Lessons Learned at the First Cannabis Industry Summit

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June 30, 2014 - By Melissa Franqui

Last week, I attended the Cannabis Business Summit, hosted by the National Cannabis Industry Association in Denver. At first glance, the gathering looked like any other trade show, but with one almost surreal exception, that the Denver Convention Center was teeming with businesses, investors and policy organizations showcasing the burgeoning legal marijuana market.

As a policy reformer based in New York, I was excited to see the vast array of marijuana providers and ancillary businesses, like lighting and software companies, reflect the new age of a professional and responsible cannabis industry.

Equally as impressive, the CBS featured compelling content and interesting speakers.  From sessions about women in the industry and cannabis law to responsible marketing and safety & potency, the topics were timely and comprehensive. I attended several sessions and took away valuable strategic guidelines for marijuana businesses and ancillary services that will help all of us continue the path toward broader reform and marijuana legalization.

If you are a marijuana entrepreneur or have an established business, here are a few recommendations from your peers:

Do NOT market like children.
At the keynote session entitled, “Getting the Message: Effective and Responsible Marketing Strategies,” it was noted first and foremost, that if there is anything that is going to rollback policy reform and legal marijuana initiatives, it will be the perception that marijuana businesses are aiming their products at minors. Do not use brightly colored packaging and/or fonts and graphics that can be interpreted as cartoon-like. There are effective and responsible ways to brand your product for adult use. Find your niche and be savvy in your product branding.

Do NOT alienate half your customer base.
In their initial advertising, some marijuana businesses featured scantily clad women and other sexist representations, so I was pleased to see this issue discussed in various sessions. Not only is this marketing approach repellent, but it is also a poor business decision. NCIA’s deputy director Taylor West stated that women are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions that are alleviated with medicinal marijuana use. Women are also more likely to try alternative medicines of which marijuana falls under. And finally, women are more likely to make the health-care decisions for their household.  These reasons and others, like holding your business up to higher ethical standards, should be enough to convince you that “women are not decoration, they are your customers.”

Do use the term “adult-use”
Throughout the summit, I heard speakers from the marijuana industry use the term “adult-use” as opposed to “recreational,” and here’s why: When’s the last time you went out for recreational beer? Or had recreational cigar after dinner? Adult-use marijuana makes the more direct distinction that non-medicinal marijuana use is for adults only.

Do support policy reform efforts and organizations.
In the keynote speech delivered by Ean Seeb of Denver Relief, he emphasized the importance of good business practices through charitable giving. Yes, you built your business from the ground up, but you benefited from a market landscape that was transformed by a coalition of activists, advocates and policy reform organizations. Financially supporting policy reform groups is not only an investment in the sustainability of your own business, but also, an investment in the advancement of marijuana legalization.

If not the Drug Policy Alliance, there are other organizations and grass-roots groups that are working toward reforming cannabis laws at state and federal levels. Give and invest generously.

Melissa Franqui is a communications associate with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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