Creating a national cannabis brand might be harder than you think


I ran across several stories about Bethenny Frankel, a reality show personality, who, after apparently being spotted coming out of an Aspen dispensary and tweeting her delight at the experience, is rumored to be wanting to cash in on the cannabis business. Frankel developed the Skinnygirl ready-to-drink cocktail line, and “insiders” say she wants to sell a special strain that would not induce the munchies.

This is hardly news. Google “munchies and pot” and you’ll find recommendations for strains that don’t necessarily force the unsuspecting into wolfing an entire giant bag of jalapeño potato chips in 15 minutes. Recent studies are indicating that cannabis opens olfactory receptors, which then helps activate appetite. But really, “the munchies” concept seems little more than a marketing device, developed and perfected from the 1970s, when pot was highly illegal yet flourishing and depicted in a long parade of stoner movies and advertising, from Cheech and Chong and Animal House to Jeff Spicola in Fast Times at Ridgemont High up through Seth Rogen’s Pineapple Express.

What this really has to do with is branding, which in this case involves taking a product nobody is particularly looking for and, through association with a hypothetically “famous” person (I had never heard of Frankel or Skinnygirl before this) induce people into spending money on said product.

A similar tactic is being carried out by the family of Bob Marley, who has already been selling men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, bags, hoodies, headwear and other décor under the late reggae star’s name for several years. In November, the family announced it was giving permission to use it on a new line of cannabis- and hemp-based products.

“The brand, dubbed Marley Natural, marks the first time the family’s name would adorn packages of cannabis products ranging from strains similar to those Bob might have smoked in his homeland Jamaica to concentrates, oils and infused lotions sold in countries and U.S. states that have taken steps to decriminalize and legalize pot use and sales,” according to a Reuters story.

It will be interesting to see whether Frankel or Marley will be able to establish a national product line that will distinguish itself from any of its competitors. Marley would seem to have the edge in that he is the musician most associated with cannabis. But whether people will line up and pay premium prices for “strains similar to those Bob might have smoked” or a chic line of diet pot is still a question mark.

Every national story I’ve read about Skinnygirl or Marley Natural says that products will be in stores in states where cannabis is legal, including Colorado, the latter perhaps by the end of this year or early in 2016. And while it is possible that Marley Natural will be available in Washington state — its operations are there — it probably won’t be on Colorado shelves that quickly, if at all.

That’s because Colorado has fairly strict laws about cannabis business ownerships. Bob Marley or Skinnygirl or anybody else who wants to sell their products here would have to obtain a state license, which requires a two-year state residency, and they must create their products here.

It’s one of the most important Colorado cannabis regulations that, at least for now, helps keeps big business and out-of-state money at bay and gives local entrepreneurs a leg up while they try to establish their businesses for the longer haul.

That doesn’t mean that the Colorado law will be in place forever, and I’m guessing there are already those who are lobbying legislators for those very changes that would allow outside interests into the state. But for the time being, Colorado won’t be seeing any national brands, at least for awhile. Besides being good for local businesses, it gives consumers more possibilities and choices that a national brand would most likely eliminate for expediency and efficiency.

An interesting story from Frisco: The Summit Daily in that mountain town reported that a local Holiday Inn tried to stop a cannabis dispensary from opening next door.

The fracas took place at a city council meeting January 13, when councilmembers were reconsidering and updating marijuana codes for retail and medical businesses. The hotel argued that its customers would be turned off by a dispensary and would then look elsewhere for lodging. Representatives said that families were complaining of cannabis odor in the hotel, and many were uncomfortable talking to their children about it. It even asked council to change zoning rules so that the hotel’s temporary quarters for employees would be considered full-time housing, which would disallow the dispensary.

Town officials, while passing some changes in the town’s regulations and code, shot down every one of the hotel’s arguments. More than one person reminded the owners that cannabis is legal in Colorado, and that parents do their children a disservice by not talking to them about it.

And is legal cannabis hurting the lodging business? Being a ski town, frequent users of the hotel include racers, which prompted a response worth repeating from Tom Wilkinson, a former ski coach and now Frisco mayor. “Believe me, I coached ski racing for a long time,” he said. “And if you can find a ski racer that doesn’t smoke pot, I’ll give you $100.”

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.