Over the last few decades, liquor – once prohibited by federal law – took on new life as hip hop celebrities began to drive sales by featuring brands in their music videos. With it came celebrities actually creating their own brands as well, such as P. Diddy and his vodka line.
And now, not far behind is marijuana. Although it is still on the federal law books as prohibited, states across the country have legalized it. Following the footsteps of liquor, it is now becoming a product of celebrities.
Big names, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Snoop Dogg, The Game, Montel Williams and Wiz Khalifa, have created their own brand name marijuana-based products, and the public is lighting it up at the projected (2020) tune of $24 billion. Some estimates go even higher. The burgeoning marijuana industry is also being credited with creating new jobs as growers spring up; brands are being developed and dispensaries are being created.
$10 billion in sales
Sales related to marijuana products reached $10 billion in 2017. And polls find more than 60 percent of the U.S. population supports legalization, reports Variety. Crunching the numbers, here are some headlines that are telling the story across the country: “Cannabis to add a million jobs, $130 billion tax revenue by 2025” in Business Insider. “Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates marijuana could generate more than $260M in new tax revenue” … Michigan Radio. “Nevada Collects $69.8 Million in Marijuana Tax revenue in First Year” as reported by KTVN News.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as Forbes recently reported. Of course at the top of the list from Forbes is California, with a reported $2.75 billion in cannabis sales. And leading the charge… celebrities and athletes. Indeed, celebrities are jumping on the “marijuana brand wagon,” reports CNN Money. Tommy Chong was interviewed about his Chong’s Choice, a marijuana brand that is available in six states, including California, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Nevada. Chong says developing a weed product was a natural fit. “I’m probably the most recognizable pothead in the world,” he told CNN in April.
‘Legalization has opened doors’
“Legalization has opened the doors to all the celebrity branding,” says Steve Bloom, former editor of High Times who now operates a web site called Celebstoner. “It’s not surprising that all the most likely celebrities are jumping aboard.”
State governments have realized the revenue potential of allowing growers and buyers to thrive in an open environment. Recreational marijuana is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in 30 states, according to CNN Money. While undoubtedly for many it’s about pleasure, for others it’s medical.
Montel Williams, who has a staunch military background, found himself in an unexpected predicament when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The 22-year military vet was in pain and battling depression that left him suicidal. After a few years of dealing with the issues associated with the disease, a doctor quietly recommended Williams look into medical marijuana. He did, and he says the relief was immediate, as he told the Californian in 2017. Williams decided he wanted the same type of products he uses available to others. So he opened Bud and Bloom, a dispensary in Santa Ana, California. The dispensary is just the beginning for Williams, who is also working to develop products for medical use through his LenitivLabs.
(A quick note about Williams; he’s not just a former decorated soldier turned talk show host. He has an engineering degree from the U.S. Naval academy, as well as degrees in Russian and cryptology. He’s worked in high tech businesses on medical devices and bio foods. In addition, he was a special duty intelligence officer at the National Security Agency for nine years. The point is… he’s not just another celebrity cashing in on the marijuana craze.)
The Marley Naturals
On the other tip, some are creating a line of products that go beyond pleasure. The estate of Bob Marley, which includes his widow Rita and his 11 kids, have already been established as major players in the rapidly growing industry. The Marley Naturals company features branded marijuana, as well as pipes and body care products. Says Troy Dayton, CEO of the Arcview Group, an investment and market research company for cannabis: “One of the biggest challenges cannabis has is a certain narrow stereotype associated with it. When a celebrity who doesn’t fit the stereotype [of a pot smoker] gets into promoting cannabis, it expands the conceptual footprint that cannabis has in the minds of current and potential consumers.”
Dayton is referring to celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Montel Williams and Melissa Etheridge who are more focused on the medical benefits of weed.
Last year, Our Weekly told its readers about Mike Tyson and his move to secure a place in California’s weed production. The former boxer bought property in California City, about 50 miles outside of Los Angeles, for his Tyson Ranch. The property is being used to grow marijuana commercially.
