Rebranding Pot is a series about the changing aesthetics of the cannabis industry.
So long tie-dye t-shirts and stoner basements — hello digital influencers, master chefs, and business tycoons. In the U. S. and Canada, cannapreneurs — entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry — are employing increasingly sophisticated design strategies to position their brands. They are targeting a range of potential consumers — women, connoisseurs, skeptics, health nuts, millennials, and (perhaps most interesting) those who have never used cannabis before.
My research focuses on the cannapreneurs who are responsible for the green revolution’s most exciting examples of innovative branding and advertising.
With the increased legalization of cannabis in North America, aspects of the plant’s countercultural associations and negative stigmas are dissipating. Replacing the idea that cannabis is taboo are new connotations, engineered through branding and supplemented by the sheer experience of the substance.
Many of us are seeking new ways to relax, socialize, and improve our health. From the medical to the recreational, marketers are using design to communicate a need to a consumer base that can best be filled through cannabis. For those who partake in legal cannabis, the question will arise: What role does design play in that decision?
Aesthetics play a significant role in how cannabis products are received by non-users as cannabis becomes legal in North America. Intelligent and elegant solutions will allow companies to disassociate themselves from the stigma traditionally attached to cannabis consumption, securing new consumers among the canna-curious.
What is different and unique about myresearch is its focus on aesthetics. Up until recently, the imagery associated with cannabis was stagnant and drew from from established tropes such as green cannabis leaves, Bob Marley references, dancing bears, and symbols from the late 1960s and early 1970s cultural zeitgeist.
As legalization spreads, designers are reimagining and updating the visual materials used to package and market cannabis products.
In this first installment of the Rebranding Pot series, I list the top 27 cannapreneurs adopting sophisticated, innovative and unexpected designs when branding their products. Their companies display remarkable ingenuity, sophistication and design sensibility. In each future installment, I'll explore the companies and people that are reshaping your high.
Leafs by Snoop is a Denver, CO-based cannabis flower and edibles company that offers Snoop Dogg’s favorite strains. The company began sales in Colorado and expanded to Canada through a partnership with Ontario-based company Canopy Growth Corp.
Snoop and his team wanted to establish a brand that avoided clichés for a more sophisticated image that would still represent fun and a good time. The identity centers on an iconic marijuana leaf playfully constructed of jewel-like facets, accompanied by elegant packaging that is layered with laid-back California cool. — Pentagram, the design studio responsible for Leafs by Snoop's branding
Willie Nelson founded Willie’s Reserve, a line of marijuana products sourced from independent farmers that celebrates the musician’s love of cannabis and the culture surrounding it.
Honouring Willie's style, the brand identity is reminiscent of the American Old West days, with its lettering resembling a bar signage or liquor logos.
In future installments we will discuss how other celebrities are shaping their brands, such as Whoopi Goldberg of Whoopi and Maya, Tommy Chong of Chong’s Choice and Rihanna of RIHANNAxMANOLO’s “So Stoned”.
Sirita Wright, Kali Wilder, and Safon Floyd are the co-founders of EstroHaze, a New York-based multimedia company that highlights the business and lifestyles of multicultural women in the cannabis industry or those who simply use cannabis.
EstroHaze looks to destigmatize the stifling image that has, in past, been associated with female consumers and minority communities that enjoy the many benefits of this plant. Not on our watch! We are building community, providing resources, enlightening and entertaining as we set out on a mission to paint this industry every color that it currently lacks. — EstroHaze “About Us”
To further this objective, the look and feel of its website is reminiscent of popular women-focused blogs such as Man Repeller. It is interesting to note that EstroHaze was incubated by CanopyBoulder, a Boulder, CO-based seed-stage accelerator for cannabis startups that provides a $70,000 grant, a 16-week bootcamp and industry knowledge to startups in exchange for a 6–9.5% equity stake in each business.
Gossamer is a Brooklyn-based online newsletter launched in late 2017 that covers a broad range of topics such as travel, design, art, culture, and food through the lenses of the weed-inclined. With its minimalist design, they feature interviews, photo essays and recommendations that, according to their site, “just give you something to do on a slow, stoned Sunday.” In its periodic email blasts, cannabis is more often than not a tertiary topic, if it is even mentioned at all. In other words, Gossamer is a cannabis-connected company that emphasizes the notion that cannabis is something people enjoy; it is not something that defines a consumer.
Broccoli magazine is a Portland-based publication that, like Gossamer, was also launched in late 2017, and like EstroHaze also focuses on women.
Broccoli is an international magazine created by and for women who love cannabis. Offered free of charge, Broccoli explores and shapes modern stoner culture by looking at cannabis through a global art, culture and fashion lens. — Broccoli Magazine website
Broccoli was founded by Anja Charbonneau (who also functions as the magazine’s creative director), and its team includes Stephanie Madewell (editor), and Ellen Freeman (deputy editor). Charbonneau drew on her background in publishing — she worked on the magazine Kinfolk— when crafting this new publication. The aesthetic of Broccoli is both luscious and minimal. The photographs are meticulously staged (from cannabis ikebanas to cats with buds), and its tones are millennial eye candy.
Tetra, a New York City-based online retailer selling high-end smoking accessories, is one of the companies that has impressed me the most over the past two years in terms of its photography and the aesthetics of its website and Instagram feed. Tetra, founded by Monica Khemsurov and Eviana Hartman, aims at elevating the aesthetics of the smoking experience. Its website sells designer objects like pipes, ashtrays, and lighters as well as home fragrances, vintage finds, and other accoutrements — but it does not mention cannabis. Like Gossamer, this brand furthers the idea that cannabis is something a sophisticated consumer enjoys, not an substance that defines her.
