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4/20 vision: meet the marketers leaving the mainstream to blaze the cannabis trail

The gradual process of decriminalization of cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) products across the world has given rise to a highly regulated yet booming new industry – one that needs the creative branding skills of marketers more than most. This 4/20, The Drum speaks to three industry execs forging new ground as CMOs, media moguls and designers in this blazed new world.

Marji Chimes is the chief marketing officer of Coda Signature, a manufacturer of premium cannabis-infused edibles, topicals and concentrates distributed in Colorado (it plans to launch a California operation in June). She was previously head of marketing at TTEC, a business process outsourcing company.

It was one of my former bosses at TTEC who founded Coda Signature. When he left, he told me that he would be back to get me when the company was up and running. At the time I was very skeptical: I was a marketing industry veteran with more than 25 years’ experience in mainstream industries, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to take the leap.

When he came back to me two years later, the company was planning to expand to California and they had no formal marketing in place. The product was amazing, differentiated and extremely popular. Several additional states had legalized cannabis for recreational sales and the capital markets were starting to pay attention to the industry.

I was being offered an opportunity to be part of a movement and to have a hand in shaping the industry. How could I say no?

I love the people in this industry. The bud tenders, dispensary owners, journalists, manufacturers, caretakers...they’re all are passionate about what they do. I can’t wait to read the industry news every day – there are breakthroughs overnight. But given the current state-by-state regulations, there is so much redundancy and waste. If the government could just pass the States Act, we could make so much progress so much faster.

I really do believe that in the next five years, we will get to a place where the industry is managed in a similar way to alcohol. With normalization and decriminalization, there will be much more opportunity for medical research, and I believe that will open the door for huge breakthroughs in how we treat many diseases.

In addition, I believe we will have worked through the challenges on the social equity side and will have provided amnesty to so many who were incarcerated for marijuana related crimes. And I hope tax dollars will be invested into the communities that have been hurt by the illegal drug market.

Michael Klein is the chief executive of CannabisMD, a non-advocacy digital platform that informs consumers about the benefits of medical cannabis and CBD. He was previously executive vice-president for MTV’s original content at Viacom.

I come from the world of entertainment, having headed up programming at the likes of MTV, TLC and the Travel Channel, and leading Condé Nast Entertainment’s digital media efforts. But I wanted to make the leap to drive the cultural conversation around medical cannabis and CBD, and do it with authentic, premium content and an authoritative voice.

The thing I love the most about my job now is my team. I am surrounded by seasoned, successful brand builders and growth strategists from Condé Nast, Viacom, Discovery, BuzzFeed, Yahoo and ESPN, all with deep knowledge and experience in content creation, digital platforms, sales, technology, marketing, partnerships and finance.

They all joined me because they want to be a part of the cultural conversation.

We are in an emerging industry without any corporate legacy issues to hold us back, so, honestly, I rarely get frustrated. We are all taking our experience from our careers and shaping the definitive global media company for medical cannabis and CBD.

In the next five years, we will see a wave of legalization, both for medical and recreational, across the globe. Even more consumers will have the option to introduce medical cannabis and CBD into their health and wellness journey. And there will be an increase in research and real facts around benefits and what to stay away from.

We will definitely see a correction in the CBD marketplace, with the best products dominating, while those that make false claims, which wee see everywhere today, will disappear. I hope CannabisMD will continue to be the dominant voice for trusted content.

Katie Klausner is the founder of Dope Dazy, a lifestyle brand that aims to bring beauty industry levels of design to cannabis and CBD, and the creative director of CBD startup Holistik Wellness. She was previously a packaging designer at Tru Fragrance, where she worked on brands such as American Eagle, Urban Outfitters and Steve Madden.

I was writing a trend report about two-and-a-half years ago when I noticed an emerging industry. I presented the idea of moving into the CBD space to my company, but they weren’t interested at the time. I started to think about my own relationship with cannabis and asked myself how my own brand in that space could look. That’s when the idea for Dope Dazy was born: there was no weed brand speaking to me: a young, creative, working woman with a penchant for design and aesthetics.

For the next year and a half, I kept coming back to this idea and realized I could no longer ignore it. Finally I made the leap, quit my job, started working on my brand and never looked back.

Now I’m here, I’ve discovered this world is full of people who are taking risks. It’s filled with people – especially badass women and minorities – that advocate for inclusivity, wellness and art. And it’s an added benefit that the workday now includes smoking vapes at lunch – get lucky and your boss might even gift you treats from Colorado.

But while it’s incredible to see all of these amazing companies emerge, it’s difficult not to think you might get passed by if you don’t act quickly enough. The speed at which this industry is growing puts a lot of pressure on you to get your product and vision out there as soon as possible. It’s a frustrating balance of believing in your vision and knowing that you have something unique to offer this industry, and not letting the pace at which the industry is growing speed up your process.

In the future, I hope we will continue to see the destigmatization of cannabis as a whole. I think CBD is the first step in this, and as more states across the country legalize cannabis, people will be more accepting. You are already seeing all types of people smoking on the streets of NYC without anyone batting an eye – I envision a time when the community is no longer shamed, and imprisoned, for enjoying the benefits of cannabis.

The reality is that, like all other industries, big corporations are eventually going to control the market, creating a similar dichotomy between corporations and smaller creative shops as most design industries have. However, I do believe that the new consumer cares about inclusivity and transparency, and I have faith in the consumer to support brands that emphasize those traits.

Main image courtesy of Dope Dazy/Linda Conlin

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