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Designer Weed Culture: The Cannabis Industry Makeover

Nowadays where weed is legal both recreationally and medically across the US, with the exception of a few states(10), there are several options to buy your weed from. Corporations set up dispensaries where you have countless options in terms of the form of cannabis available, the different quantity and prices they offer, and what brands to choose from. Then, you have growers who've been cultivating and selling cannabis, whether since the 70's or the last 10 years, and they participate in what's called the black market. It is essentially the weed they grow at home or at some facility, but don't pay the fees that come with putting their brand on the corporate shelves. The black market can be available either nationwide or just a friend of yours who grows and sells.


The other option is you, the reader, growing cannabis and selling it, creating somewhat of a brand with your clientele. The point is, branding weed has now engulfed the mainstream cannabis industry since its become legal in the US, and if you pay attention to what's happening with the "top" companies--either big corporations or those popular in the community--many are participating in what's called Designer Weed Culture. At least, that's what I call it.


Designer Weed Culture is where brands create outlandish ways of promoting/advertising the cannabis they sell to the mainstream airwaves. These eccentric forms of advertisements are made to indicate that the quality of cannabis being sold to you is high in potency and worth whatever price they're set at because they're either placed in fancy bags, are exclusive to "certain" customers, or the face of the brand is a social media personality willing to sell you their soul for a profit. It is meant to appeal to the wealthier, somewhat ego-centric smoker. Let's look at a few examples of this and how brands are now transcending the old mom-and-pop pot shop identity that cannabis held for decades, to a now extravagant experience made to be flashy, gimmicky, yet also be a symbol of US capitalist culture.


Eccentric Mylar Bags and Containers

How can you get someone's attention while also telling them who you are and what you represent? This question is asked in every industry possible: music, film, restaurant, water, etc. Companies and entities akin have figured out that selling any product can be done easily if they look trendy enough. This can be done with crazy looking mylar bags your cannabis is packaged in.


If you're using social media and follow many of these popular weed brands and influencers/personalities, you'd notice these bags are paraded as commodities and collectibles. These bags are a signal, a call to your attention that because the weed is in a funky looking bag, it means it's quality bud. It means this person most likely paid extra for their eighth and want you to see them enjoying it. Opinions are subjective, but if you ask around the cannabis community, you'll find two perspectives; either these colorful bags or containers are used strictly for the point of sale, or these bags truly indicates that the flower inside is worthy of whatever price is slapped on it. You'd be surprised as to not only how common this technique is utilized, but also how many people buy into it.


Think of famous designer clothing and fashion brands that have not only created this cultural identity in the US, but how it has influenced the cannabis industry directly through the profiting off consumers. They essentially take an ordinary product, dress it up a certain way for your attention, and overcharge the hell out of it.



Mind you, these products are made in sweatshops across the world because making it in the US would cost more money and expose the inhumane workplace conditions made for a profit. And why not take this approach? If people, especially wealthy(er) folk who are desperate to show off their riches by buying expensive objects as monuments to their egos, why wouldn't you appeal to them? It's genius, and it's why we are seeing this trend in the cannabis industry. I mean, we have Jolly Roger himself, the founder and CEO of Puffco, parading a $1,000 2-gram bucket of live rosin on his Instagram. In no way shape or form is any 2-gram bucket of live rosin worth $1,000. The same argument can be made how no pair of shoes are worth $10,000. This is obviously not a new approach to consumerism, but it sure shows how human nature responds to the illusion of "quality" through fancy graphics and a splash of color.


Exclusive Memberships and Events

Who doesn't like being part of a club, or at least being one of a handful of individuals who share a likeness by receiving exclusive benefits from a niche community? It's what symbolizes the fabric of the media we consume and the pop-culture nature we live in. For example, Hollywood and those who are a part of that city are famously known for being a tight-knit community. To be an A-lister you must be "one of us" by working with the same people, partying with the same people, even doing drugs and having sex with the same people. Actors, models, athletes, artists, producers, etc. all participate in this lifestyle made to separate themselves from society for its exclusive benefits.


I won't dive deeper because you get the point, but the cannabis industry has also adopted this mindset with branding and advertisements. How is this done? Several ways, such as exclusive access to new "drops" where brands release either a new or popular strain of weed for special customers before the general public can consume. An example can be found with a brand like 710labs and their "Green Room." It is a list of customers who have signed up, via email or text, to receive notifications on the "most exclusive batches from each month’s production at the most accessible prices on the market." Now, popular brands of cannabis like 710labs float the idea that their prices are accessible, meaning their price tags are justified by said company's standards. Before we dive deeper into the Green Room, let's first take a look at the "accessible" prices of either a gram OR half a gram of extracts by 710labs in California, where weed is legal recreationally:



Mind you, these prices are before taxes, and in California you pay 3 separate taxes when buying 710labs at a dispensary (the legal route): state weed taxes, city weed taxes, and a service fee. So, you can add an extra 30% of your total on top of the prices you're looking at. In states, like Florida, where weed is legal medicinally, you'll find the same prices slapped on their hash. It should be noted that more than 50% of Florida's medical card holders are over the age of 40 and likely have serious medical issues. Again, these prices are meant to appeal to the more eccentric consumers while ignoring anyone who doesn't fit in that label.


