Cannabis has long been associated with hippies and students. But as marijuana is gradually legalised across the US and other parts of the world, growers and sellers are looking to change its image and attract new clients.
Enter Olivia Mannix, the founder and CEO of Cannabrand: what is believed to be the first marketing agency dedicated to cannabis.
The firm launched in 2014, just as Colorado legalised marijuana not only for medical use but for recreation. Since then, the drug has been legalised in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Nevada, Colorado, Maine and Massachusetts. As a result, hundreds of new firms have popped up, with celebrities Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson among those getting on the bandwagon. But for those without marketable names and millions of dollars, a little bit of clever marketing can be hugely important.
“I've been living in Colorado for ten years and I went to college in Boulder, Colorado, which is a quintessential cannabis town,” she tells The Independent. And her stance on the drug is clear: “Cannabis is not just a 'drug'; it's a medicine which is something that needs to be communicated.”
World's 10 most deadly street drugs
World's 10 most deadly street drugs
1/10 10. Purple Drank
One of the more unusual drugs around at the moment, purple drank was popularised in 90s hip hop culture, with the likes of Jay Z and Big Moe all mentioning it in their songs. It is a concoction of soda water, sweets and cold medicine, and is drunk due to cold medicines high codeine content, which gives the user a woozy feeling. However it can also cause respiratory issues and heart failure
2/10 9. Scopolamine
Scopolamine is a derivative from the nightshade plant found in the Northern Indian region of South America (Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela). It is generally found in a refined powder form, but can also be found as a tea. The drug is more often used by criminals due its high toxicity level (one gram is believed to be able to kill up to 20 people) making it a strong poison. However, it is also believed that the drug is blown into the faces of unexpecting victims, later causing them to lose all sense of self-control and becoming incapable of forming memories during the time they are under the influence of the drug. This tactic has reportedly been used by gangs in Colombia where there have been reports of people using scopolamine as way to convince victims to rob their own homes
3/10 8. Heroin
Founded in 1874 by C. R. Alder Wright, heroin is one of the world’s oldest drugs. Originally it was prescribed as a strong painkiller used to treat chronic pain and physical trauma. However in 1971 it was made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Since then it has become one of the most destructive substances in the world, tearing apart communities and destroying families. The side effects of heroin include inflammation of the gums, cold sweats, a weak immune system, muscular weakness and insomnia. It can also damage blood vessels which can later cause gangrene if left untreated
4/10 7. Crack cocaine
Crack cocaine first came about in the 1980’s when cocaine became a widespread commodity within the drug trafficking world. Originally cocaine would have attracted a high price tag due to its rarity and difficulty to produce, but once it became more widespread the price dropped significantly. This resulted in drug dealers forming their cocaine into rock like shapes by using baking soda as a way of distilling the powder down into rock form. People were doing this because it allowed for them to sell cocaine at a lower quantity and to a higher number of people. The side effects of crack cocaine include liver, kidney and lung damage, as well as permanent damage to blood vessels, which can often lead to heart attacks, strokes, and ultimately death
5/10 6. Crystal meth
Not just famous because of a certain Walter H White, but also because it is one of the most destructive drugs in the world. First developed in 1887, it became widely used during the Second World War when both sides would give it to their troops to keep them awake. It is also believed that the Japanese gave it to their Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions. After the war crystal meth was prescribed as a diet aid and remained legal until the 1970s. Since then it has fallen into the hands of Mexican gangs and has become a worldwide phenomenon, spreading throughout Europe and Asia. The effects of crystal meth are devastating. In the short-term users will become sleep depraved and anxious, and in the long-term it will cause their flesh to sink, as well as brain damage and damage of the blood vessels
6/10 5. AH-7921
AH-7921 is a synthetic opioid that was previously available to legally purchase online from vendors until it became a Class A in January 2015. The drug is believed to have 80% of the potency of morphine, and became known as the ‘legal heroin’. While there has only been one death related to AH-7921 in the UK, it is believed to be highly dangerous and capable of causing respiratory arrest and gangrene
7/10 4. Flakka
