Marijuana – A Taboo? Marketers have to Convince Otherwise!

“When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.” – Barack Obama

 

“That is not a drug, it’s a leaf.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

And my personal favorite by Richard Neville –

“Is marijuana addictive? Yes, in the sense that most of the really pleasant things in life are worth endlessly repeating.”

Let’s talk about weed bro!!

Yes! Cannabis – Pot, weed, Marijuana, Hemp, Hash!!

Or you can say Ganja, Bhang & Hashish in India. All are different varieties of Cannabis.

It all began when my friend argued, “You can’t write about Cannabis and Marketing. That it is impossible to relate the two. The next moment my words were, “Challenge Accepted”. At first, it was just to prove a point that marketing is a godly concept and is omnipresent. But it became much more as I started imbibing more of this Marijuana STUFF online. I listened to experts and spent time with its supporters as I was someone new to this world.

A Gaijin! you can say.

But it is something else. A world full of peace and harmony which is getting tainted by some variables who bring elements of havoc, hypocrisy, and stories of politics, gain, sufferings and frustration. Surprisingly, it is some other world and I am happy that I decided to explore.

 

So, let’s begin

“Never give up the Ganja” – Morgan Freeman

Ever thought of a world free of marijuana regulations. Imagine trucks of weed passing by each other to restaurants & offices. A world where Marijuana is not only legal but is mandatory. Available at all places in different forms. Everywhere you’ll see mellow, high, hungry people waiting for pizzas. Who knows what future hold for us.

Some of you might have seen a glimpse of it, especially where it is legalized in some fashion (for medicinal, industrial &/or for recreational use). But some are still living under a rock & there is a self-placed barrier inside their brain which restricts the free movement of thoughts. Hence, they lack imagination.

But marketing is creativity mannnn!!!

It is what you call imagination and feeling!

In this series, we shall explore the Cannabis world from a perspective of a marketer. Beware this STUFF can be dangerous for conformity and confirmation bias disorder patients. If you are one of them & can’t have an open mind, I suggest!! nah! It’st better if you just simply leave.

If you hate it so much and feel responsible to get angry whenever somebody talks about it approvingly, or if you are so dogmatic about your beliefs, then allow me to navigate the way. In the top right corner of your screen, there is a little cross button. Just click it and you’ll feel normal again.

But if you are a curious one, and long to see what’s there on the other side of the wall, you are Welcome My Friend!

Welcome to the World of Cannabis!

 

The Race is on! “Marlboro Man of Marijuana” has already been booked for 30 years. It’s impossible to talk about Cannabis without Bob Marley (1945-81), the late Jamaican Singer, musician, songwriter and a strong supporter for the legalization of Cannabis.

“Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.” – Bob Marley

Marley Natural became one of the three major Cannabis brands of Privateer Holdings in February 2016, on the 71st anniversary of Bob Marley’s birthday. They were approached by the family and in a statement, Rita Marley (Marley’s widow) said, “My husband believed ‘the herb’ was a natural and positive part of life and he felt it was important to the world. He looked forward to this day.” The company has broadly 3 product lines:-

Marley Naural Product Line

Even the “Nature’s finest cannabis flower rolled in natural, unbleached paper with a crutch filter for that smooth Marley smoke” – Marley Natural, i.e. Yes! You guessed it right! Pre-rolled Joints for $5.00 a piece.

Marley Natural Pre rolled Joints
Marley Natural Pre-rolled Joints

Apparently good quality pre-rolls are coming into fashion in cannabis branded industry these days – according to Cheri Sicard’s review.  Who could have thought that it would become a luxury product one day?

