Statutes, Stigma, and the Toking Tipping Point

Cannabis, ganja, medical marijuana. No matter what you call call it, one thing is clear: weed in the United States is at a major crossroads, and cannabis as an industry is about to change "Mary Jane" forever.

When I ask people why they believe marijuana should be legal, I generally hear two valid arguments. The first being, "Medical marijuana improved the quality of my life and alleviates xyz pain." The second is generally, "I'm an adult and I prefer a joint to an alcoholic beverage." Personally, I think the opportunities in the future cannabis industry outweigh any dubious fears of legalization.

The general arguments against legalization usually consist of fear that dispensaries will bring crime and kids will have easier access to the adult substance. One of the main anti-marijuana fear mongers, Bill O'Reilly, claims marijuana is a public menace and helps no one. But these allegations are unfounded. A recent study published by the Colorado Department of Public Safety found the number of minors using marijuana has actually decreased since legalization.

What is undeniable are the hundreds of millions of dollars that recreational marijuana is making in revenue. For instance, Colorado made almost $1 billion in 2015, $135 million in tax revenue. While Oregon made more than $11 million in the first week of recreational legalization.

More importantly, the cannabis industry is creating a diversity of new jobs and opportunities. It's not only providing retail jobs in dispensaries, but all the new products popping up require chemists and engineers to make the extractions, artists and writers to brand the products, investors, salespeople, consultants, CEOs, the list goes on. Women Grow, a national organization that champions women's roles in the budding industry, is another example of the opportunities arising in the "Green Rush". In fact, women hold a higher percent of senior executive roles in cannabis compared to other American industries, 36% to 21%, respectively. If we could take cannabis as seriously as we took tech in the 90's -- it would open up even more possibilities.

Legal cannabis products are different than the old stoner stereotype of buying a seedy dime bag in the park. They are sophisticated, thoughtful, and innovative. Take the new line of women's topicals Whoopi Goldberg and her business partner Maya just released that alleviate menstrual cramps, aches, and pains. Or the delicious THC infused gourmet coffee products of House of Jane, that help cannabis users stay medicated and productive. Not to mention, one of my personal favorites, the gorgeous, luxury, and odor-blocking handbags of AnnaBis. We asked Jeanine Moss, co-founder of AnnaBis, what inspired her to start such an unique line of bags. She told us: "My friends and I needed something fashionable, discreet, and odor-controlled to carry our cannabis in style. When I couldn't find anything, I realized that sophisticated female cannabis consumers were being completely overlooked."

Think of recreational marijuana more as a performance enhancer and lifestyle choice rather than some lazy, glassy-eyed, hungry hippie. For example, Roxanne Dennant recently created Fruit Slabs, organic, vegan fruit leathers with 100 mg of THC. She was sick of all the sugary, candy edibles currently dominating the scene, so she created a natural and delicious alternative herself.
Molly Peckler, the world's first cannabis friendly life coach, relationship expert, and creator of Highly Devoted, is a perfect example of the next step for cannabis. Molly uses her Bachelor's of Science in psychology and her previous experience in professional matchmaking to help cannabis users feel more confident and find love. We asked Molly why she decided to start life coaching and matchmaking cannabis users and she told us: "I've been judged in the past for my relationship with cannabis, and I know so many successful, well-respected people who have gone through the same thing. The stigma makes dating much more complex, and there is a growing group of sophisticated smokers who are not being catered to by mainstream coaches and matchmakers. I saw a need that wasn't being fulfilled, so I decided to build a business around cannabis friendly life and date coaching." A bold move on Molly's part, but exactly the type of innovative business models that the new cannabis industry will cater to.

Molly makes a great point about stigma; how it's the most difficult hurdle for cannabis users to overcome and can affect everything from dating to self esteem. What the cannabis industry has, that it needs to tap into to help fight stigma, is an unparalleled human element. From business owners to consumers, everyone has a story, and now is the first time in history cannabis users can "come out of the closet". Although that's only allowed in a small number of states, acceptance is spreading nationally. Especially with the presence of social media, cannabis users and brands can support one another and fight stigma together.

If we truly view cannabis use as a lifestyle choice, free of judgement, we won't demonize those who use it recreationally as well as medicinally. Marijuana is not only a safe alternative to Valium, Adderall, and Oxycodone, but also to alcohol. It is legal and socially acceptable to have a drink to unwind and socialize, yet it is 114 times more likely to kill you according to a recent study. Alcohol kills 88,000 people per year in the United States alone, and as many as 2.5 million worldwide, while marijuana kills none. That's not to mention alcohol increases violence and domestic abuse, while marijuana is proven to have the opposite effect. It's about time we stop pretending that marijuana is dangerous and bad for society, when those are truly words to describe alcohol.

If you're curious about this new market and want to learn more about how brands are being built, check out my ebook, now available for free!

This piece was created by Michelle Janikian and Catherine Goldberg for BrainBuzzOG.