Member Blog: Cannabis Branding Faces Uncertain Future |
By NCIA
|
March 23, 2017

Member Blog: Cannabis Branding Faces Uncertain Future


lightning-labels-couponsby Mark Lusky, Lightning Labels

When it comes to cannabis labels and cannabis packaging, and for that matter everything branding-related, the marijuana industry is a many-splendored riddle. On one hand, the industry’s avant-garde nature and offerings lend themselves to eclectic and eccentric designs. On the other hand, a demand-heavy marketplace, lack of branding sophistication, and fears about sinking too much branding money into federally illegal enterprises have stifled forward progress.

LL_Jack HererAt the same time, states with the longest track record of legal use have evolved in many cases to higher levels of professionalism and panache on such important elements as marijuana labels and packaging.

An August 2016 article in HighTimes.com assesses the state of the struggle: “A lot of goofy business names, awkward brand identities, poor design execution and amateur packaging solutions have been the norm…for cannabis companies up until recently, when increasing sophistication among those investing and working in this nascent industry resulted in more slick presentations, upscale appeal and mass market sales. After all, research suggests that 33 percent of all sales are influenced by branding and packaging.

An article published on Entrepreneur.com in January points to hiccups across the board, noting that, “Businesses traditionally developed strong brands in logos, typography, color and composition. The idea was to become as ubiquitous and familiar as Hershey, Band-Aids or Scotch Tape. Left to web designers, cannabis businesses have yet to produce that attention grabber.”

Federal illegality creates consternation, conservative strategies

All along, marijuana has remained illegal under federal law, creating lots of confusion as well as a conservative approach to spending money on such branded items as marijuana labels and marijuana packaging. Illegality has impacted a wide swath of practices in such sectors as taxation and banking.

LL_Cali DreamsCannabis companies have been reticent to sink too much money into endeavors that can’t be federally trademarked or patented for fear of being copied. Notes the Sacramento Record-Bee in a January article, “Branded pot products gained footing in recent years as California sanctioned medical use of marijuana, and other states began permitting recreational use. Now that California voters have approved a ballot measure allowing all adults to use the drug, cannabis businesses want more authority to brand their products…But officially trademarking marijuana is a tricky legal task. The federal government still considers it an illegal drug, and won’t grant patents or trademarks for pot or anything made from it. Cannabis brands fear they are at risk of being copied. So marijuana businesses in California—eyeing what could become a $6.4 billion industry—have turned to the state government for help.”

Given the uncertain direction that federal enforcement will take under the new administration and anti-marijuana attorney general, it’s anyone’s guess about if, how, when, and where cannabis branding will move forward.

Following are tips for cannabis companies addressing or reviewing their branding currently:

  1. Look at purveyors/competitors in “pioneering” states that have the longest track record–to see how they have evolved their branding. Typically, Colorado and Washington are at the top of states where both recreational and medicinal are legal; California is a strong state for medicinal. After seeing what’s out there, decide on a path for yourself;
  2. Match the design sophistication to the appropriate graphics team. In most cases, this means finding a branding specialist—not a one-size-fits-all web developer whose shingle includes the word “design;”
  3. Protect the intellectual property through state and other non-federal regulations/laws where possible.

Given the omnipresent threat of federal intrusion in the overall operation, figure out what you can stand to lose upfront, spend accordingly, and keep your fingers crossed.


Lightning Labels uses state-of-the-art printing technology to provide affordable, full-color custom labels and stickers of all shapes and sizes. From small orders for individuals, to the bulk needs of big businesses, Lightning Labels is equipped to handle and fulfill custom label and sticker projects of all types. Lightning Labels was established in 2002 and based in Denver, Colorado. Mark Lusky is a marketing specialist who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008.

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