Former Chicago Tribune Chief Trades Media Business for the Marijuana Biz

July 16, 2019

By Brian Henry

The news media business continues to struggle after decades of digital disruption. The marijuana business is soaring, as state after state pass legalization or decriminalization measures.

Which helps explain why Tony Hunter, former publisher and chief executive of the Chicago Tribune, is now board chairman of the pot company Revolution Enterprise as it prepares to enter what will be the 11th legal recreational market in Illinois.

While the move from the media to the marijuana industry may not seem like a natural transition, Hunter told Cheddar's CannaBiz show that the new gig was exactly what he was looking for at this stage in his career.

“One, I want to work with great people -- high integrity, people that want to do good work for the good of the community. Also, respect and focus on the customer. Revolution does that," he said.

Hunter also mentioned the "mission-based" nature of Revolution. "I came from one of the biggest mission based industries there is and low and behold I found another one that’s really focused on social and economic and doing well for consumers. Last, I want to join an innovative and competitive company. We had that at Tribune and frankly, I’m glad to be on the other side of disruption for once. From the disrupted, to the disrupter. In many ways, it's the same ingredients I had in 23 years at The Tribune.”

Hunter also cited his own personal experiences with marijuana as factoring into his decision.

“My wife and I have been users of homeopathic and natural medicines for decades." he said. "We’ve seen the benefits for us. Unfortunately I also have close friends and family members that have either cancer or debilitating diseases. I’ve seen how the use of cannabis as a medicine has improved their lives and in many cases, addressed their symptoms. Because of that, I have this passion to increase the number of people that have access to these alternatives.”

Revolution is based in Illinois, which recently became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. While the company had previously competed in the health and wellness sector, Hunter said he’s excited for Revolution to expand.

“People come to our products for different things. We currently are known for medicinal cannabis but we also just bought Riley’s Hempvet, which got us into the pet market with CBD. We’re also investigating entering the market on cannabinoids and the use of cannabinoids. We think it's beyond just the use of cannabis as a medicine.”

“There’s an opportunity for us to use the entire plant which gets back to our mission of being good stewards of the plant. We think there are more opportunities to create medicine and wellness products from the plant. That's why we view it as a broader market than just THC products.”

Hunter told Cheddar that the company’s operations in the medicinal field make it well equipped for success in the recreational market.

“I think going through the regulatory process, the very rigorous regulatory process in Illinois, it was good for our company. It established great protocol, great procedures and compliance. Now that we’ve done that in our plant in Delavan, we believe the expansion there and buying acreage next to that just creates an opportunity to take that to scale in Illinois and capture our fair share of the rec market.”