The top VC deals & investors in cannabis in 2018

By Priyamvada Mathur

January 25, 2019

Thanks to a joint effort by venture capitalists and a few US state legislators, investment in cannabis startups hit an all-time high in 2018. (There, the pot puns are out of the way.) 

With every election cycle, an increasing number of US states have legalized either medical or recreational marijuana. In November, Michigan became the 10th state in the US to give a green light to recreational use, and Missouri and Utah approved medicinal use. Marijuana is now legal to some extent in 33 states, plus Washington, DC. Globally, Canada grabbed headlines in October when it became the second nation in the world (after Uruguay, which approved it in 2013) to fully legalize recreational pot. 

And as the market for legal marijuana grows, so too do the opportunities for startups and investors. Venture capitalists have been quick to jump on the growing trend, so it's no surprise that 2018 was the biggest year ever for VC financing in the global cannabis industry. Investors poured around $881 million into the space across 139 deals, per the PitchBook Platform. That's more than double the amount invested in 2017 and more than eight times the total from four years ago. 

It seems that startup opportunities in the cannabis industry are growing at the same pace as the number of unique ways to consume pot, from manufacturing cannabis-infused chocolates to developing a drug discovery platform to distributing marijuana vaporizers. We've taken a look at the biggest VC fundings and investors of the year in the cannabis sector.

The biggest deals in cannabis

The largest fundraise of the year in the cannabis space went not to a company, but to an investor, albeit it one that in many ways operates like a startup: Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, the first private equity firm to exclusively invest in cannabis, took the top spot in 2018 with its $100 million Series C. 

Privateer focuses on investments and strategic acquisitions in the industry. Its portfolio includes Leafly, an app that helps consumers find cannabis-based products nearby, and Tilray, a manufacturer of cannabis products that raised $153 million in its IPO in July. Click on the logos to view each company's PitchBook profile. 

The top VC investors in cannabis

The top investors in the cannabis industry in 2018 include some focused on the legal cannabis industry specifically, such as New York-based Altitude Investment Management and Casa Verde Capital, located in Los Angeles. But the list also includes prominent investors with portfolios that extend beyond the space, such as Tiger Global Management, which raised one of the biggest venture funds of the decade last year and has also invested in big-name startups like PostmatesInstacart and Allbirds. Click on each investor to see more information about the deals they conducted last year.

What comes next?

This year is expected to continue to build on the growth of the past few years in cannabis, especially with several US states likely to vote on legalizing marijuana to some degree. Less than a month in, 2019 has already provided a few big headlines. VC investment in cannabis is nearing $100 million, per PitchBook data, and big-name investors, including NFL legend Joe Montana, are getting involved. There are also several acquisitions in the works. Among them, Privateer-backed Tilray announced on Tuesday that it would acquire Natura Naturals, the parent company of a licensed cannabis grower. 

Sean Doyle