and is maturing to be a professional staple of American industry,” he said.

The latest equity round brings the funds pumped into Surterra by investors to $100 million, according to Bergmann.

The money will be used to expand Surterra’s Florida operations, double the number of employees to 750 by the end of the year, and invest in clinical trials, according to Bergmann.

Since lawmakers in Florida first legalized non-euphoric medical marijuana in 2014, the state’s cannabis industry has been plagued by legal and administrative challenges, delays in implementing the constitutional amendment and drawn-out rulemaking processes that have created frustration for legislators, patients, operators and investors.

A Tallahassee judge last week ruled that a state law capping the number of medical marijuana operators “directly contradicts” the 2016 constitutional amendment, which was approved by more than 71 percent of voters. But it’s unclear what, if any, impact Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson’s decision will have since he did not stop health officials from continuing their current processes.

Still, marrying Wrigley —- whose namesake brands have been found in checkout lanes around the world for more than a century —- with one of the state’s leading marijuana purveyors can be seen as another step toward putting cannabis, which requires a doctor’s approval, in a category with other household-name products.

“This is about helping people. It can give people a normal life, let them go to school and be a normal member of society. It is incredible to craft that opportunity in an industry that is starting from scratch,” Wrigley said in the statement.

The candy heir pointed out that three-dozen states have some sort of authorization for cannabis.

“Once people can get over the perception curve, they see the many benefits of this,” Wrigley said.

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