Derek Peterson, CEO and president of Terra Tech. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Business

Cannabis entrepreneur named among 100 most influential people in Orange County

The Orange County Register is highlighting people who were game changers in 2016. This cannabis entrepreneur made the cut thanks to the rapid expansion of his publicly traded company, which is frequently recommended for investors in an industry that’s still shunned by major stock markets.

NAME: Derek Peterson

AGE: 42

ROLE: Chairman, CEO and president of Terra Tech

BIO: During the Great Recession, Peterson left behind a successful career as a Wall Street investment banker to launch his own hydroponics company with an eye to the marijuana industry. The Laguna Beach resident had turned to medical marijuana to manage pain after he broke his neck during a surfing accident, giving him empathy for other patients. His Newport Beach-based company Terra Tech now owns several brands that cultivate, produce and sell cannabis products from Northern California to New Jersey.

WHY HE IS AN INFLUENCER: In 2016, Terra Tech tripled the number of people it employs, with 180 workers across the country receiving solid wages and full benefits. Under Peterson’s direction, the company raised close to $20 million in capital. And in an industry that’s still shunned by the major stock markets, Terra Tech has managed to become one of the most frequently recommended cannabis-focused penny stocks, going from $6 million to $40 million in shareholder equities over the past year.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “It’s still banking and financial services,” he said, with marijuana’s federally illegal status forcing companies to operate largely in cash.

THOUGHTS ON THE INDUSTRY: “It sometimes feels like running uphill on ice.”

INSPIRATION: “To change the unchangeable.”

CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT BESIDES MY PHONE: “My assistant is a rock star,” Peterson said. He and his wife plucked Hailey Williams from her job tending bar at Fig and Olive. He logged 800,000 miles in 2016, and without Williams, he said, “I don’t function.”

WHAT’S NEXT: California and three other states just legalized recreational marijuana, a trend that Peterson believes is going to spark “unprecedented competition” and “opportunities coming with it.” A big focus for Terra Tech in 2017 will be to get more Southern California cities to welcome cannabis businesses.