The name “Joe Montana” still carries enormous cachet around the San Francisco Bay Area. It also carries serious investment potential, deal flow now being tapped by the cannabis industry.
Joe Montana the man might have been able to cash in on the goodwill he earned while quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s, but the pro football hall of famer has proven to be more than a nostalgia act good for branding restaurants. He has become a model for how to turn game checks into serious multi-generational wealth. Montana has invested in real estate and software and is also a partner in Liquid 2 Ventures, an early-stage seed fund of the type sought after by startups.
This all makes the 62-year-old’s recent, very large, and very direct entry into the marijuana industry unsurprising while also paradigm-shifting.
Last week, it was announced that Montana and a group of partners have invested $75 million into Caliva, a San Jose-based state-licensed retail and cultivation operation (which also happens to be one of the closest dispensaries, geographically speaking, to the 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara).
The exact size of Montana’s personal stake wasn’t announced, and there are many other prominent investors in the group — Carol Bartz, a former CEO of Yahoo! Inc. among them — but what makes this interesting is Montana’s apparent positioning as an owner rather than a mere brander or pitchman.
Though he is also doing that. In the statement accompanying the big news of his big buy, Montana said that he hoped investments like his could “provide relief to many people” and perhaps be a bulwark against “opioid use or addiction.”
Whether Montana uses cannabis himself as former football players including running back Ricky Williams, lineman Kyle Turley, or quarterback Jake Plummer have publicly disclosed — in Turley’s case, he credits cannabis for literally saving his life from a prescription painkiller and head trauma-fueled tailspin — is unknown.
Montana has yet to say. It may not really matter. Montana’s money, or his magnetism attracting more money, or merely his brand as a successful investor (or a combination of all three) will help Caliva open new stores and launch new product lines, Bartz told the Associated Press. This is a marked escalation from Montana’s previous marijuana-related investment, a modest-by-comparison $4.1 million play in Herb, a cannabis-themed media company.
You could argue that Montana isn’t really breaking any new ground. Investing in a California licensed cannabis company more than a year after retail stores began selling to any customers 21 and over isn’t exactly novel and is even less so given the broader national context, where legacy alcohol and tobacco companies are openly pouring literal billions into cannabis companies.
Even less interesting is Montana’s deployment of the medical marijuana argument in the recreational marijuana era. Sure, there is research saying that cannabis may reduce dependence on opiates and legalization may cut down on overdose deaths, and it’s good that someone rich and famous is saying these things, but they’re also old news. And who among us really thinks Montana is in it for the healing as opposed to the return on investment?
At the same time, money is conservative, and attitudes around cannabis are still retrograde. Montana’s willingness to attach his name to cannabis is a demonstration that there really is very little serious stigma left with the cannabis industry, at least for a football hero with a successful second act as a money man.
TELL US, which celebrity do you think will invest in cannabis next?