Wiz Khalifa and other celebrities to market own brands of legalized marijuana
April 7, 2015 12:00 AM
Wiz Khalilfa has had his own strain of pot for sale since last summer at a California dispensary.
By Anya Sostek / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
First came marijuana legalization. And now comes commercialization.
Late last month, Willie Nelson announced plans to open a chain of marijuana stores in states such as California, Colorado and Washington, with a spokesman likening the business model to “a Whole Foods store.”
Within the last year, singer Melissa Etheridge announced plans to produce cannabis wine, Bob Marley’s estate launched Marley National, a marijuana brand “offering heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains” and movie producer and director Kevin Smith branded two strains of weed to promote his walrus horror film “Tusk.”
One of the pioneers of pot branding is Pittsburgh’s own Wiz Khalifa, who for more than a year has had his own strain of marijuana for sale at a California dispensary. Last summer, he also launched a branded line of rolling papers and marijuana accessories in a partnership “based on mutual respect for each other’s work” with RAW Rolling Papers.
Khalifa publicly embraced marijuana long before the law in certain states did, with his first studio album in 2011 titled “Rolling Papers.” A mixtape released last year was called “28 Grams” — referring to an ounce of the drug — released one day after he got out of jail for a marijuana possession arrest in Texas.
His strain of marijuana, Khalifa Kush, is for sale at The Cookie Co., a chain of two marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
Khalifa did not respond to interview requests through his record company or publicist but has discussed the marijuana brand in video interviews.
Khalifa Kush, he said in a May 2013 interview with the website HotNewHipHop, “was cultivated based on my taste preferences, my high preferences.”
In an appearance on the talk show “Chelsea Lately” in April 2014, he revealed that he pays “nothing” for marijuana, getting his brand for free through The Cookie Co. “If you’re not getting marijuana for free that has your name on it, you’re in trouble,” deadpanned guest host T.J. Miller.
A manager at The Cookie Co. 415, the San Francisco branch, described Khalifa Kush as one of the store’s top three sellers. “It has a citrusy-piney taste to it,” said manager James Scuderi. “It’s a heavy smoke, high in THC levels, an all-around good flower.”
Celebrity entrance into the marijuana industry isn’t surprising, said Marc Jampole, president of Downtown marketing firm Jampole Communications.
“Whatever we do for other products, we’ll do for marijuana if and when it becomes totally legal,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we? This is America, the land of marketing.”
In the U.S., 23 states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana in some form, with some states, such as California, defining medical requirements more loosely than others. Four states — Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon — and Washington D.C. have voted to legalize recreational marijuana to some extent.
Those numbers are starting to add up to big business. In Colorado alone last year, retailers sold $700 million of marijuana, according to The Washington Post.
Earlier this year, billionaire Peter Thiel invested in Privateer Holdings, a firm with several investments in legal marijuana, including the partnership with Bob Marley’s family on Marley Natural, “the world’s first global cannabis brand.”
Willie Nelson, for his part, is planning to launch not just his own brand of marijuana but also his own stores that will sell his products and those from other small growers that meet quality and environmental standards, according to the Daily Beast.
Mr. Jampole noted that the celebrities involved to date all have marijuana incorporated into their personal brand already, making the sponsorship deals fairly safe. While the drug was not associated with her musical career, Ms. Etheridge has been outspoken on the relief that marijuana gave her during her treatment for breast cancer.
Celebrity marketing has a long history, said Mr. Jampole, referencing baseball gloves with players’ signatures or Arnold Palmer golf clubs. The appeal is both the idea that a buyer has a shared experience with a celebrity and that a celebrity knows what constitutes top quality.
“It’s like Martha Stewart and all her stuff — she’s the expert on home crafts and she’s got the reputation for really knowing how to create a beautiful home,” Mr. Jampole said. “It’s the same thing here: If anyone knows about smoking pot, it’s Willie Nelson. If Willie’s smoking it, it must be good.”
Anya Sostek: email@example.com or 412-263-1308.
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