With a combination of environmental conditions, selective breeding of landrace ferals is also coming into the picture. There are now thousands of varieties, and naming them is of utmost priority & challenge for brands for differentiation. There is no hard & fast rule. It’s in the hands of the producer or marketer, who has ownership of the product. But as per observation most of the names are based on some story. According to researches, cannabis evolved in Central Asia. It is one of the oldest known agricultural plants and its multitude of uses (Food, fiber, fodder, medicine, religious use etc.) encouraged migrants & traders to take these seeds with them, wherever they traveled. Later it spread to other parts of Asia, Africa and then to other countries. And so other civilization began cultivation of these feral escapees (escaped from origin landrace) and such strains became landrace of that region. Eg:-Colombian Gold, which is named based on where it is grown. Similarly, Marley Natural currently deals in 4 strains and their names include ‘Marley’ (the brand name) and a color (which represents the variant’s degree of psychedelic abilities, effects on health, its constituents and making process i.e. cross-breeding). These are –  Marley Black (Indica), Marley Gold (Sativa), Marley Green (Hybrid) & Marley Red (CBD Rich).

This can lead Strain Hunting as an aspiring career choice in future, who knows. I mean, I don’t mind doing it! Traveling around the world like Arjan Roskam (founder of Greenhouse Seeds, Amsterdam) in search of different & unknown varieties wouldn’t be a bad option. He collects them for experimentation to always bring something new to the market. His famous strains are – White Widow & Super Silver Haze. You can even join the forum at us.strainhunters.com.

 

The Market

The current market for Marijuana worth $7.7 billion globally which will see a whopping 60% CAGR & will become ~$31.4 billion by 2021 (As per a Forbes article in Nov 2017). Currently (when this article was written) the US has the dominant share of around 90% of global cannabis sales which could be dropped to a mere 57% as more countries are in stands for legalizing cannabis. The biggest competitor right now is Canada. Also, favorable investor perceptions have been observed towards it, simply because Canada is a less volatile & a less risky market (Remember: In US, Marijuana is still against the federal law). Matthew Karnes (founder of the marijuana financial consultancy GreenWave Advisors) estimates that by 2021, marijuana marketing will total $75 million.

Now, let’s start with the beginning of legalization. Suppose smoking pot has just become legalized and heavy smokers got the freedom to finally do it without any fear. But the legal supply is limited. After all, it’s just legalized. Initial few businesses would be focusing on operations, production quality & quantity, distribution etc. There is no need for marketing at this stage and also legal options for promotions are limited even now. Whatever little space left for awareness & hype had been taken care by NGOs, celebrities’ smoking stories, Medical Marijuana (helped in bringing positive image), investors’ advice by the likes of Warren Buffet etc. The symptoms are similar to what one sees in the Production & Product Concept of Marketing.

But the above phase was very small. Many big sharks were eyeing on this opportunity to set up large-scale operations (like GW Pharmaceuticals, Aurora, CanniMed). Most of them deal with medical cannabis where hostile takeovers, legal notices (based on advert laws etc.) have already started. Relatively, the recreational sector still has some space. As of 3rd Jan 2018, only 8 US states have legalized recreational Marijuana. However, for medical purposes, it has the green light in 29 states. This current phase can be stated as selling and marketing phase.

Marijuana Flower

It’s not straight-forward though. In the US, Marijuana business is still against the federal laws despite the legalization in some states. Laws have indirectly stated that the federal government is going to tolerate these democratic experiments but only if states have robust enough regulations to govern and control commercial cannabis activity. If it doesn’t happen then federal gov. will come with the full power of constitution and they will enforce laws accordingly in states. Robust regulations also force companies to launch only heavily packaged, labeled, good quality products, with more transparency and good accountability for manufacturers. The resultant products are diverse and safer but expensive.

These tough regulations also result in barriers to entry. Only 2 types of groups can operate and survive in this industry – one who are well-capitalized and the other who have deep political connections. In some states by legislative design; very limited no. of licenses were issued (eg:- only 5 in Florida) which try to promote anti-competitive behavior and controls a huge pool of market. But still, competition is extreme as players are strong. Also, regulations make things expensive to run and therefore putting profit before people have become a norm, especially in recreational businesses to survive. Therefore, developing routine customers with regular habit makes more sense.

