Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
This is a new one for our generation: An entire industry is emerging from illegality to local store shelves. That is the cannabis industry. And while the history and the journey have been long, and at times tragic and arduous, it is accelerating on a path to normalization.
Take the latest election. For those focused on the presidency and the House, you missed something else happening. This past election cycle had one clear winner: Weed won. It won in every single state where it was on the ballot. It won as four states (AZ, SD, NJ, MT) joined the 11 recreational states with passed adult-use ballot measures. It won as Mississippi and South Dakota also passed medical measures. It won as roughly one-third of Americans now live in a state with legalized cannabis up from one-fourth last week. It won as red states, blue states and purple states expanded access to the plant.
Now that part has been established, the part that I find fascinating, as a cannabis venture capitalist and investor, is what’s coming next. Really, what is already here?
For those who haven’t perused the shelves of California, Colorado or Oregon dispensaries, for instance, you might imagine a dimly lit smoke shop feel of old. Boy, are you in for a surprise. We’ve gone from the edges of society to now having stores on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Main Street U.S.
It just takes one look at the minimalist and modern feel of Urbn Leaf’s Southern California stores to see the industry is growing up. You walk inside their doors, and it feels like you’re entering a cool urban loft with a distinctly artistic bent. Or perhaps you roll over to Palm Springs, where you’ll find Harborside’s drive-through dispensary outfitted as easy as a Starbucks, with its hipster wood-paneled exterior catching the eyes of passersby. The times in cannabis, they are a-changing. (Disclosure: Author’s company invested in Urban Leaf and Harborside.)
For instance, Caliva took the world by storm with their announcement of Jay-Z coming on as their chief brand strategist. Caliva was acquired, along with Left Coast Ventures, by Subversive Capital Acquisition Corp., which launched a new organization The Parent Co., where Jay-Z will act as their chief visionary officer. Cure pharmaceuticals did the same with Nicole Kidman. Celebrities are getting familiar with their names being associated with cannabis brands that are trusted, innovative and true.
One of our predictions at EEC is that the next evolution will be in brands. They are soaring past the stereotypes of products with green weed leaves on the front, graffiti or some Grateful Dead-looking dancing bunny with lava lamps. Instead, we’ll be more likely to see products that would be at home on the shelves of Whole Foods or even super-luxe stores like L.A.’s high-priced Erewhon.
Here’s what you should watch out for with cannabis branding:
1. Strategic Partnerships With Top-Tier Brands
GOOP is coming to cannabis. Gwyneth Paltrow, Casey Neistat, Tove Lo and others all invested in microdose THC beverage company CANN. Talk about a killer brand. It’s witty, kind of sassy cans catch the eye — that identity paired with a strong product will catch fire. I predict more companies will start partnering with exceptionally executed cannabis brands. (Full Disclosure: Author’s company invested in CANN.)
2. Leading on the Sustainable Packaging Front
Brands in cannabis are already quite socially conscious given the nature of the industry and the fact that hemp itself is a bioremediatory (a.k.a it takes toxins out of the soil just by growing), and also is considered a sustainable material source. The amount of cannabis packaging required legally creates a sizable waste product and consumers of the plant will trend towards brands that solve this issue creatively and beautifully.
3. Smart Packaging
Cannabis comes with some hefty regulations. Yet the way they label is anything but, it’s ugly, it’s confusing, it’s not linked to online sources for more information. I expect that will change. We’ll likely have smart packaging that links to our phones, more information available through QR codes and experiences and coupons linked to packages.
Consumers’ First Date With Cannabis
Isn’t it the truth that the discovery phase of just about anything is the most delicious? The first couple dates of falling for another. The first book in a series. The plot of a movie unfolding before you know who done it, or whether vampires are real or not. We humans love novelty and mystery. That’s something not lost in the world of cannabis. The first time a modern cannabis user enters a store, selects a product and tries it is a courtship. It’s a romance. Will it continue? Will they be exclusive? Brands are taking note, and they are getting serious. The 2.0 of cannabis brands will be fascinating to watch.
The grass may just keep getting greener.