Santa Rosa has rolled out the welcome mat to the marijuana industry, and the first firm through the door is affiliated with none other than the godfather of ganja — Bob Marley.
Privateer Holdings, a Seattle investment firm aiming to build a global marijuana brand based on the image of the famed Jamaican reggae singer, has picked Santa Rosa to be the headquarters for its expansion into the lucrative California cannabis market.
City officials Tuesday approved a request by the company to set up a medical cannabis- processing, manufacturing and distribution center in a nondescript business park in southwest Santa Rosa.
“We really see an opportunity for the legal cannabis industry to make a meaningful contribution to the Santa Rosa economy and community,” said Zack Hutson, a Privateer Holdings spokesman. The private equity firm partnered with the estate of the iconic singer to create its Marley Natural cannabis brand. It is already sold in state dispensaries.
The zoning approval the firm secured Monday was the first the city has granted under recently passed interim rules aimed at making it legal for marijuana support services such as laboratories and oil extraction facilities to operate in the city.
“This is kind of historic,” said David Guhin, director of the Permit and Economic Development department.
Privateer Holdings was founded in 2010 by three venture capitalists who have raised $82 million to date, according to the company. It has three primary investments in the cannabis industry. One is Leafly, a popular mobile app that offers information and reviews of marijuana strains. Another is Tilray, a British Columbia-based provider of medical cannabis products, including raw dry marijuana and oils. The third is Marley Natural, a brand the firm created in 2013 in conjunction with the estate of the singer, who died in 1981.
The company plans to use the Santa Rosa facility to process Marley Natural products, Hutson said.
The city is ideally situated for the venture, located on a major transportation corridor between the prized marijuana growing area of the Emerald Triangle — spanning Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity counties — and the major population center in the Bay Area, Hutson said. Its educated workforce and clear regulations also made Santa Rosa a natural fit, he said.
The Marley Natural brand includes four labels: Marley Green, Marley Gold, Marley Red and Marley Black. Each contains different bud varieties and potencies. The brand also has a line of hemp seed oil body-care products and high-end smoking materials made of black walnut.
Hutson said the parent company has learned a great deal about how to effectively grow, process and sell medical marijuana at its Canadian facility, a $30 million, 60,000-square-foot research and processing plant in Nanaimo, a small community across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver.
The company hopes to draw on that experience as it sets up shop in Santa Rosa, Hutson said.
The move comes as California establishes a regulatory framework for the medical marijuana industry and as voters are poised to decide whether to legalize recreation pot use, a step experts predict could double the size of the cannabis market in the state by 2020.
Hutson indicated Privateer Holdings is not depending on legalization. “It will certainly help and we are hopeful it will pass but the medical market is quite large and more than big enough to support our current business model,” he said.