Private Equity

High Times looks to form $100M marijuana fund

Colorado pot: Lighting the licensing way
Colorado pot: Lighting the licensing way

High Times, the magazine that has been catering to cannabis enthusiasts for four decades, wants investors to light up a new venture.

The magazine is working to set up the High Times Growth Fund, a private equity vehicle that would allow investors to connect with legitimate pot start-ups.

The aim is to open next month and to raise $100 million over two years, according to Michael Safir, the business manager of High Times, who will work for the fund full time once it launches.

He said that the fund, which is open only to accredited investors, could dwarf other private equity ventures in the budding pot industry.

"Basically, the main obstacle is getting people over the fear of investing in cannabis," Safir told CNBC in an interview. "I've kind of taken the position that if you believe in it, it doesn't matter what we say—you're going to give us a check."

(Read more: WeedMaps: Meet the Yelp of the marijuana business)

Retail pot dispensaries in Colorado plan to sell marijuana to anyone over 21, without a prescription, starting Jan. 1. Washington also legalized recreational marijuana this year, and state officials plan to begin issuing retail licenses in February.

But the industry remains hampered by a lack of capital because banks won't treat dispensaries the way they do traditional businesses.

"The businesses we're looking to invest in don't have access to credit markets," Safir said. "They're basically run on a combination of savings and credit cards."

(Read more: Washington plans to keep the weed for locals)

The fund should fill holes in the industry's financing, he said, as banks won't allow marijuana operations to open commercial accounts because of gaps in certain state and federal laws.

The fund plans to follow a traditional private equity investment schedule and within two years provide an average investment size of $2 million, according to its website.

High Times Senior Editor Danny Danko told CNBC on Thursday that the publication established the fund to help protect the fledgling legitimate pot industry from scams and unscrupulous investors.

"It is a problem," Danko said on "Squawk on the Street." "There are certainly some pump-and-dump type of operations."

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Though other private equity funds interested in the business have sprung up in recent months, none of them plan to raise as much as the High Times fund or have its clout in the marijuana community.

Danko said the stature of High Times, which covered the illicit herb as it emerged from its counterculture origins to be an item on ballots around the country, made it a natural partner for the industry.

The Juicy Fruit strain of marijuana for sale at 3-D Denver Discreet Dispensary in Denver, Colorado, December 04, 2013.
Craig F. Walker | The Denver Post | Getty Images

"We have a 40-year brand in this, since it was far more in the underground," he said. "We understand the business, and we hope to lead this out from the underground."

The industry's biggest challenge could come if the 2014 midterms or 2016 presidential election results in a reversal in the federal government's increasingly relaxed stance on marijuana.

(Read more: Uruguay legalizes marijuana trade)

In August, the Department of Justice announced that it would let states set their own legal and regulatory framework on medical and recreational marijuana, but Safir said the legitimization of the industry was "slow going."

The fund plans to minimize risk by investing in pot companies that either don't handle marijuana themselves or have a track record of adhering to state law.

"The ones we want to invest in are big enough to attract our attention, and to get to that size they've been doing everything completely aboveboard," Safir said.

—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen. Follow him on Twitter at @jmorganteen and get the latest stories from "Squawk on the Street"