I was in the Green Room when I lived in Florida. I signed up because when 710labs were creating hype in Florida through The Flowery, I honestly thought they'd be worthy of my time and money. That's before I found out I had to pay a minimum $250 to participate in these "list drops." Again, treating weed like designer clothes. Does 710labs have quality hash? I think so, and many others do as well. However, many consumers like myself aren't willing to justify those kinds of prices because it's clear that the end goal is a profit, not accessibility. But for those that do and willingly participate, they're making 710labs a killing in profits. They're not wrong for paying extra any more than I am right for not doing so, but it's simple to see how 710labs is part of Designer Weed Culture by overcharging for a product you can find anywhere in California. You're paying to be part of their club.


Another example can be found with Doja, a prominent brand of cannabis known for their quality and influence on US and global cannabis culture. How is Doja a part of Designer Weed Culture? Doja is strategic with how they promote their newest strains and lines of cannabis, whether it be flower or concentrates. They go on nationwide "tours" around the US, renting out spaces for their clientele to shop and vibe, whilst spotlighting their newest and more popular strains of weed. I went to one of their events here.



Keep in mind these events occur in states where weed is legal, perhaps even in states where weed isn't. Whether legal or not, it can still be incredibly difficult to get your hands on Doja's cannabis because it's possible that their brand isn't sold locally, yet. To buy their products and partake in their events you have to follow them on social media and constantly keep up with new announcements, because they often remind their following about these nationwide tours. By doing so, you'd be in the loop with Doja, and by going to their events you'd be exemplifying what a loyal customer looks like. Just get there on time, otherwise they're sold out quick.


With that being said, buying Doja's cannabis is paying a fixed price. If you watched the video above, you'd see that all of their eighths were priced at $60. Their website dojadirect.com also shows what you'd be paying if their products are available near you. These prices aren't mind-blowingly expensive, but that isn't to say they're necessarily affordable for all consumers. Being a part of the cannabis community is knowing that there is a large chunk of the population that isn't willing to pay more than $40 for an eighth, regardless of who it's grown by and what kind of fancy bags they come in. Whether you agree with them or not, it is the reality. Those kinds of customers aren't Doja's target clientele because the company knows their products are potent and aren't easily accessible, justifying the higher price range for their cannabis.


This approach of high(er) prices, limited availability, and secret events around the country allow Doja to be part of this new wave in the cannabis space. Now, just because a company has high prices and sponsor events does NOT mean they're Designer Cannabis. The same way anybody can slap a graphic on a white tee, price it at $500, and claim exclusivity--it does not mean it's "designer." Instead, it is the fashion in which Doja operates their brand, meaning their "exotic" lines of flower and influence by collaborations with other big names in cannabis (Backpack Boyz, Preferred Gardens, Seed Junky) being a symbol of designer culture. This is not a bad thing, it just means not everyone can participate because they either cannot afford it or they simply don't do enough research.


Yet, Doja certainly have the ability to appeal to more traditional smokers by hosting such events in areas where weed is illegal, essentially ignoring state laws for the purpose of sharing their wealth with the public. It's a call to the old ways of cultivating and selling weed by not paying the corporate fees for their products to be sold in dispensaries (although Doja certainly pays them in states where weed is legal). It comes at a price, but Doja knows their award-winning genetics are backed by quality and limited availability. Again, it's the exclusivity you're paying extra for. Doja symbolizes the phrase "if you know, you know."


Endorsements from Rappers and Influencers

This concept of advertisement has been done long before this article was written. Rappers and weed go together like cocaine and waffles (shake and bake, baby). Think all the way back to the early/mid 90s when rappers like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill, Biggie, Juicy J, and nearly every rapper made weed an identity of theirs. It was shocking for the general public because weed was illegal nationwide, demonized as a gateway drug, and because weed was associated with rappers and minorities, it was seen as a low-brow drug. Criminalizing cannabis was largely built around blaming Mexicans to begin with, so it's easy to see why the US public saw it as evil. Yet, rappers suddenly became an integral aspect of the cannabis culture as hip-hop became more and more accepted in the mainstream media.


However, because cannabis laws have changed and the entire hip-hop industry has become a get-rich-quick scheme, promoting cannabis and the culture it creates has also changed. It's not lowkey and thrilling to smoke weed like it used to be now that it's legal and rappers have brands of weed financially supported by large corporations. It's hip and trendy now. Snoop Dogg, Soulja Boy, Wiz Kahlifa, BReal, and others have delved into the cannabis industry and have created their own lines of weed. Khalifa Kush was like a folk legend 12 years ago when legalization was but an idea, now anyone can buy it at shop like Trulieve--and it's heavily scrutinized compared to before due to its price. Though not as exclusive, Khalifa Kush is still more expensive than other options and represent the designer identity through branding the rapper's image.



