When Are We Going to See Big Brand Cannabis?
America is the home of the big brand — McDonald’s, Walmart, Macy’s, just to name a few. We like big names with countless stores and a general sense of quality assurance. When you walk into a branded store or restaurant, you already know what you’re gonna get. Consumers live for low-risk decisions.
So, naturally, wouldn't one think the low-risk, consumer familiarity of a big brand be deeply appealing to America’s emerging cannabis industry?
Well, despite growers' and industry figures' best efforts, "Big Marijuana" may be a long way off.
The cannabis market faces some unique hurdles due to federal prohibition. While marijuana is not only legal but widely available for recreational use in states such as Oregon, Colorado, and California; it is still regarded as a Schedule I narcotic in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and other more socially conservative states. However, there is currently legislation underway pushing marijuana towards legalization in New Hampshire, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Vermont.
In New Hampshire, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee acted to advance a marijuana legalization bill. Chris Sununu (R), the state’s governor, claimed that he would veto any legalization bill, but Steve Shurtleff, the state’s House Speaker, believes he has enough votes in his chamber and in the senate to override any veto.
In New Mexico, the House Health and Human Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee both approved two different cannabis bills this February. The first would create a legal system of licensed, private marijuana sellers; the second would legalize marijuana for sale in state-run stores.
In Hawaii, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve a cannabis legalization bill on February 7.
In Vermont, lawmakers legalized low-level possession and home cultivation of cannabis in 2018. The Senate Judiciary Committee and the Finance and Appropriations Committee both voted this February to approve a bill that would add a system of legal marijuana sales in the state.
In terms of marketing, we’re also seeing a shift in marijuana ideology towards new consumer markets. You would think a great deal of marijuana’s appeal (aside from its instant, intoxicating effects) is the outsider culture surrounding cannabis. One only needs to step into a head shop anywhere in this country to have some idea what it’s all about.
But as growers and cannabis retailers inch towards national legalization, dispensaries are drastically changing their approach to how they target buyers.
MedMen, one of the largest marijuana distributors and certainly a possibility to become the big marijuana brand, has drastically rebranded the marijuana it pushes in its dispensaries.
Jenni Alvins, a reporter for Quartzy, noted, “You won’t find stoner-friendly strain names like Bubba Kush or Cannatonic on the packaging. Instead, the richly-colored boxes and copper-topped glass jars resemble pricey cosmetics — a house brand positioned as luxury. And as wellness.”
MedMen’s communications chief, Daniel Yi, says that this new image is crucial to MedMen’s brand. They’re not targeting teenagers in sweatshirts, but busy soccer moms and other high-functioning adults. “We know what sells… Maybe you want to incorporate cannabis into your yoga routine or into your sports recovery routine.”
To keep with that new image, MedMen is taking steps to replace the names of strains in their stores with less… controversial monikers. Strains such as Alaskan Thunder F*ck or Green Crack will receive new, more holistic-sounding names such as "Arise," "Zen," or "Ebb."
Cannabis users can expect to see even more of their favorite strains renamed as the market grows larger, particularly because so many of the names for marijuana infringe on intellectual property rights.
To avoid Disney’s legal team, popular strains such as Ewok, Skywalker, and Skywalker OG have been renamed to "Alien Walker," "Mazar x Blueberry," and "Mazar x Blueberry OG," respectively. This countermeasure seems especially necessary after the legal battle that GG Strains endured last year. They were sued for the branding of their most popular strain, Gorilla Glue #4, by the adhesive company of the same name. After being taken to court, GG Strains now sells products named "GG4," "GG1," "GG5," etc.
Though the wheels are slowly, inevitably rolling towards national legalization, there are still countless obstacles for this industry to overcome. Don’t expect any Walmart-sized dispensaries in Galveston, Texas anytime soon.
That’s all for now.
Until next time,