When Canada legalised cannabis in 2018, it not only changed the country's laws but prompted a shift in attitude. As people candidly started to share their personal experiences with weed, hushed tones were replaced by frank discussions, and questions that for a long time had gone unasked were answered.
Legalisation ushered in a new sense of openness and curiosity. It felt liberating and progressive - something I see now in the US as I hear state after state review and ultimately change their laws. But, despite the thrill of watching this market emerge from the shadows and the optimism that comes with it, I’m still incredibly conscious of the work yet to be done.
For so long, we were conditioned to believe that cannabis was wrong and the constant reinforcement of that message has left an imprint on our collective psyche. It’s something that is easy to forget in the excitement and buzz of legalisation. Although laws can change overnight, culture won’t and despite attitudes shifting, the dial only moves so far. For cannabis, and its users, stigma still looms large.
As marketers, it makes our job much bigger than capturing the mindshare of our consumers. It means that there is a role here to educate and inform. Not easy in the face of the many restrictions placed on brands like ours. The irony of legalisation is the many rules and regulations that follow, on one hand limiting what we can do within our marketing efforts and on the other, challenging us to think harder, think better, and ultimately, be more creative.
Over the last two years, we’ve worked to challenge the old stoner stigma and instead counter that with an alternative; the cannabis enthusiast who comes in all shapes and sizes. From the professional who uses cannabis to unwind to the creative who uses cannabis as a tool for inspiration throughout the day. We call them, ‘Balanced Achievers” - those who use cannabis as a tool to support their ambitions, not as a distraction from them. By focusing on the shared mindset of cannabis users, we were able to truly connect with customers, old and new. What we noticed, however, was that despite identifying with our brand, consumers still felt discomfort around disclosing their cannabis use to others. It seemed that not only were non-users continuing to buy into the stigmas but so were those who frequently enjoy the benefit of the bud.
Earlier this month we launched our latest campaign, ‘Nothing to Hide.’ The 30-second spot and accompanying assets aim to challenge and change our pre-legalized behaviors. Encouraging the balanced achiever to stop hiding and start opening up about their cannabis use. For us though, this is about more than a campaign. ‘Nothing to Hide’ is the start of a firm commitment from Flowr to take on and change the cultural commentary that exists around cannabis use. But, we know that can’t happen until historical wrongs have been rewritten.
Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are living with non-violent cannabis convictions. For some, that means current incarceration, for others, it means their lives continue to be hindered by a past misdemeanour. From buying a home to traveling internationally, a historical cannabis conviction can result in a number of limitations, making life hard to live. This is where the role of a cannabis marketer and brand becomes bigger than advertising. It’s about more than design and branding, it goes beyond CSR. Because until the culture mirrors the law, we’ll continue to be marred by damaging preconceptions and out-of-date stigmas.
Cannabis currently contributes $8.16 billion to the nation's economy, there are whole industries set up to support it, employing thousands and benefiting even more. Flowr is a brand that has grown in the light, but until everyone can do the same we’ll never be rid of the negative associations. We’ll never truly move past stereotypes and remove the stain on our collective mindset. It’s time to level the playing field. It’s time to guide everyone out of the shadows and into the light.
Nicole Wolff is brand director at Flowr