The football Hall of Famer’s association with Caliva, a cannabis company in California, has paid big dividends even as he’s remained in the shadows
It was the second cannabis investment for Montana, who also participated in a seed round for Herb, a cannabis media company, in 2017.
Despite his investments in the industry, the Hall of Famer has been tight-lipped publicly about his involvement — or experience with — cannabis.
In 2019, he told TechCrunch that his interest in the plant is centred around its medical potential.
“As an investor and supporter, it is my opinion that Caliva’s strong management team will successfully develop and bring to market quality health and wellness products that can provide relief to many people and can make a serious impact on opioid use or addiction,” Montana said.
Beyond that, he has stayed quiet on the cannabis front. Still, the association with Montana, a three-time Super Bowl MVP, has been a boon for Caliva, a seed to sale cannabis company headquartered in San Jose.
“Joe’s investment paved the way for other very well-known industry moguls to invest in Caliva, like Tom Chapman, Ryan Graves and Carol Bartz,” CEO Dennis O’Malley told The GrowthOp. “Joe continues to add value as his venture capital firm often provides us the best new technologies companies to pilot.”
O’Malley clarified that the $75 million investment did not come from Liquid 2 Ventures — a venture capital firm run by Montana, entrepreneur Michael Ma, and physicist Mike Miller.
Montana was introduced to Caliva, which operates more than 250 dispensaries across the state, in addition to a delivery service with 300-plus drivers, through Ron Conway, O’Malley said.
Conway, who has a net worth of approximately $1.5 billion, is known as one of Silicon Valley’s “Super Angels.” His investments include Google, Facebook and Reddit, among other ventures.
“Joe shared his story about belief in plant-based solutions vs. opioids and we were thrilled to have him as a strategic investor,” O’Malley said.
Rapper Jay-Z is also involved with Caliva, which has plans to expand beyond California and into other states. Jay-Z is employed as the company’s chief brand strategist.
The celebrity investor marketing strategy
In Canada, the regulations concerning celebrities and cannabis brands are more stringent than the U.S. No celebrity may endorse a cannabis company, nor can any company celebrate any lifestyle or health benefits that could be associated with the plant.
“It’s not the government’s intention to promote the use of this drug,” Liberal MP Bill Blair told Global News in 2018.
“We are not allowing the heavy marketing that we’ve seen with other products, alcohol for example, and so there will be severe restrictions on things like celebrity endorsement and [company] sponsorship.”
Companies have creatively circumvented these restrictions by announcing partnerships that focus on the brand, rather than the celebrity.
Snoop Dogg is partnered with Canopy Growth Corp., for instance, but the product line, in Canada, is known as LBS, an acronym of Leafs By Snoop, the name the product line goes by in the U.S.
Canopy also works with Seth Rogen and spun out another company, Houseplant, to bring that brand to life.
Additional Canopy is partnered with Drake. Drake is the majority owner in More Life Growth Co., a cannabis producer based in Scarborough. Despite these partnerships, you won’t see any association with the celebrities in any branding or advertising, beyond press releases and word of mouth.
The stringent regulations have been criticized by many, citing it as yet another barrier for the development of the Canandian cannabis market.
“It’s very interesting how high that regulatory burden is when you compare it to other industries.”
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Written by Sam Riches