Can I Be Blunt?

August 2016

Viewing posts from August , 2016

Medical Marijuana, Big Business & Political Influence

Today’s Washington Post came back to a story that it ran back in June (“Growing medical marijuana could mean big business in Maryland. Here’s who wants in“) and that I speculated would be problematic here (although for different reasons). The most recent story reporting on Maryland’s medical marijuana business exposes questionable (putting it politely) political dealings that favored wealthy or connected businesses:

Several of the winning applicants have political ties — with major donors or high-ranking officials on their teams — including a company that hired the Maryland lawmaker who was the driving force behind the tightly regulated program.
One of the politically connected companies is Doctor’s Orders. The group hired Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), the legislature’s top sponsor of medical marijuana legislation, to serve as clinical director of an affiliated dispensary.


Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Business: An incestuous sphere of influence

Maryland's medical marijuana business Infographic

Free Advice: Marketing in Four Seth Steps

Seth Godin's Marketing Advice for Cannabis BusinessesYou’re running a business, so you probably don’t have time to follow marketing luminaries, like Seth Godin, but I saw this post this other day and appreciated his concise explanation.

“The first step is to invent a thing worth making, a story worth telling, a contribution worth talking about.”

This is you. Whether you grow, process, bake, dispense, diagnose, defend, or provide a myriad of other goods and services related to cannabis — you are making a contribution worth talking about.

“The second step is to design and build it in a way that people will actually benefit from and care about.”

This is still you, but on a more granular level — where the details distinguish you from other worthy contributors. Examples might include, who you hire, where you source from, who you give back to … endless details that make you unique. You and I might partner at this stage; I might see opportunities for differentiation that you take for granted, but could be optimized. These efforts create a perception of value beyond price, an experience or relationship that’s more than a simple transaction.

“The third one is the one everyone gets all excited about. This is the step where you tell the story to the right people in the right way.”

I know you can talk about your products in great detail, but can you tell a story about your business? A story that, as Seth puts it, resonates with “the right people, the right way”. Customers are the right people, but for specific reasons — you want a story or experience that solidifies repeat business and encourages referrals. Do you have a story that interests people who are looking to purchase cannabis legally or for the first time? Do you know where they go to “learn more”? Are you on those websites (advertising, contributing articles, an expert source for journalists)? Have you spoken with their physicians? Sure, you can talk about the benefits of the product, but you need to include the benefits of doing business with you. I find that dispensaries, in particular, spend too much time talking about the product that “sells itself” and less time talking about why their business is the intuitive choice. You need to think beyond “selection, price, and in-house experts” — these details can describe any dispensary. There’s a bigger story to you, I can help you find it.

“The last step is so often overlooked: The part where you show up, regularly, consistently and generously, for years and years, to organize and lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make.”

This needs no explanation, but I want to stress the importance of “regularly” and “consistently”. Predictability and frequency are hallmarks of marketing — it keeps your business “top of mind” and relevant for any one who might be looking. Whether you connect with your customers/constituents through email, newsletters, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. — be consistent about it. Again, if you need help developing and communicating content, you can always take the High Road!

Washington Post Got Marijuana Users All Wrong

Over the weekend, Washington Post blogger Christopher Ingraham wrote, “What makes marijuana users different from everyone else?” He says: poor and uneducated. Intended or not, I believe that Mr. Ingraham is resurrecting the script from “Reefer Madness”.

misleading legal marijuana purchaseA picture is worth a 1,000 words (even when it’s inaccurate)

Let’s start with the very misleading photo atop the article (see right), taken in 2015 on the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Oregon. Problem is, the “massive study” — the subject of this coverage — looks at illicit “drug use conducted between 2002 and 2013”.

The truth about the “remarkable liberalization of marijuana policies” (hint: not so much)

Here are the first two sentence of the abstract describing the paper published in the Journal of Drug Issues:

The past decade has seen a remarkable liberalization of marijuana policies in many parts of the United States. We analyze data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for coinciding changes in the marijuana market from 2002 to 2013

Between 2002 and 2013, only Massachusetts and California decriminalized possession and reduced fines. Five (5) states struck down similar laws; the Supreme Court ruled that Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown cannabis even if states approve its use for medicinal purposes; and H.R. 2306 (“Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011”) never even got a hearing. [You can jump to the end of this blog post to read a comprehensive list of federal and state legislative “wins and losses”.]

A false premise twice repeated does not get it right

How can these actions taken as a whole be interpreted as the “remarkable liberalization of marijuana policies”? And how can the reporter (especially one who regularly covers drug policy) propagate this false premise by writing, “One interesting finding is that over the past 10 years as many states have liberalized their marijuana policies …”? That is not an interesting “finding”; it would be a fact, unless it wasn’t. The study about which Mr. Ingraham is reporting is not looking at the most recent “last decade” (as one would assume 2005/6 – 2015/16); the study’s scope begins in 2002 and ends in 2013.


You have to ask yourself “why” and “why now”? Ten paragraphs into the article — that up until this point has correlated marijuana smoking to alcohol use, smoking, crime, ignorance, and poverty (read: election hot buttons) — Mr. Ingraham gives the paper’s authors their caveat:

“Our results can in no way be interpreted as evidence toward the successes or failures of marijuana legalization or even medical marijuana laws,” [Davenport and Caulkins] write. However, they say their research presents a number of things to consider as states like California, Arizona and Maine vote on marijuana legalization this fall.

“There is a sharp contrast between what policy is best for the typical user versus what is best for the people who consume most of the marijuana,” Caulkins said.

Professor Caulkins writes a lot about cannabis, but not favorably (see the Winter issue of National Affairs: “The Real Dangers of Marijuana“). This is not to say that his voice is unfairly critical or unwarranted — it is welcome in a complicated debate; however, disclosing his point of view would have given WaPo readers much needed context for his perspective.

