At one of the many after-parties surrounding the Milken Institute Global Conference, Jim Belushi charmed a crowd of diners with jokes and harmonica playing. But the actor and comedian wasn’t there as the entertainment: He was on a mission to promote marijuana.
Belushi’s $38.5 million Los Angeles mansion was the setting Tuesday night for Green Table Global’s latest exclusive dinner, where about 150 people mingled in the expansive backyard. Green Table hosts events to bring together wealthy investors and cannabis entrepreneurs.
“So nice to host all you gentlemen and ladies in the money honey business,” Belushi said in his opening remarks after treating seated diners to a song and a few jokes. “You’re going to make money in this space. But you’re going to have a sense of healing our community. You’re going to have a sense of doing something really important — and making money.”
Belushi, 63, the younger brother of the late John Belushi, was speaking from personal experience. He owns a farm in Oregon where he grows cannabis. He rolled out his Vault dispensaries this year and plans to launch a brand of pot in the near future named after the Blues Brothers, the musical duo originally played by his brother and Dan Aykroyd.
“I believe in this medicine,” he said. “I’m a celebrity. I could be arrested immediately — and I want to be, by the way, because I want to send the message out that this takes opioids off the street.”
During cocktail hour, attendees had the choice of a typical bar or cannabis-infused coconut water. Drinks were followed by a seated dinner, during which six cannabis companies presented to the crowd of potential investors. Presenters ranged from a private equity fund to an edibles maker and the company behind Willie Nelson’s pot brand. Samples were passed to each table.
“We are here tonight to promote cannabis and to promote the financial aspects of cannabis and why more than ever right now this is a very important time with what’s going on in this industry,” Green Table co-founder Gregg Schreiber said in opening remarks.
Cannabis is legal for recreational use in California and eight other U.S. states. It’s allowed for medicinal use in 20 additional ones. The market is expected to reach $75 billion in the U.S. by 2030, up from $6 billion in 2016, according to investment bank Cowen & Co. Still, the plant is illegal under federal law, meaning institutional investors have largely steered clear.
Schreiber worked on Wall Street for 25 years — including seven years at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and 14 years at Bear Sterns Cos. — before deciding to join the Green Rush.
“I came from Wall Street and have had to deal with many of the obstacles that still are sometimes in the way of getting significant people to come into this space,” he said. “There are a lot of significant people here tonight.”
The dinner Tuesday was timed around the Milken conference in Beverly Hills. That allowed for guest appearances from big names including Kevin O’Leary of TV’s “Shark Tank” and U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat.
O’Leary was met with skepticism after suggesting that the industry should split medicinal and recreational companies and push for legalization of medical marijuana. Sovereign and institutional funds won’t invest unless its sanctioned federally, which is easier to achieve on the medicinal side, he said.
For companies focusing on recreational marijuana, “there isn’t a single dime ready to invest in that on the institutional or sovereign wealth side. Zero,” he said. “But there is hundreds of billions of dollars ready to go to work on the medicinal side.”
Ryan’s speech was greeted more favorably after he cited the potential for the legal marijuana industry to boost local economies. His district has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic and job losses. Ohio recently approved a medical cannabis program.
“We’re seeing a lot of opportunity in communities that haven’t seen opportunity for this kind of job creation in a long time,” the congressman said.