Now that marijuana is making it to the mainstream, some in the industry are eager to take the potheads out of pot, employing the same language of condescension and bigotry prohibitionists have used for years to keep us criminal.
In a recent New York Times piece, Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco are profiled for their start-up, Cannabrand, referred to as “an advertising agency devoted exclusively to marketing marijuana.” While there exists a great opportunity to re-brand cannabis and its consumers in the legal marketplace, Mannix and DeFalco seem to feel cannabis can’t be rebranded without throwing some of its consumers under the bus of social stigma and prejudice.
“We’re weeding out the stoners,” the 25-year-old Mannix says. “We want to show the world that normal, professional, successful people consume cannabis.”
I guess Willie Nelson, Tommy Chong, and Snoop Dogg are abnormal?
I’ve visited medical marijuana dispensaries in four states and recreational pot shops in two states now. Never in my travels have I entered any that “look like underground abortion clinics,” according to Mannix (not that I’d know what an “underground abortion clinic” looks like).
DeFalco explains, “baby boomers are smoking, stay-at-home moms are smoking, business executives are smoking. But for so long, they’ve done it behind closed doors. We want to bring them out of the shadows.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, but trying to accomplish that by essentially saying, “no, these folks are the GOOD cannabis consumers, not some STONERS” is like marketing craft beer by demonizing rappers who drink 40 ouncers of malt liquor or marketing chardonnay by demonizing homeless people drinking box wine. You can sell the positive spin without employing the tactics of separation and hate.
Cannabrand has gone so far as to take even the pot out of pot. The Times explains how the chain of dispensaries formerly known as “Gaia” (the Greek goddess of the earth) is now known as “Mindful” after a Canna-re-branding by Mannix and DeFalco’s company. “Many of the marketing materials do not even mention the word ‘cannabis’,” writes the Times, “(or any other word for pot).”
How do you end the stigmatization of cannabis consumers when you are advising cannabis companies to not even mention the word “cannabis”? It’s like trying to fight for marriage equality while still referring to homosexuality as “the love that dare not speak its name”.
“I’ve heard time and time again, ‘I walk into a dispensary and I feel like I’m walking into a stoner’s basement,’” said Meg Sanders, CEO of Mindful. Folks, I’m a stoner and the studio in which I’m writing this is a basement, and it looks nothing like any dispensary I have ever visited. Where are these places?
The old stoner stereotype endures, Mannix and DeFalco continue, describing lazy, mostly men, rolling joints in their parents’ basement, covered in Doritos crumbs. But the only way it survives is by people with high pubic profiles continuing to feed it. Few people under 40 think of cannabis consumers that way; the “stoners” they know are Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna, not Cheech & Chong.
The most offensive part to me is that the people who fought and died to make legal the industry Mannix and DeFalco now wish to exploit — Jack Herer, Peter McWilliams, Michael Malta, Share Parker, Michelle Rainey, so many others — were the kind of people Cannabrand is now trying to “weed out.