And KISS front man Gene Simmons, although proclaiming that he does not drink or smoke pot, has reportedly invested in Canada’s Invictus and works as the cannabis company’s spokesperson. Simmons told Westwood last year that the firm’s beliefs mirror his own and altered his views toward the value of marijuana.
Method Man and Red Man, who had a hit record with “How High,” developed Blaze Now, an app that enables users to locate dispensaries in the area they are in. The app is free, supported by dispensaries that want to connect with potential customers.
Big names, big business
Indeed, big names are getting in on the big business of legal weed. George Jage, CEO of Dope magazine, a marijuana industry publication, told Variety last month, “The future of cannabis is going to be about brands.” And what’s better branding than featuring a name that cannabis consumers already know and trust on your label?
Some of the names already involved with marijuana products other than the ones already mentioned go well beyond African Americans, including Willie Nelson, Melissa Etheridge and Trailer Park Boys. More celebrities already in the field include Master P, Wiz Khalifa, Ghostface Killah, NBA star Cliff Robinson, former NFL player Ricky Williams and Cypress Hill’s B Real, who recently opened a store with marijuana products in Sylmar, a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley.
“The advantage of having a celebrity cannabis brand, especially like Snoop Dogg’s, is the immediate recognition of our product from a wide variety of demographics, including international tourists, consumers looking for unique and interesting gifts,” says Tiffany Chin, co-founder of Leafs by Snoop, which sells a variety of flower, edibles and concentrates in the U.S. and Canada. “That’s why I believe we’ll see more participation from mainstream celebrities and brands as the industry grows.”
But celebrities have to be careful how they produce and promote their product or they will just become a flash in the pan. Marijuana consumers, both who consume for pleasure and who partake for medical reasons, tend to know what they like, and won’t go for something just because it has a famous name behind it. If the celebrity doesn’t deliver quality product, they will lose repeat customers and eventually word will get out that their product “ain’t all that.”
According to Dope magazine’s George Jage, consumers are more interested in how a flower, oil or edible is going to make them feel than in which famous name is selling it. That’s why he expects to see more celebrities associated with health and wellness, such as Dr. Oz, get into the market with CBD products (the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant).
“Someone like that resonates with baby boomer audiences because they’re trusted health advisers,” Jage told Variety. “I’m not saying there’s no value to brands with [entertainment] celebrities, but they’re just going to appeal to a certain demographic. That’s not where the market opportunity lies. Boomers want something that can help alleviate some of their aches and pains. They see [cannabis] as a way to feel better.”
One celebrity athlete trying to develop a following for his marijuana-based product aimed at people with physical challenges is former NBA player Al Harrington. After 16 seasons playing on the hardwood, his body was banged up and he had pain that ordinary over the counter medical products fell short of relieving. He found his best relief from the pain was marijuana. Like Montel Williams, he wanted others to be able to get relief from pain from everyday work or past situations like he had playing in the NBA. But Harrington, who developed the Viola Brand of medical marijuana products, thinks any other celebs or athletes that want to develop their own brand should do it for something other than money.
“We’ve got a platform,” he said in a recent interview. “And at the end of the day, the best stories we can tell people are our real life stories. I used to have chronic back pain and could work maybe two days a week. Thanks to cannabis, I’m working seven days and lead an active lifestyle so my goal is to educate people with Viola.”
With this new open market have come media outlets featuring everything about marijuana a person could possible want to know, such as Sensi, Dope, Freedom Leaf, Cannabis now, Ganjapreneur, Ladybud, Vegas Cannabis magaine, Cannabis Chronicles, High Times, Newsweed, The Daily Chronic and Marijuana Business Daily.
Also, there are major investments being made in the field. In fact, Jason Sparafora, known as the “Wolf of Weed Street,” has a website called MarijuanaStocks.com. He has invested in a variety of marijuana based startups and his website lists just about every marijuana business around the globe.
There’s a catch, though. It’s all considered a bit of a black market business because remember, the U.S. government still considers marijuana use as illegal. Will that change? The answer is probably “yes,” as more and more states are realizing the economic value of legalizing pot, whether it’s for pleasure under structured circumstances or for medial reasons.