The landscape of the marijuana world is changing a lot these days. For a long time the marijuana industry operated in the shadows. The industry back then was largely comprised of stoners that were part of the counter culture movement. Yes, some were hippies who wore tie dye and listened to Grateful Dead. I was certainly 'that kid' when I was growing up. I wore tie dye Grateful Dead tour shirts to school all the time. For the record, I'm 33 years old, so this all took place in the 1990's (not exactly the flower child era!). I was proud to be called a stoner then, and I'm proud to be called a stoner now, even though it's considered to be a 'put down' by many. I frequented head shops, and listened to mixed CDs that were full of marijuana themed songs by Cypress Hill and other 'stoner musicians.' I watched movies like Half Baked and Cheech and Chong on an almost daily basis. I lived, ate, and breathed marijuana, and still do to this day obviously.
Whereas the marijuana industry was entirely a cottage industry back in the day, it's been rapidly evolving. Marijuana laws are being reformed, and with that reform new business opportunities are being created. There is big money to be made in a legal marijuana industry, and that big money is attracting investors who are not from the 'stoner culture.' They wear suits, and graduated from silver spoon universities. Very few of these people even consume marijuana, and definitely didn't back in the day. They have never fought for reform, at least not prior to trying to make money off of marijuana consumers, and are mainly motivated by profit. I don't personally think there's anything wrong with people wanting to make money in the marijuana industry, but I do have a problem with people that want to bash and alienate marijuana consumers in the process. It's OK to want to rebrand marijuana, but not when it comes at the expense of the average marijuana consumer.
I call these people 'suits' and suits don't seem to like stoners. Rather than cater to the average marijuana consumer, these suits are trying to replace the average marijuana consumer with other suits. But the fact of the matter is, the marijuana consumer base is still largely made up of people like myself, not suits. Does that mean that no person that wears a suit consumes marijuana? Of course not. There are many professional people that consume marijuana. It's just that they don't consume marijuana and buy marijuana related products on nearly the scale that the 'traditional' marijuana consumer does. All of my friends and family that are true die hard marijuana fans spend just about every dollar of their disposable income on marijuana and marijuana products. Compare that to the consumer base that suits wish the marijuana industry will eventually become, which will never buy marijuana and marijuana products at the same pace. The consumer that suits really want to cater to buys marijuana once in a while, and when they do, it's not much. They buy a couple of grams once every couple of weeks when they want to unwind, but for the most part, they are not a day in day out consumer.
Very slowly, new marijuana investors are realizing this. The prime example that has been making headlines lately is Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Leafly. Mr. Kennedy recently entered into an agreement with Bob Marley's family to create the 'Marley Natural' marijuana strain. Creating a marijuana strain with Bob Marley's name is a no brainer business decision, as Bob Marley is obviously one of the most famous and revered marijuana celebrities of all time. However, it has created a PR issue for Brendan Kennedy due to the fact that he has made so many insensitive comments about stoners in the past, and has even thrown Bob Marley's name under the bus in an attempt to try to rebrand marijuana. Per a very accurate article written by valued contributor to the Blog Russ Belville for the Huffington Post:
In June 2013, the New York Times was covering Kennedy for "How to Invest in Dope" (interestingly, the story's URL is "how-to-succeed-in-the-legal-pot-business," indicating that someone changed the title.) Again the story of how Privateer acquired Leaf.ly is revealed, with the Times reporting "A big part of the site's appeal was that it wasn't already branded with symbols of pot culture." Kennedy explained that "It didn't have any of the old clichés. The site wasn't plastered with pot leaves or pictures of Bob Marley."
The article has numerous quotes from Brendan Kennedy highlighting how he has disrespected stoner culture over the last few years since he entered the industry. Brendan Kennedy is not alone. There have been numerous companies that have been trying as hard as they can to throw the stoner culture under the bus in an attempt to change the marijuana consumer base from one that rarely wears suits to one that only wears suits. That strategy has backfired big time, as the overwhelming majority of marijuana consumers are like me, and don't fit that description. We are here to stay, and if we feel disrespected, we aren't going to support companies that obviously don't like us or want our dollars. If you made a pile of all of the potential consumer dollars that would come from the 'suit consumer' and another pile of all of the potential dollars that would come from people like me, there would be no denying that the money pile from fans of stoner culture would be exponentially larger.
If new marijuana industry investors want to succeed in the long term in the marijuana industry, they will do a better job of embracing stoner culture and respecting it, instead of trying to distance themselves from it in a negative way. If a company doesn't want to cater to stoners, and wants to rebrand marijuana, by all means do so. That sliver of the industry is all yours, and I wish you nothing but the best, assuming you do it in a respectful way. However, if you verbally attack traditional marijuana consumers, and try to make us out to be second class consumers, trust me, you will not make nearly as much money. You will continue to get called out in the media, and people will always question your motives even when you backtrack on your statements. In Brendan Kennedy's defense, he says that he was wrong about his past comments. However, people will now always ask the question, 'is this because you are sincere Mr. Kennedy, or are you only doing this because of a monetary motive?'
If marijuana investors were really smart, they would never disrespect any consumers, stoners or otherwise. By keeping everything respectful, they will not get bashed by long time advocates, will get more customers, and won't lose market share to competitors that do a better job at respecting people. There is room in the industry for suits and stoners, we just need to remember to respect each other. I predict that companies will start hiring 'stoner culture consultants.' I have been approached by a few companies asking for advice in this area. These companies want to be good stewards of the marijuana industry and movement, and wish to avoid PR problems that are plaguing many large marijuana companies. If your company fits that description, feel free to send me an e-mail anytime. I'd love to talk and help you understand and navigate the marijuana world the right way. Just realize that I don't normally wear a suit!
How do readers feel about this issue? Do you feel that you have been disrespected by corporate interests that are new to the marijuana world? On the flip side, do you feel that this is all just blown out of proportion, and that it's not a big deal? I look forward to reading your comments while I'm at work today.