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.”
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."
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