Celebrity Cannapreneurs: 16 Celebrities Cashing in on the Green Revolution
Rebranding Pot is a series about the changing aesthetics of the cannabis industry
- A surprising number of celebrities have not only “stepped out of the cannabis closet”, but have launched their own cannabis-related products.
- These celebrities have attached their personal brands to these products, distinguishing them from competitors and adding to their perceived value
- This public promotion of cannabis products by celebrities is reflective of (and influences) a few massive shifts in our culture:
1) Being pro-cannabis can positively impact one’s persona
2) The cannabis product landscape is increasingly diversified
As cannabis use becomes increasingly legal and socially accepted in North America, celebrities are cashing in on this blooming new industry. In the past, they either consumed cannabis away from the public eye or did so publicly, as an affront to existing laws.
Certain celebrities, however, have not only stepped out of the cannabis closet by admitting their use of the plant, they have also created businesses that connect their personal brands to cannabis products. A surprising number of pop culture icons are developing, branding, and marketing cannabis-related products and hospitality projects.
The celebrities in this article are staking a foothold in the green economy by selling products and proactively using their personal brands to add perceived value to these goods. In other words, celebrity cannapreneurs are making their love for the leaf public in a way that reflects and influences a radical shift in how we perceive cannabis use and the diversification of products generated by the green economy:
- Celebrities’ public association with cannabis and prominent roles in cannabis-focused businesses communicate a belief that being pro-cannabis can positively impact one’s professional persona; and
- The existence of celebrity cannapreneurs also reveals how diversified the product landscape has become. Consumers today can choose from a large variety of products and the range of branding reveals a staggering diversity of predilections, aspirations and desires.
Below is a list of celebrity cannapreneurs I look forward to exploring in greater depth in my book. (If you have any additional information about these projects (e.g. names of companies responsible for packaging design and branding), please contact me.)
Snoop Dogg is a musician, and has a successful rapping and music career, releasing music with famed California record company Death Row Records and working alongside rapper Dr. Dre. He converted to the Rastafari religion in 2012, adopting the name “Snoop Lion” and releasing an album and film (both titled Reincarnated) describing the experience. In 2015, he co-founded Leafs by Snoop, a company specializing in cannabis flower and edibles, in partnership with Tweed, a subsidiary of Canopy Growth. Based in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canopy Growth operates 10 licensed marijuana and hemp production sites with over 4.3 million square feet of production capacity.
Leafs by Snoop focuses on selling a “California cool” ethos through flower, oil, and edibles. Its packaging was designed by the branding firm Pentagram. According to founder Snoop Dogg, “Leafs By Snoop is truly the first mainstream cannabis brand in the world and proud to be a pioneer.”
Whoopi Goldberg is an American actress, comedian and singer. She has won Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards and is best known for her roles in Ghost, Sister Act, and The Color Purple. In 2016 she co-founded Whoopi and Maya, a San Francisco, CA-based firm founded by Whoopi Goldberg and industry veteran Maya Elisabeth (creator and owner of Om Edibles, an all female-owned cannabis consumables firm) specializing in cannabis-infused topicals for menstrual pain relief. The firm is perhaps one of the first to approach cannabis from a feminist perspective
The branding for Whoopi & Maya was designed by Chronic Innovations and is available in Colorado and California.
Willie Nelson is an American musician, singer, songwriter, author, poet, actor, and activist best known for his albums Shotgun Willie (1973), Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978) that made him one of the most recognized artists in country music. Nelson has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for the use of biofuels and the legalization of marijuana. In 2015 he founded Willie’s Reserve, a Washington-based firm focused on transmitting Nelson's image of cannabis to actual marijuana products. The firm is one of the first celebrity-sponsored cannabis production companies, and emphasizes its relationship with producers, offering website users the option to “meet the farmers” and receive profiles of each producing farm.
Honouring Willie’s style, the brand identity is reminiscent of the American Old West days, with its lettering resembling a bar signage or liquor logos.