Natural Cannabis Company, a Santa Rosa, CA-based dispensary with locations in Oakland, CA and Hopland, CA offers cannabis delivery services and in-store pickup. The company collaborated with the South African rap duo Die Antwoord to create Zef Zol, a cannabis product line that features vapes, vape refills, candies and lip balms and celebrates the link between creativity and cannabis. The result was packaging and photography that is eye catching and fresh.
Eaze is a San Francisco, CA-based application that allows patients to get medical marijuana delivered by background-checked drivers from local dispensaries in under 20 minutes. The logo and app interface eschew any colors and imagery traditionally associated with cannabis making Eaze look like any other mainstream food delivery or ride-share app.
The logos created by Advanced Nutrients, an Abbotsford, British Columbia-based cannabis fertilizer company are pure eye candy. Since 1996, the company has produced cannabis fertilizers it argues make it easier and less expensive for customers to grow bigger and better crops. Advanced Nutrients’ bold designs seem to harken back to some of the visual tropes traditionally associated with cannabis through their use of, for example, saturated colors and cartoon-like imagery. Yet at the same time the labels are fresh and bold.
Wanda James and Scott Durrah, co-founded Simply Pure, a Denver, CO-based dispensary and edibles company that specializes in producing a healthy alternative to the traditional edibles market. James and Durrah are the first African-American couple in Colorado to own a dispensary. Their logo includes only the faint outline of a leaf that does not recall the outline of a cannabis leaf. The interior design of their dispensary is simple and the color scheme muted, resembling a neighborhood coffee shop.
We were the first cannabis edible company in the world that specialized in a healthy alternative to what was currently on the edibles market. We were the first to cook with whole bud and guarantee consistent dosing by having a complete staff of professional certified chefs working in a commercial kitchen. The result was creating gourmet sauces and confections that guaranteed purity and consistency and delicious. All of the Simply Pure products are 100% organic, vegan, and gluten free. – Simply Pure "About Us"
Silverpeak was founded in Aspen, CO in 2009 by Jordan Lewis, a veterinarian who studied pharmacology and believed in the medical benefits of cannabis. Silverpeak began by selling primarily to medical patients, but once Colorado legalized recreational use in 2013, everything changed.
Silverpeak invested in creating a high-end retail experience, with minimalist glass and wood displays, dimmed lights, and leather chairs. Regarded as “the Chanel for weed,” Silverpeak became widely popular among Aspen's posh visitors.
Josh Ginsberg and Rhett Jordan are the co-founders of Native Roots Dispensary, the largest dispensary chain in Colorado with dispensaries in Denver, Aspen, Vail, Trinidad, and Colorado Springs.
The company provides high-quality medical and recreational cannabis products in locations with minimalist industrial-style interior design and the brand’s trademark graphic wallpaper with names of different strains and consumption methods.
Austin Heap, Ian Buczowski and Evrett Kramer are the co-founders of Potbox, a San Francisco, CA-based monthly cannabis subscription service delivering high-quality, ethically-grown cannabis. The company has expanded throughout California, and provides a more sophisticated alternative to the various other ‘on-demand’ cannabis delivery services.
Peter Barsoom is the founder and CEO of 1906 New Highs, a Denver, CO-based premium edibles company. Its products marry the benefits of cacao, cannabis, and ethnobotanical ingredients and are designed to appeal to responsible, informed and health conscious adults. 1906 chocolates are shaped into asymmetrical nuggets and are packaged in bold, minimal paper boxes.
Scott Palmer and Kristi Knoblich are the co-founders of Kiva Confections, an Oakland, CA-based cannabis company selling chocolate that is potent, consistent, and enjoyable.
The company’s chocolate won “Best Edible” at the San Francisco and Los Angeles Cannabis Cups in 2013. Their packaging is simple and sophisticated.
Jay Evans is the founder and CEO of Keirton, a Surrey, British Columbia-based cannabis trimmer company. The company collaborates with dealers, customers, and leading growers to develop specialty crop harvesting solutions with a strong emphasis on systems thinking and single piece flow. The photography for their Twister Trimmer caught my eye during a recent cannabis conference in New York City because it resembled images used to advertise beer or pick-up trucks. The hyper-masculine imagery and dark tones were a clear departure from traditional tropes associated with cannabis.
Brendan Kennedy is the founder and CEO of Privateer Holdings, a Seattle, WA-based private equity company that owns Marley Natural (a cannabis brand based on the life and legacy of Bob Marley that sells flower, accessories, and body care products), Leafly (a website where companies and dispensaries can list locations, products, and strains) and Tilray (a medical cannabis grower and online dispensary committed to producing medical cannabis safely and reliably). Each of these companies has used a carefully crafted visual identity to position itself in a different niche of the cannabis industry.
Bruce Linton is the founder and CEO of Canopy Growth Corporation, a Smith Falls, Ontario-based publicly traded medical cannabis company.
The company has three subsidiaries: Tweed (a medical cannabis company that refines popular cannabis strains and breeds proprietary genetics), Bedrocan Canada (an international medical cannabis company that pioneered medical cannabis growth in Holland) and Mettrum (a medical cannabis company that educates and supplies physicians and patients across Canada with high-quality medical cannabis and cannabis products). Like Privateer, the Canopy Growth companies’ packaging and branding connects with different subsets of the cannabis industry.