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Why Billionaire Beau Wrigley Is Betting Big On Cannabis | Forbes




In 2017, when billionaire William “Beau” Wrigley Jr. was pitched cannabis as a new investment opportunity by his family office’s managing director, Jay Holmes, he shut it down immediately. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “I’m not excited about wearing orange and possibly ending up in prison.”

Still, Wrigley, heir to the all-Ameri­can chewing gum fortune, couldn’t deny that the burgeoning legal marijuana industry checked off all his investment criteria: a trend in changing consumer behavior, a transforming regulatory environment and multiple applications in health care.

So Wrigley rethought the proposition. He told Holmes to find a target company, and he eventually located one at home in Florida: Surterra Wellness. Wrigley and his team flew down to its 180,000-square-foot operation outside Tampa, the company’s biggest facility where cannabis flower is grown. After inspecting the cultivation site—it was the first time the 57-year-old Wrigley, who says he has smoked pot only once in his life, had seen a room full of cannabis—the group boarded the plane home with the flowers’ sweet, pungent smell permeating their clothing.

“No one had known where we were, and I think they thought we were out getting high,” Wrigley recalls on a sunny afternoon while sitting on the patio of his North Palm Beach estate on Lake Worth lagoon.

Soon after that excursion, he led a $65 million investment round in Surterra, and in November 2018, he replaced the company’s cofounder as CEO. Renamed Parallel, Wrigley’s company now has 42 dispensaries across three states, with 39 in Florida and the rest in Massachusetts and Nevada, with new ones slated to open in Pennsylvania and Texas. To date, it has raised a total of $400 million largely from Wrigley and other high-net-worth individuals. The latest funding round, which closed in 2020, valued the $250 million company (2020 sales) at an estimated $2 billion.

In 2019, Parallel spent more than $100 million on a Boston-based startup, Molecular Infusions, which is working on a THC-infused seltzer. Parallel is also in talks for a roughly $150 million acquisition of a dispensary chain in Chicago, which would bring the company to the city synonymous with the Wrigley name.

It’s also exploring going public in Canada via a SPAC deal, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. Wrigley denies that the company will go public.

In just three years, Wrigley has transformed Parallel into a new kind of cannabis company. On a mission to build the first mainstream marijuana brand, he has stacked his management with executives and advisors from some of the largest and best-known corporations in the world—including Coca-Cola, Walgreens and Patrón Spirits. Wrigley believes his cannabis concern could one day rival his family’s chewing gum business, which he sold to Mars, Inc. for $23 billion in 2008.

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