The Bob Marley family made headlines last fall with news of launching “the first world cannabis brand.”
The brand dubbed “Marley Natural” is in development with the Washington-based Privateer holdings, and is slated to roll out cannabis-infused lotions, creams and other accessories sometime in the near future. After Marley Natural made its media splash complete with images of the iconic Mr. Bob Marley, their next challenge is distribution, and making their products come to life. Marley Natural is not yet on the market nearly a year after their big announcement yet the bold headlines raise the question: Is it possible to have a worldwide cannabis brand? How about a national cannabis brand?
START SMALL BUT AIM BIG
The CEO of Dixie Elixirs, Joe Hodas, can tell you it’s not simple; Hodas is setting out to build a national brand with his Colorado-based cannabis-infused soda and edible company. “The Dixie brand is currently actively engaged in licensing all of the intellectual property and the packaging to affiliates around the country,” Hodas says.
Currently, the THC-infused Dixie products can be found in its home state in Colorado and now in California. Whereas Marley Natural has built their brand from the top down—and their products are still in development—Hodas started small with just a few products before adding additional ones, and he has help build Dixie into the growing brand it is today. “Dixie Elixirs and Edibles is what we are most known for. We produce 20-30 different cannabis-infused products that vary from edibles, topicals, and tinctures,” Hodas explains.
The diverse varieties that cannabis comes in make it ideal for branding. Consider other brands such as Burt’s Bees, which has dozens of products that are made from bee’s wax. Cannabis is perhaps even more versatile with oils, edibles, balms, creams, and tinctures, among other forms. And, of course, customers can smoke it, vaporize it, drink it, eat it, or apply it as a topical.
Dixie has built its customer base not only on offering a selection of products, but also for their quality. Customers return for the quality of Dixie products and also, perhaps, the sleek packaging that goes against the stoner stereotypes. But the road to going national hasn’t been without its bumps.
DEALING WITH STATE LINES
Olivia Mannix is the co-founder of the cannabis marketing agency, Cannabrand, she has worked with companies like Neos, which makes disposable vape pens with cannabis resin, to grow their business nationally. “You can’t ship any cannabis over state lines,” Mannix explains. “So what these product companies are doing is that they are licensing their brands out to different facilities in different states, because you can’t just create everything right in your facility and then ship it, you need to have it made in that state and then put your brand on it.” She adds that part of this process is developing a standard operating procedure so that the product is the same from state-to-state. Mannix points to Dixie as one of the companies that is successfully crossing state lines by following this process.
JOIN FORCES & PARTNER WISELY
How does Dixie’s Hodas do it? He advises that it’s crucial to first and foremost, partner with the right individuals who will lead your brand’s out-of-state affiliates. “It’s such a complex business that to have work relationships that are not in line with your company’s mission or philosophies is never going to work,” Hodas explains. “You have to find people that see things the way you do and people that you feel like you can have a long-term relationship with.”
Second, Hodas, insists that it’s important to have a model to share with affiliates so they can know what to expect whether that means costs, how to build a kitchen, what to watch out for when it comes to legal concerns, or other key business concerns. “That model is important so that we can ensure that our partners can fulfill what we need to do to take it to market,” Hodas notes.
MAINTAIN TIGHT CONTROL OF YOUR IMAGE
Once you have established a solid partnership and a business model with a mold for the affiliate business your company is working with, the next step is maintain a tight control of the brand. “For example with the raw ingredients like the chocolate that we use, for our chocolate products, we ensure that our affiliates are using the same chocolate so that the products here taste the same in another market,” Hodas says. “Anything that they do from a brand perspective, even if it’s a local market initiative needs to go through our corporate parents.”
Hodas also notes that there’s many challenges that come with taking your cannabis brand national that go far beyond building a solid business model. For one, because cannabis is still deemed illegal at a federal level, not having proper access to banking is a huge hurdle. Many start-ups can go to their local bank and take out a loan, this is not the case for any affiliate that your cannabis brand wants to partner with. They may have to have cash in hand or raise the equity needed to launch their affiliate. Plus, legalities remain a concern. “The fact that the laws vary from state to and state, and it varies from each week within the state, so what is compliant one week may not be the next—that’s a big, big challenge,” Hodas says. “There’s so little clarity around what’s happening, when it’s happening and how it’s happening, and it creates this doubt for every business owner within that state.”
Another challenge is the ability to grow consumers because marijuana products still have an image problem. “You may make great logos for products, and things for pain relief, and something that’s easier and healthier than having a bottle of wine, but we still have a long way to go before people get over the stigma of marijuana,” Hodas says.
THE PROBLEMS OF TRADEMARKING
Trademarking is currently impossible for a marijuana brand because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) only registers what they deem lawful, and, of course, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. Still, Hodas has found some ways to skirt around the USPTO. “To technically get trademarked on a national level for cannabis product is not possible,” he says. “But you can trademark on a state-by-state basis.” He adds that there are other elements within trademark law that have to do with how relevant trademark is to your business so it helps that his business has been using the Dixie logo for a significant amount of time.
To be sure, smooth sailing for making your brand national still has to ride out some rough waves. But take a peek at Marley Natural’s website and you’ll find some sage wisdom, as the brand reminds us, “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime journey.”
THREE EXAMPLES OF CANNABIS COMPANIES DOING IT RIGHT
Venice Cookie Company
This business calls itself California’s “leading manufacturer and distributor of cannabis infused products,” and was established in 2008. Their spate of products, which includes beverages, tinctures and edibles is expanding to markets outside of the Golden State, including Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon and Arizona.
The rising company with THC-infused products that vary from edibles to their popular elixirs has been going strong since 2010. The company is based in Colorado, and now sells in California, and with their business smarts we bet they will be coming to a city near you very soon.
According to the company website “NEOS brand is a high end quality electronic vaporization oil (“EVO”) focused on achieving “best in class” standards in the category.” They are also on the move, and currently in the works to expand outside Colorado.
By Sophia Kercher