The Columbian / Associated Press

From gum to ganja: William Wrigley Jr. investing in medical marijuana

The former head of the Wrigley gum empire is getting into the medical marijuana business.

William Wrigley Jr., once the president and CEO of Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., has been named chairman of the board of directors at Surterra Wellness, a medical cannabis company with operations in Florida and Texas. Wrigley’s investment fund led a $65 million equity fundraising round that Surterra closed in July. The company has raised more than $100 million since 2015.

Wrigley first invested in Surterra in September. The pot industry is expanding around the country despite the federal government’s classification of marijuana as an illegal drug.

Wrigley, who in 2010 left the company founded by his great-grandfather, has a home in Florida, where voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical cannabis.

“I haven’t been this excited about a business in a very long time,” he said in a statement provided to the Tribune.

“This is about helping people,” he added. “It can give people a normal life, let them go to school and be a normal member of society. It is incredible to craft that opportunity in an industry that is starting from scratch.”

Wrigley took over his family’s multibillion-dollar confections company after his father died in 1999 and led it through acquisitions of brands such as Altoids and Life Savers. Candy-maker Mars acquired Wrigley in 2008 for $23 billion.

Wrigley’s involvement in the company shows marijuana is losing some of its stigma, said Surterra CEO Jake Bergmann. It’s no longer socially unacceptable to be involved in the industry, he said.

“It’s great to have verification from a well-known name brand and business leader that we are indeed a professional industry and the industry has grown up, so to speak,” he said.

Surterra plans to use the new funding to research the drug’s treatment of conditions including pain and anxiety.