Flakka is a stimulant with a similar chemical make-up to the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts. While the drug was originally marketed as a legal high alternative to ecstasy, the effects are significantly different. The user will feel an elevated heart rate, enhanced emotions, and, if enough is digested, strong hallucinations. The drug can cause permanent psychological damage due to it affecting the mood regulating neurons that keep the mind’s serotonin and dopamine in check, as well as possibly causing heart failure
8/10 3. Bath salts
Bath salts are a synthetic crystalline drug that is prevalent in the US. While they may sound harmless, they certainly aren’t the sort of salts you drop into a warm bath when having a relaxing night in, they are most similar to mephedrone, and have recently been featured throughout social media due to the ‘zombification’ of its. The name comes from the fact that the drug was originally sold online, and widely disguised as bath salts. The side effects include unusual psychiatric behaviour, psychosis, panic attacks and violent behaviour, as well as the possibility of a heart attack and an elevated body temperature
9/10 2. Whoonga
Whoonga is a combination of antiretroviral drugs, used to treat HIV, and various cutting agents such as detergents and poisons. The drug is widely available in South Africa due to South Africa’s high rate of HIV sufferers, and is believed to be popular due to how cheap it is when compared to prescribed antiretrovirals. The drug is highly addictive and can cause major health issues such as internal bleeding, stomach ulcers and ultimately death
10/10 1. Krokodil
Krokodil is Russia’s secret addiction. It is believed that over one million Russians are addicted to the drug. Users of krokodil are attracted to the drug due to its low price; it is sold at £20 a gram while heroin is sold for £60. However, krokodil is considered more dangerous than heroin because it is often homemade, with ingredients including painkillers, iodine, lighter fluid and industrial cleaning agents. This chemical make-up makes the drug highly dangerous and likely to cause gangrene, and eventually rotting of the flesh
Judging by Mannix’s career history, her attitude is understandable. She has worked at dispensaries in Colorado, and used medical marijuana after she underwent knee surgery following skiing accidents.
“Cannabis was imperative to helping me with my injuries, with overall pain management, and then also just the recovery after surgery.
"At that time, I started to educate myself on the benefits of medical marijuana."
Since 2014, Cannabrand has worked with over 100 companies in the US as well as Africa and Canada, and currently have ten clients, including dispensaries, cultivators, edibles, and vape pen makers.
“We started Cannabrand, to ‘rebrand cannabis’,” she says. Recent research published in The Lancet Psychiatry showed that more US adults are using marijuana, and less people see it as harmful. But it's still far from easy.
“Banking is definitely an issue,” says Mannix. “A lot of companies have their cannabis company under a holding company. For instance, I don't have a bank account with Cannabrand,” she explains, adding she once had her holding firm account closed down. However, as the legality of marijuana becomes less of a novelty, institutions are changing their attitudes.
“In Colorado specifically things are getting a little bit more open with cannabis, and actually being here cannabis is very, very normalised,” she explains.
Mannix’s aim is to educate people about the plant, and separate fact from propaganda that she says was sewn during Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s with his War on Drugs.
“People really just need to be educated about cannabis and learn that it is a versatile plant with a lot of medicinal properties that can aid a lot of different ailments, such as cancer, MS, cerebral palsy, epilepsy.
“There's so much more to it. It's not just smoking flower - you can take the actual plants, and you can extract the medicine from it, so the THC or the CBD cannabinoids, which can help you with muscle aches, back aches.
"There's lotions and topicals and bath salves, and all sorts of different cosmetic items as well as patches, transdermal patches, there's vape pens, there's edibles, there's just so many different forms of it. People just really need to do their research and look into what cannabis is before they go to judge it.”
Mannix predicts that cannabis will be widely accepted in the US in between five to ten years.
In that time brands will eventually emerge as synonymous with the drug and take the biggest slice of sales. So, who will be the Starbucks, McDonald’s and Coke of cannabis?
“Caliva in California is one,” she says of one of her former clients. “They have a beautiful brand, and they're comparable with Starbucks. Great branding is so important, and having a cohesive marketing and brand strategy is crucial, just like any other industry, and this is how we're treating it. It's incredible to see how far the industry has come.
Mannix says her three years in the industry have been a whirlwind. "It's been amazing to be a pioneer. I just want to keep educating and informing people on the benefits of cannabis. It's not just about getting high."Reuse content