 

Here are some of the Important Marketing laws

After getting a quick peek at laws for promotion, one thing is certain that Marijuana industry really needs to be creative to find acceptable ways of marketing.

Let’s talk about Canada‘s C-45 bill (third reading – November 27, 2017). It says:-

Selling & Distribution

  • Can’t sell more than 30g
  • Can’t sell it to organizations and persons under 18 years of age
  • Imports/Exports are not allowed

Promotion/Branding/Advertising

Ad on www.thecannabist.co
Ads (U.S.) on www.thecannabist.co
  • Self-service displays and devices (like vending machines) are not allowed
  • Can’t promote on the basis of price &/or distribution info accept at POS terminals
  • Any promotion shouldn’t create any erroneous or misleading impressions of quality, benefits etc.
  • No to any form of media outside the country
  • Sponsorship and endorsements are tricky
  • No freebies
  • Any promotional info (about cannabis or its ancillary) shouldn’t be towards or accessed by a person below 18 years of age

Packaging/labeling

  • it is prohibited for a person that is authorized to sell cannabis to display it, or any package or label of cannabis, in a manner that may result in the cannabis, package or label being seen by a young person“. They went so far as to say that even the appearance & size of a product shouldn’t be appealing to young ones.
  • The packaging can’t depict any real or fictional character.
  • Can’t associate cannabis to evoke positive or negative emotions about (or image of) way of life like glamour, daring, risk etc.

Above recommendations limits promotion of cannabis, and to areas only accessible to adults. Plain packaging similar to tobacco products is encouraged, with strict sanctions on promotions that motivates excessive consumption. But Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding (formed by licensed producers and professional associations) are lobbying for rights to promote cannabis in manners more similar to alcohol instead of tobacco. According to them, branding should be allowed in order to reduce ambiguity between illicit and legal sources and to build brand loyalty to encourage higher-quality products.

 

Understanding Smokers

So, before you go berserk on marketing, first try to understand pot users a little better.

pexels-photo-338710

It’s your target after-all. Now, the reasons for Cannabis consumption falls into 3 categories:-

  1. For medicinal purpose: Several cases have come to light which shows that it helps in one way or another in various diseases and illnesses – for stopping cancer cells, fighting after-effects of chemo and others therapies, for war against depressions, glaucoma, seizures, Alzheimer to name a few. It can also be used as a painkiller.  If you don’t believe me, then refer the small ~500 pages report on ‘HEALTH EFFECTS OF CANNABIS AND CANNABINOIDS‘ by ‘The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine’ for more details. It is limited but still the most updated and exhaustive research available.
  2. For industrial usage – Another variant of cannabis is ‘Hemp’ which contains only ~1% of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in Marijuana). It can be & was used (i.e. before Cannabis was banned) to make food, clothes, rope, plastics, insulation materials,  bio-fuel, paints, oil for cooking, animals & birds feed etc.

Awesome, isn’t it! Unlike Alcohol!

Neuron! NeUrOn! NeuronS! = Nervous System

I will talk about the above 2 in other parts of this series in detail. For now, think about the third and most fascinating reason – Recreational usage (especially from customers perspective)THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main ingredient for Marijuana psychological effects. It causes your thoughts and imagination to magnify itself. After it’s consumption, once you begin thinking about something, it becomes the most significant and profound thing ever. You just caught up in a momentum of that particular idea until a new idea takes hold and you go off to that new train. This is because cannabis contains similar molecules produced in our brains – Cannabinoids.

Unlike Alcohol!

THC’s chemical structure is similar to a brain chemical ‘anandamide’ which functions as neurotransmitters (i.e. sending chemical messages between nerve cells called neurons in the nervous system).

Unlike Alcohol!

As Bill Hicks (a comedian – who doesn’t do drugs; Anymore!) once said, “Pot is a better drug than alcohol” and this is how he proved it:-

DreaMers MAn!

