This is the last article in a three part series addressing issues in cannabis marketing strategies by Adolfo Gonzalez, cannabis educator, entrepreneur and member of Inside the Jar’s editorial board.
Read any cannabis company’s mission statement and you will find that they all have something in common: ‘fighting stigma’ will be mentioned as a core goal. Following this, the favoured tool for fighting said stigma—cannabis education—will surely be mentioned as one of the pillars of company values and culture.
As a brand in a young, highly competitive industry it is important to be real about who you are if you wish to endure. Stigma can be understood in different ways by different people, but if no one in your group has ever experienced it firsthand, you are probably missing the tools to have a clear perspective on the subject.
Whether aware of it or not, many licensed entities and service providers are actively failing at helping to fight the stigma, with some even acting in ways that are directly oppositional to their espoused goals.
Here is a list of the most common ways in which licensed entities are failing to fight the stigmatization of cannabis and those who use it.
1. Lobbying for more enforcement against the unregulated sector
If you are a person who still believes that putting people in jail is the best way to regulate the production and distribution of this plant, you are entitled to your opinion, but you are in the wrong industry.
It is strange logic to think that contributing to the destruction of lives over a harmless plant can equate to any form of justice or destigmatization.
Fortunately, the public relations fallout of such a misguided approach has already cost those who support increased enforcement more than what they will earn.
2. Failing to provide education to company executives and staff
When it comes to company culture, it tends to trickle down from the top. How can companies become effective ambassadors for this plant and its culture if they are not educated themselves?
Cannabis is a funny space where those holding business degrees and PhDs often underestimate the value of industry experience, while those with industry experience tend to underestimate the value of an academic background. Without bridging the two worlds, a profound lack of cultural and scientific awareness will continue to emanate from inside the very heart of our industry, stifling progress and innovation.
3. Failing to provide thorough, honest and accurate product information
There are many highly counterproductive myths around this plant that could be abated if we as producers and vendors allowed our authentic intent to educate and empower the public and shine through in our products and services. Providing more transparency on cannabinoid and terpene content is a start, but there is so much more that could be done.
For example, genetic testing and verification of cultivars would allow producers and vendors to provide more accurate information of actual ancestry, helping us to revise the heavily flawed indica/sativa dichotomy which currently reigns supreme.
4. Providing inaccurate educational information to the public
It’s not just the lack of analytics and misleading product descriptions focused on baseless claims around effect. It’s the fact that even some of the largest companies have gotten away with launching ‘educational’ campaigns filled with poorly researched jibber-jabber that only adds more noise to the echo chamber.
I once had to talk a vice president of marketing out of posting an article that described indica as a ‘nocturnal species’. He told me he would take it down after doing some more research. “After all,” he said, “how do I know that what you are telling me is any more accurate than what we read online?” Such is life during the post-truth era.
5. Oversanitizing cannabis language, culture and spaces
A lot of companies out there foster a culture where ‘stoner’ language is frowned upon. For example, for most of us it would be unthinkable to refer to cannabis as weed or marijuana in a professional context because we just don’t do that in the legal cannabis scene. Whether consciously or subconsciously, those of us working under the blanket of safety provided to us by legality make sure to look, act and speak differently than our ‘criminal’ predecessors. Fuck that.
We’ve got this issue backwards. It is key that we as cannabis professionals understand the accurate scientific terms and concepts that underpin our profession, while also working to integrate and normalize existing cannabis culture in ways that are inclusive and useful.
In the end, stigmatization has to flow through a person in order to exist. Perpetuating baseless disdain for pre-regulatory culture is perhaps the biggest contributor to the continued stigmatization of this wonderful plant and its users.
On par with this change in the language and culture of cannabis has been the oversanitizing of design in cannabis retail spaces.
I swear if I see one more Apple store wannabe dispensary, I am going to puke. Stores need to learn to be themselves while incorporating the values of the communities that they serve. I have never felt at home in these sterile environments, and have longed to see innovations in store design that make them welcoming to the average Canadian cannabis consumer.
ITJ Editorial Board Member
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