Trying to tie (and then deny) data to scare — or, at best, confuse — readers inside the beltway of Washington, D.C.’s powerful policy elites, hints of a suspect PR campaign. As does the photo of “[could be my] kids” buying cannabis (albeit legally).

It’s okay to disagree just as it’s okay to oppose policy, but both sides need to be transparent and (if you don’t mind the plug) take the High Road.

Marijuana Legislation from 2002 – 2013

  • In 2005, Gonzales v. Raich, ruled in a 6-3 decision that the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution allowed the federal government to ban the use of cannabis, including medical use, federal law strike state law.
  • On November 5, 2002, voters in Nevada rejected Question 9 by 61-39 percent. Question 9 would have legalized possession of cannabis under 3 ounces by adults age 21 and older and would allow cannabis to be regulated, cultivated, sold and taxed. Question 9 would have also made low cost cannabis available for medical cannabis patients and would have created laws against “driving dangerously” under the influence of cannabis.
  • On November 2, 2004, voters in Alaska rejected Measure 2 by 56–44 percent. Measure 2 would have prompted the state legislature to tax and regulate cannabis, and would have removed criminal penalties for cannabis use by adults aged 21 and older.
  • On November 7, 2006, voters in Nevada (again) rejected propositions that would have legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis.
  • On May 1, 2008, the New Hampshire Senate voted down a bill that would have reduced the penalty for the possession up to a quarter-ounce of cannabis. This bill had previously passed the N.H. State House of Representatives and had the support of the majority of polled voters.
  • On November 4, 2008, 65% of Massachusetts voters voted ‘yes’ on ballot question 2 known as the Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, which became law on January 2, 2009; it reduced the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis.
  • On September 30, 2010, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law S.B. 1449, a bill that decriminalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.
  • In January 2011, Republican Arizona legislator John Fillmore introduced House Bill 2228. This bill would decriminalize cannabis possession of 2 ounces or less to a petty offense with a penalty of no more than a $100 fine. HB 2228 failed to even receive a legislative hearing from his fellow lawmakers.
  • In June 2011 — Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Ron Paul, and a handful of other courageous Members of Congress introduced the first bill to end federal marijuana prohibition (H.R. 2306); it would treat marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol under federal law and would allow states to determine their own marijuana policies.  It never went up for a vote.

Colorado and Washington did pass legislation on November 6, 2012 that would benefit the cannabis industry, but those did laws wouldn’t go into effect until 2014 — in other words, those “remarkable liberalizations” wouldn’t impact the data collected through 2013.

Marijuana Acquisitions Are Big Business

This week, Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG) purchased Botanicare, an Arizona-based provider of marijuana nutrient and hydroponics products. If you’re a business owner in the cannabis industry, note:

  • Botanicare’s sales price: $40 million
  • SMG stock price: continues to hit its 52-week high (post announcement)
  • SMG stock price: gained nearly $10/share in under a week since its announcement
  • JP Morgan stock analyst: raised SMG’s target stock price by more than 20% and upgraded the stock to “overweight” from “neutral” on the news

marijuana acquisitions Botanicare

And apparently, $40 million is just the tip of the iceberg.

Last year, SMG spent $135 million on two California-based businesses that sell fertilizers, soils and accessories to pot growers. It’s also reported that the company’s dropped another $120 million on a still-undisclosed lighting and hydroponics equipment company in Amsterdam and promises to invest about another $150 million by the end of 2016.

According to SMG’s CEO Jim Hagedorn, he wants to “invest, like, half a billion dollars” in the marijuana industry. “It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in lawn and garden.”

However you feel about the entrée of corporate behemoths into this industry, they’re coming. Today, it’s ancillary business lines (like Botanicare or Microsoft’s seed-to-sale software partnership with KIND financial), but little-p pharma is putting its toe in the (bong) water. Walgreen’s “Stay Well” Tumblr blog recently espoused the benefits of medical marijuana.

Nearly 60% of Americans support marijuana legalization, according to last year’s Gallup poll, with 71% of respondents ages 18 to 34 supporting legalization. A number of states are slated to vote on legalization ballot initiatives in November — including Florida, Ohio and California, which is deciding on recreational legalization. If the California ballot initiative passes, the state would become one of the largest legal marijuana markets in the world.

We will see more and more local businesses being acquired by larger players. Whether you want to sell to or compete with these larger enterprises requires business planning and a marketing strategy that can help you either way. Let us know if we can help you with that.

A Pain in My Cannabis Strain Name

Some cannabis strain names aren’t fit for patient care. Pfizer invested millions of dollars and focus-grouped thousands of people before it settled on the name Viagra. And while insecure men everywhere might blush to utter the V-word, you won’t see physicians writing prescriptions for 50mg of the “little blue pill”. Even when the drug companies encourage you to adopt an easy recall handle like “the little purple pill”, your pharmacist still knows its Prilosec. You may not take your drug regime seriously, but the medical profession does.

Unless it’s cannabis.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 4.00.45 PM

Imagine approaching your pharmacist after a round of chemo and having him or her nod empathetically before saying, “I know just what you need: a little Alaskan Thunder Fuck ought to do the trick.”

Perhaps I wouldn’t be nearly so judgmental if this was a strain dispensed by a recreational retail outfit, but Amsterdam’s Garden is in California. I don’t believe that pharmaceutical brands convey one iota of insight into the drug it’s named for (Philith was particularly bad, though a reliable birth control product if you think you might be thunder fucked by an Alaskan anytime soon), but that doesn’t give us permission to get stupid.

We need common sense nomenclature if we want to keep cannabis legal and help patients in the 25 states who still do not have access to medical marijuana. (Put that AK-47 in your pipe and smoke it.)