So, one day, to understand dreamers (& the above scientific jibber-jabber) I decided to listen to their high stories. Ohhhh! Man! I couldn’t stop laughing. Read some of the best on forums posts and blogs. Their acts were full of ssssstupidity but are nothing short of chuckles. Here are some for you:-

  • “Suddenly, I realized Lil’ Kim was staring at me over my shoulder. I froze, as if she were a dinosaur from Jurassic Park, and would give away my presence. I have no idea how long I stood there before I realized I was staring at a Poster On The Back Of  The Bathroom Door”. – Charlotte Gomez (BuzzFeed)
  • “I ate too much of a cupcake and thought I was in a deli case. I laid on my roommate’s bed, convinced I was salami and waited for someone to come to buy me.” – elizaj482ff7ada (BuzzFeed)

Below are some of the recommended links for such dumb-ass but hilarious stories:-

So, these are the kind in the recreational segment!

For a moment, forget about the war between thoughts of health and health hazards, as incomplete scientific research exists in favor of both. Let’s play on perceptions here which is surprisingly not against weed altogether and that’s the base for companies in this business legally.

“The only dead bodies from marijuana are in the prisons and at the hands of the police.” – Jack Herer

In 2015, Cathy Lanier (Washington DC, Chief Police) said, “All those [marijuana] arrests do is make people hate us… They just want to get a bag of chips and relax. Alcohol is a much bigger problem.” While clarifying her believe of Marijuana being unhealthy she also added, “But I’m not policing the city as a mom…I’m policing it as the police chief — and 70 percent of the public supported this.” Growing support for marijuana-legalization = Pew Research

In 2014, even Barack Obama told New Yorker’s David Remnick, “I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol” in terms of its societal impact (of arrests) and it’s legal implications (by comparing with other drugs & legalization)”. And it’s not that only big shot civil servants, politicians or celebrities favors Marijuana; general perceptions have changed drastically.

Research says only ~12% in 1969 were in favor of Marijuana as an acceptable commodity which grew to 54% in 2014 and finally to 61% in 2017 (According to CNBC News). Separately, 83% Americans support medical marijuana and 49% support it for recreational use.

 

But why is that? Why such a shift is happening in favor of it:-

  • Ethics – First, it can be against the consequential theory of moral reasoning (which aims to maximize the overall balance of pleasure over pain for the majority). The topic is debatable as researchers are coming out arguing that it does more good than harm. If somehow they prove it (can use utilitarianism cost-benefit analysis model), the only moral defense of legislature will be gone. But the other side of coin i.e. categorical moral reasoning (say libertarianism) completely favors the legalization. In this you can also consider Mr. Charles Bukowski’s argument – “I think that everything should be made available to everybody, and I mean LSD, cocaine, codeine, grass, opium, the works. Nothing on earth available to any man should be confiscated and made unlawful by other men in more seemingly powerful and advantageous positions”.
  • Now more people are susceptible to accept favorable medical arguments of Marijuana.
  • Awareness and unity:- More people are coming out of the closet and sharing their love. Sharing their stoned stories and are less afraid. But even now 72% of Marijuana smokers prefer not to smoke with their family members and 31% (out of total) prefer to do it alone – Marist Survey.
  • Comparison with Alcohol and other illicit drugs gained recognition. No matter how you look and where you look, you’ll surely find this argument. It has become a common sub-topic and a great weapon of the war against drugs when it comes to Marijuana. Research, studies and surveys related to medicine, perception and public welfare all favor the argument that Marijuana is less harmful than Alcohol but alcohol is legal & Marijuana isn’t.
  • Money – Legalizing weed in the US would earn $8.7 dollars in tax revenues (CATO Institute Report, 2010) and they can also save additional $3.7 from spending less on Marijuana law enforcement (ACLU report, 2013)
  • Abstinence is not the answer:- Most Americans (even those who oppose Marijuana legalization) think habitual drug use should be treated as an addiction problem rather than a criminal offense (CNBC News Post). Watch the below Ted speech from Johann Hari based on addicts’ understanding and examples of how decriminalizing drugs can actually benefit societies:-

