The Public Finally Gets Blunt About Weed

Those of us who work in the PR field often eschew political debates, but it is in fact our job to address issues hinging on public perception. Americans’ evolving opinions regarding marijuana and its role in our economy has now reached Wall Street, which means the buzz on Main Street is all about weed, too. (We’ve all learned the hard way how closely the two streets are linked.)

Though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Colorado and Washington both legalized it for recreational use in November — and Maryland looks likely to follow. Much of the public believes that the legality of marijuana is inevitable — and because we live in a “representative democracy”, there is a chance that policy changes will (gradually) mirror the public’s evolving attitudes.

We also live in a capitalistic society, so everyone from investors and purveyors to distributors and consumers envisions an emerging multi-billion dollar industry as weed goes mainstream. The process will be contentious: Americans have always had a complicated relationship with our vices (just as individuals do), and we will have to find an uneasy middle ground between personal freedom and national/economic interests regarding the green stuff just like we did during the 1933 repeal of prohibition and the push for modern tobacco regulations.

As PR professionals, we’ll be watching these developments closely because there is so much at stake politically, personally and publicly. Sure, we may have researched how people feel about whitening toothpaste and canned soup, but the marijuana issue will tell marketers, advertisers and public relations experts everywhere more about the public than any focus group possibly could. Let’s face it, marijuana is popular with the public — and we’re talking about a product that never had a Steve Jobs-level mastermind, a “brand identity” or the marketing prowess of McDonald’s at its back. When we try to think of a “marijuana spokesperson”, the only ones that come to mind are Snoop Lion (nee Dogg), Bob Marley and Cheech and Chong.

Despite the backing of these less-than-ideal fanatics, marijuana somehow managed to sell itself — even when it was illegal. How many unique promotional opportunities will arise when the law shifts?

This is getting interesting, folks.