What are the stigmas around marijuana use that you have to fight?
The largest stigma is, of course, the racist criminalization of cannabis that has destroyed lives, families, and communities for decades. There are still echoes of the “War on Drugs,” which we know was really a war on people. That 80s message that cannabis was a “gateway” drug that would fry your brain and that we should DARE to keep kids off of it, those long-standing perceptions and messages can be hard to change, particularly when it requires acknowledging that so much of what we were taught was wrong.
As more states legalize, how is the perception of marijuana changing?
It’s hard to talk about the shifting perceptions of cannabis without talking about the shifting perceptions of alcohol. We actually just finished a study looking at the relationship between the two, and the results were really interesting. Not too long ago, cannabis was seen as a vice and alcohol virtuous: the thing people had every day at work, after work, worthy of being displayed in their home on carts. That’s just not the case anymore: as more and more people reexamine their relationships with alcohol, it’s seen as more of a vice, and cannabis now as much more virtuous, in a lot of the same ways. More and more people say they see cannabis as appropriate to at work to tap into their creativity after work to unwind, and we are actually seeing cannabis-storing furniture make its way into the market.
Are there any brands that have an opportunity to cross over into the marijuana industry? Is legality the only thing preventing them from embracing it?
I think many brands have an opportunity to enter the space, but, like anything, brands need to make moves for the right reasons, in the right ways. I don’t think legality is the thing holding brands back: I think there’s a fear they will alienate close-minded consumers or corporate partners who are unwilling to acknowledge the systemic issues surrounding cannabis stigmatization and criminalization.
How do regulations affect the execution of marketing campaigns, and what are the solutions?
Most consumers in our research think cannabis should be advertised in the same way as alcohol, and working within the regulations of the spirits category has become second nature to a lot of us. How to market it should be something we think about only after we’ve solved the how-to decriminalize its part.
What are some similarities and differences you see between the alcohol & tobacco industries and marijuana?
Well, tobacco kills people. There is no “safe” way to consume it, no “moderation” message, and the industry knows that and continues to market it, and agencies in our industry continue to make money off it. That’s not the case with alcohol or cannabis. So first and foremost, I’d say safety and ethics are probably the biggest difference.
What are your thoughts on involving celebrities in the cannabis campaigns?
I just read Jaleel White is starting a cannabis line called “Purple Urkel”. If George Clooney can make Tequila, Jaleel White can make weed.
Have you seen cannabis marketing evolving since legalization first began in the US?
I think we’ve seen a tremendous transformation in the cannabis space in the last few years in marketing and packaging. As our understanding of the ways people are enjoying cannabis and why, from stress release to inspiration to pain relief to having fun, expands, the way it’s packaged, marketed, and sold is expanding too. In the early days of legalization in California, you had to get a license from a seedy “doctor” and bring a certificate into the back room of the dingy storefront, nothing on display. It was legal, but it didn’t really feel that way. Now you walk into a beautiful, brightly lit Med Men and see really stunningly design. The transformation has been massive, and I think that will only continue in this next era of legalization as well.