Look at Cookies, arguably the largest brand of cannabis in the world, founded and created by the rapper Berner. Around 2010, Berner, along with his posse of growers, coined the idea of "exotic" weed strains where some of the most popular and award-winning genetics of cannabis are crossed together to create these super-strains that are high in potency. Girl Scout Cookies, Runtz, and Gelato are a few examples of these super-strains created within the last 15 years that have become household names in the cannabis industry. Such strains contained distinct flavors and aromas, and because Cookies were pioneers of the idea, they priced these strains higher than normal. Because Berner was a rapper and worked with those in the music industry, his strains started appearing in lyrics to songs. He promoted his strains himself through his raps, detailing how much higher he'd get compared to other smokers around him because they were "exotics" (exclusive). Other popular rappers, such as Young Dolph(RIP) and Wiz Khalifa, began doing the same by incorporating these now-popular weed strains in their lyrics.


There's a direct correlation between rappers and Designer Weed Culture because rappers have been spitting rhymes about designer brands since hip-hop's inception. Big gold and diamond chains, expensive grills, and now entire name-brand outfits are the core of hip-hop's identity. You have rappers naming and associating themselves after high-priced brands like Gucci, Burberry, and Vlone. As I stated earlier, hip-hop culture and the cannabis industry have been intertwined for decades--they are nearly a single entity by how closely associated one is with the other. Both are now in the spotlight of mainstream media, creating an identity, and some say an illusion, of quality. Whether the quality of cannabis or the quality of music lives up to such standards, that's entirely subjective, but the marketing is being pushed onto the general public more and more due to the profit it creates and the consumers they appeal to.


Similarly in the 2020s, influencers on social media, whether they be models, content creators, or mainstream celebrities have also assimilated with cannabis culture. More and more "models" in cannabis are starting to pop out the abyss, gaining endorsements from prominent cannabis brands due to high follower counts, and paraded throughout social media for the purpose of pointing your attention to the brand. This happens in all industries, large or small. This kind of marketing is now the quickest and easiest way of promotion because a great chunk of "influencers" don't really have many talents--usually it's their face that sells a product. Yet, their follower counts trump the majority of all social media users, rendering them as useful assets for promotions. Eventually, you'll see Kylie Jenner dropping her own line of cannabis because she's already her own brand with a cult-like following.



There's a difference between Jorge Cervantes endorsing a new line of cannabis and Mike Tyson creating a brand (no shade to Mike, please don't hurt me). The point of the comparison is Cervantes represents the older crowd that grew up with seeds and stems in their weed that was grown themselves, whereas Mike Tyson's new line of edibles are meant to grab you're attention because there's a famous boxer on the bag. If you ask around the community, nobody holds Tyson's brand in the highest regard in terms of quality. I honestly have never seen Mike Tyson smoke or endorse weed before his brand launched. There's a chance he was a smoker before, but did anyone consider him part of the community before investors plastered his name and likeness on a cannabis brand? No.


Why would I consider Tyson's brand of cannabis a part of Designer Weed Culture if it isn't as highly respected as others? Again, it's the target audience they're reaching for. Tyson is a wealthy fellow, lives in Vegas, owns or previously owned a tiger, and represented a luxurious lifestyle for decades. He was the pinnacle of boxing and is seen as the greatest (along with Ali). He rubs shoulders with elite entities and is a celebrity through and through. Celebrities are his target audience. People who buy tickets to go to boxing matches are the audience. People like him are the audience. Sure, anyone can buy Tyson's products because they're more affordable than previously mentioned brands, but it's clear his brand is meant to attract sponsors and deep-pocket investors, rather than you or I. It's the name you're paying for.


Overview

More and more consumers are starting to see this shift in cannabis culture. The mom-and-pop business model is outdated and, if anything, taken advantage of by big corporations looking to cash-in on state economies that are allowing cannabis to boost their revenues. Instead of grandpa's stash in the attic, we have brands. We have rappers and influencers. We have capitalists forming the Designer Weed identity that panders to the new-comers looking to indulge without doing any research beforehand. Cannabis has become mainstream after decades of anti-weed legislation and propaganda. The target audience has changed now that the industry is creating billions of dollars in revenue, helping city and state economies across the US. So naturally, new faces and ideas for marketing have become very normal for those currently discovering cannabis. Even long-time smokers are noticing how, for new smokers, social media influencers and the colorful graphics on mylar bags are far more important than the actual weed inside them.


That isn't to say Designer Weed Culture is a bad thing. That'd be like saying Louis Vuitton is a bad clothing brand with low quality materials. Opinions are subjective, but just because you can't afford it doesn't mean it's negative. Hell, I partake in buying Doja and looking at Bape shoes whenever I have the time or money. Saying this shift in culture is bad would be hypocritical of me because I've already invested my money in the names mentioned earlier. Yet, just because a brand is popular does NOT mean they're high in quality; that is where people get things mixed up. Whether those brands offer quality cannabis or mids is entirely up to the individual, but the name seems to be the answer, instead of the smoke.



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