Robert Leidy, scion of a wealthy Palm Beach family, struck a serious pose that night before officials in the small town of Athol.
In a dark suit and tie, he fixed his gaze on a careful script. There was no mention of the deep-pocketed investors backing him or the fishing yacht his company, Sea Hunter Therapeutics, was named after. Leidy talked about his lofty mission: to help a nonprofit business grow marijuana in an old tool mill there, and sell the product at its stores to people suffering from illness.
But in his focus on the healing qualities of marijuana, Leidy offered little about the company’s actual, larger ambition. Despite the high-minded speech that October night in 2017, Sea Hunter had largely taken over operations of the nonprofit, Herbology Group, as part of a much broader strategy to capitalize on the state’s new recreational pot market and become a dominant player in Massachusetts and beyond.
In a state where no firm is legally permitted to own — or control — more than three stores that sell recreational pot, Sea Hunter is poised to test that limit. It has boasted to investors that it operates or has significant power over a dozen or more marijuana retail licenses. But you won’t see the name “Sea Hunter” on the shops; instead, they will carry names like Herbology, Verdant, and Ermont.
Sea Hunter, along with a large rival called Acreage Holdings, is using complex corporate structures to acquire or manage store licenses from the Berkshires to Cape Cod, commanding high-interest loans and strict management contracts as they become quiet titans of Massachusetts marijuana.
Their aggressive growth plans are not just pushing the limits built into the state law, but may be busting them entirely. Their early moves also threaten the state’s promise to not just legalize recreational marijuana but to make the marketplace for the drug a fair one in which diversity of ownership is prized and small players have a chance. Read more