Will Legal Cannabis Survive the Mega-Corp Trend?

As we near the three-year anniversary of cannabis legalization, we take stock of all that has happened in the short time since we’ve had legal access to this once forbidden flower.

Clearly, a lot of good has come from legalization, including an industry with thousands of new jobs at all levels from entry to executive roles. We’ve also seen the stigma greatly reduced across the country and, despite what some nay- sayers feared, the children seem just fine (COVID-19 pandemic aside).

On the surface, some indicators paint a rosy, if cautiously optimistic, picture of the present and future prospects for the industry. However, just below that airbrushed, heavily retouched exterior are the machinations of major corporations, hell-bent on cannabis world domination. Should they succeed, the aftermath will be a lot less groovy than we thought legal cannabis could or should be.

Opportunities for local, independent growers and retailers will be hampered, selection will deteriorate, and the typical mega-corporate wealth gap will be reinforced in yet another sector that will disproportionately reward executives, while leaving most employees stuck in low-paying jobs with few career opportunities. And let’s not overlook the predictable male bias, endemic to large companies to this day, that sees women in executive roles woefully underpaid compared to the boys at the top.

Worse still is the almost certain resurgence of organized criminals (legacy market, to some) who will still offer homegrown options that won’t officially meet Health Canada safety standards. That said, the legacy market supplied safe, unregulated cannabis for almost 100 years. The more troubling prospect with a resurgent black market is how it will potentially fund other, more serious, crimes, such as supplying illegal opiates, perpetrating gang violence, and trafficking humans.

Unless progressive policies are introduced that level the playing field for cannabis marketing, we will continue to see small businesses bullied out of the market by big corporations or crooks.

And the black market will continue to be a thriving competitor that blurs the lines between cannabis enthusiasts and dangerous criminals. Levelling that marketing playing field would allow greater opportunity for more cannabis brands to gain traction and, as a result, might even encourage big corporations to adopt more ethical business practices, including growing and selling better weed.

So why endure the arduous march to mediocrity like the beer industry did only to eventually abandon major brands for craft brands—let’s jump on this opportunity now. Thankfully, hope-inspiring signs are emerging that the presence of smaller brands in the marketplace may expand. But much more is needed, and soon.

In this Blade White “Rolling” Paper by cannabis industry expert Craig McDonald and cannabis brand builder Wayne S. Roberts, we offer an informed overview of the market, and an impassioned call to action for a progressive approach to the marketing of cannabis, and perhaps all the government-endorsed and -funded vices that define much of our leisure culture, including gambling and alcohol.

With a federal election and the first scheduled revision of the Cannabis Act both on the horizon, now is the time to explore and embrace a better way forward, before the promise of the “people’s plant” goes up in smoke.

Read the full White paper: Here


Wayne S. Roberts

The Globe and Mail calls Wayne S. Roberts "an ad industry provocateur." Maybe its because he's never seen the point of playing by the ad game rules that place awards above results, while offering spec work instead of real value to win accounts. Throughout his career, Wayne has maintained a defiantly independent streak characterized by his insistence that agencies must be honest, direct and passionately invested in their clients' success. His pioneering work in espousing the brand community perspective has been a touchstone of his belief that branding is more than just logos, websites and ad campaigns; it is the fundamental way human beings connect with each other to create communities and launch movements that have changed our world.

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