It’s important to understand that pot smokers must have been a part of some legalization battle. They surely have faced a barrage of consequences because of the stigma attached to smoking up. It is one of the common feelings among most of the smokers. One of the surveys with a limited population size revealed that more than 70% of smokers don’t smoke with family because abstinence is the law. If somebody finds out that you are not following it, then you will be labeled as evil and that’s why such communities (who favors marijuana) resent societies and a gap has been formed. (See end of the article to understand it’s prohibition reasoning and you will be shocked)

Therefore, in one place we have celebrity pot brands and endorsements and on the other, advertisements challenging the existing stigma. For celebrity endorsements – if you want to be like these celebrities, have their lifestyle and success; you are going to smoke what they smoke and use what they use. It works just like any other commodity’s advertisement like Jordan’s basketball shoes. As a result, the following brands came into being:-

  • Chong’s Choice – Even in his 70s Tommy Chong(actor and legalization activist), a two-time cancer survivor use Marijuana for relaxation and to keep his appetite while recovering from cancer. Product – Marijuana chocolates.
  • Leafs By Snoop – Snoop Dog (legalization activist), a self-proclaimed Master of Marijuana but without question with a good history of its usage came in the market with a slogan, “Lets’s medicate, elevate and put it in the air”. Products – Chocolates, wax, drops. gems, gummies, and flowers.
  • Marley Natural
  • Willie’s Reserve – Willie Nelson was a singer, legalization activist and now a ganjapreneur who have also raised another $12 million capital in Jan 2018.

Now the ads! These focus on aspects like relaxation, meditation, reinvention qualities, social justice, healing, love, respect, and last but not the least legacies and lifestyles of celebrities endorsing it. They don’t need or won’t play on data and science. Some ads (non-celebrity) say functioning adults can use cannabis in their everyday life and the sky will not fall. Whereas prohibitionist likes comparing Marijuana industry with the big tobacco industry and say that such industries only thinks about profit and nothing else.

Then finally we have ancillary businesses. These supporting businesses are not necessarily breaking federal laws and are more liberal than the above-discussed cannabis companies. As a result, unlike normal Marijuana business, they can have bank accounts, institutional investors, bank loan etc. These are:-

  • High there – Tinder of cannabis
  • Weedmaps – Review your favorite and least favorite dispensaries
  • MassRoots – ‘Instagram’ of Marijuana and much more
  • Leafly – World’s Cannabis information resource.

In the beginning, I was talking about a “world where Marijuana is not only legal but is mandatory“. In spite of coming so far from the point of complete prohibition and taboo, this imaged scenario still seems far-fetched but not impossible. I agree that unlike other substances whose use may confer risks, such as alcohol or tobacco, even not the basic accepted standards exist to help guide individuals as they make choices regarding the issues of if, when, where, and how to use cannabis safely and, in regard to therapeutic uses, effectively. I also agree that their still several legal constraints on their business operations and customer usage. And sure, legalization laws are volatile. But general perception and acceptance will force legislative members to come to their side eventually. As per the current stats, market growth is unprecedented and potential is huge. Therefore, it’s worth to look for creative ways to market and stay in the business. At the same time, it’s also crucial for them to treat this opportunity with caution. In these initial stages everybody, have eyes on them and therefore they have a self-implied responsibility to remain vigilant of evildoing as ills of one would affect the whole industry.

 

As promised – Why Marijuana Was Banned?

Adam Conover in “Adam Ruins Everything” – a ‘Tru TV’ show, explained in simple terms about Marijuana and its history of restrictions and effects on society. Whether it is because of political agenda, Reefer Madness, Hippies &/or Memes!, the choice is yours to decide.

 

“Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally upon our planet. Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit . . . unnatural?” – Bill Hicks

 

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