Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Privateer Holdings, has made a big splash in the cannabis community over the last six years or so, bringing in capital and his business acumen to the industry. Through Privateer’s companies, Leafly, Tilray and Marley Natural, Kennedy has helped provide medical cannabis, as well as valuable information, to patients and consumers, created positive publicity for the industry and has helped expunge the criminal records of those convicted of marijuana offenses in the past. Despite some very good things, the prospect of “Big Marijuana” has been touted by both prohibitionists and even by some in the cannabis community as a negative for the cannabis legalization cause.
Brendan Kennedy – CEO Privateer Holdings Kennedy, just ahead of his keynote at the International Cannabis Business Conference in Vancouver, Canada, October 13-14, candidly took on any and all questions, not afraid to tackle the elephant in the room and provide advice for those who could potentially be his competitors in the market someday.
Anthony Johnson: Let’s just address the elephant in the room right away, how do you respond to claims that you’re “Big Marijuana”, taking over small businesses or taking advantage of Jamaica? Brendan Kennedy: I got into this industry six years ago because I saw the opportunity to attack prohibition from a different angle. Activists groups and political campaigners use the angles of activism and politics to attack prohibition, and many are doing great work that I admire and support.
To me, business is also form of activism, and I wanted to see how we could attack prohibition from that angle by creating companies that would help bring the cannabis industry into the mainstream, convert the skeptics and ultimately usher in an end to prohibition by winning trust and confidence of policymakers by demonstrating that a responsible industry would be a better alternative to the status quo. Large and small businesses can and should coexist in the industry. There’s a lot we can accomplish when we collaborate and combine our different strengths.
A rising tide lifts all boats. There will be room for both big and small businesses as this industry grows. In the case of Marley Natural and Jamaica, the Marley family came to us three years ago interested in the idea of a partnership. We saw the opportunity to work together and celebrate a great cultural icon like Bob Marley, to take his message of freedom and spread it around the world, to take his social justice message and apply that to the cause of ending prohibition around the globe.
We created the Marley Natural brand through a lot of collaboration with the Marley family, so we want to do everything in a way that respects his family and the rich tradition of cannabis in Jamaica. We are giving back to Jamaica through Marley Natural’s philanthropic program Rise Up. In general, Privateer does a lot of things that the industry and community love, including supporting clinical trials around the world via Tilray supplying cannabis and cannabis products to researchers internationally. The movement at large cheered when Leafly placed an ad in the New York Times.
Many of those in the business understand that we also help other entrepreneurs raise capital. But we have been a target of some and that comes with the territory. It’s our job to address that skepticism, though, and I think we accomplish that through both our attitude toward the industry and our contributions.
AJ: Can you explain how the Rise Up Expungement Day and other socially-conscious efforts have come about? BK: Social responsibility is really at the core of Marley Natural and so far our efforts have been focused on two general themes: First, helping small farms and agriculture in Jamaica. We are funding various projects there and using our assets to educate and train small farmers in good agricultural practices.
And second, helping people who have been harmed the most by prohibition, particularly minorities who have been disproportionately harmed by the drug war a, with events like Rise Up Expungement Day, where we help people clear their criminal record free of charge. We are working on other projects to help those harmed by the drug war as well and look forward to hosting many more Rise Up Expungement Days.