Jul 19

Does Your Brand Resonate With Today’s Cannabis Consumer?

Believe it or not, and like it or not, cannabis is in the midst of a major re-brand.  For decades, people have fought for its legalization.  Part of that fight had been marginally-successful attempts to ‘re-brand’ cannabis to gain greater support for legalization initiatives.  Though it still isn’t federally legal here in the US, the instant it became legal at the state level in both a medicinal and adult-use capacity is the instant these efforts reached a tipping point – and the instant a more fundamental re-brand became necessary.

No longer a protest apparatus

During the fight for legalization, cannabis became associated with social and political protest.  Activists were photographed with the ubiquitous doobie close at hand.  Smoking it promoted ‘peace and love’ during the Vietnam War.  It was, and in many states still is, a way to protest the ‘absurd’ laws of the land.  And ‘cannabis entrepreneurs’ of the day were often those very same activists.

Now that cannabis is legal in some form in half of the states (with more on the way post-election), cannabis no longer stands for those things.  Its very legality strips its potency as a protest device.  Its normalization disassociates it with ‘counter-culture’ – after all, if cannabis is normal what exactly is it counter to.  And a quick examination of cannabis industry leaders reveals that today’s successful cannabis entrepreneur often isn’t just a social activist, but a seasoned business person. 

Further evidence of cannabis’s separation from its activist roots can be seen in the amount and stature of brands that have come out in favor of continued legalization vis a vis support of campaigns promoting pro-legalization ballot measures (as reported by The Cannabist).

Just another ‘sindustry’

In conjunction with cannabis’s shift away from being a tool for social or political protest has been a move away from its anti-capitalist association.  Indeed, many brands and entrepreneurs have, and will continue to make a significant amount of money from selling cannabis and affiliated products and services.  And as a legitimate industry within our capitalist structure, cannabis businesses are focused on two things – maximizing profit and minimizing loss – just like any other industry. 

Sindustries like alcohol, tobacco and pornography find themselves heavily-regulated – and cannabis is no different, with regulations around its purchase, marketing/advertising, production and so much more.  The one factor that does make cannabis unique is just how much regulations vary from state to state – at least for now, until federal recognition/regulations supercede state regulations.

The end of “medical” <wink, wink> marijuana

The legitimization of the industry should also bring with it the end of the quasi-medical market.  In far too many states (especially states with only medical legalization), customers have exploited loopholes and acquired medical cards merely to bring their recreational use above-board, buy more product and/or save money on product and taxes.  Not only does this influx distract from the plight of legitimate patients who benefit from MMJ’s effects, it erodes the trustworthiness of the entire medical market.

A legalized adult-use market will help draw some of these nefarious ‘patients’ out of the MMJ marketplace (and not “hurt” the MMJ market, as claimed recently by Forbes).  And with a legitimization of the medical market comes an end to euphemisms like ‘medicate’ for getting high – rebuilding the credibility and trustworthiness of the whole industry.

While I admire the strength, determination and perseverance of the people who have fought (and who continue to fight) for the legalization/normalization of cannabis, we all must acknowledge that with legalization/normalization comes a fundamental shift in the identity of cannabis.  Though ‘Passion for the plant’ helps, in and of itself it is not enough in the modern cannabis world.  Like any other legitimate industry, the new cannabis brand requires business acumen, professionalism and grit.  Businesses wishing to succeed, and individuals hoping to thrive in this burgeoning industry will do well to act as such.

Article by:

Chad Reiling
Digital Marketing Director
Studio 420 – A Cannabis Friendly Creative Agency
(303) 476-3057
LinkedIn:  /in/chadreiling | Twitter @chadreiling