Tommy Chong is a Canadian-American comedian, actor, writer, musician, and cannabis-rights activist who is known for his marijuana-themed Cheech & Chong comedy albums and movies with Cheech Marin. In 2016 he founded Chong’s Choice, a Denver, CO-based company that sells cannabis products.
The brand identity of Chong's Choice line was designed by Hippo Packaging, a company specialized in branding for the cannabis industry. Chong's Choice is available in California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Montana.
Dennis Coles (a.k.a. Ghostface Killah) is an American rapper, member of the Wu-Tang Clan and founder of the record label Starks Enterprises. In 2016, Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah and Killah Priest launched Wu Goo, a 70 percent THC oil made to be smoked out of their Dynamite Stix vaporizer. Wu Goo products include oils, vape cartridges, disposable pens, pre-rolled joints, and edibles and are sold through the San Francisco, CA-based company Dynamite Stix.
“I just think hip-hop is the number one way to brand weed. I think hip-hop and weed go hand in hand together, and they always have,” [Ghostface Killah] says. “The fact that we were the first ones really to combine weed with the hip-hop element with Kurupt and with Wu-Tang, you can see from the results. It just took off and blew up bigger than we ever thought it would, and now we’re just coming out with new flavors and new products under our umbrella. It’s a beautiful thing.” Source: Vice.
Cameron Jibril Thomaz (a.k.a. Wiz Khalifa) is an American rapper, singer-songwriter and actor. In 2006, he released his debut album, Show and Prove, and was signed by Warner Bros. Records in 2007. Khalifa is also a cannapreneur with his own line of merchandize, app and cannabis strain. On his website, he sells the 420 Collection, cannabis-themed merchandise; his “simulation game” Weed Farm, available for download on iTunes and Google Play, teaches players how to plant, grow and harvest cannabis; and in 2016 he launched the strain Khalifa Kush.
Melissa Etheridge is a Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter, guitarist and activist. Etheridge decided to become a cannapreneur because of a lack of representation of middle-aged women in the cannabis industry and her personal experience with medical marijuana. Etheridge says she discovered the healing power of marijuana during painful chemotherapy sessions after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Etheridge Farms, 47 acres in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, is not yet up-and-running, but the musician plans on putting her name on her products which will include flower, edibles and cannabis-infused lavender cream.
Die Antwoord is a South African hip hop duo formed in 2008 by Ninja and Yolandi Visser in Cape Town. They are part of the counterculture movement known as zef. The duo collaborated with the Santa Rosa, CA-based Natural Cannabis Company to create Zef Zol, a special edition line of cannabis-infused edibles and vapes.
“This collection is as eclectic as the rap-rave group that inspired it, including: a 300 mg package of rainbow belt gummies, a limited edition strawberry-flavored sucker, an eighth pack of Cocoa Puffs and an exclusive Zef Zol vape pen. Try each of these unique additions to our High Life Series, designed to celebrate the undeniable link between creativity and cannabis.” Source: Natural Cannabis Company’s website.
Mike Tyson is an American professional boxer and heavy weight champion who competed from 1985 to 2005. Tyson is today a businessman and entertainer. He is the founder of the Mike Tyson Academy (a fitness and boxing gym) and enters into licensing deals such as the one he negotiated with the motorcycle manufacturer Havoc. Tyson is also getting into the cannabis industry with business partners Robert Hickman and Jay Strommen. On December 20, 2017 they broke ground on Tyson Ranch, a cannabis resort that will include an edibles factory, amphitheater and upscale campground on a 40-acre plot of land in California City, a desert region approximately 60 miles southwest of Death Valley National Park.
Jayceon Terrell Taylor (a.k.a. The Game) is an American rapper and actor. The Game is best known as a rapper in the West Coast hip hop scene and for being one of Dr. Dre’s performers under his label Aftermath Records. The Game rose to fame in 2005 due to the success of his debut album The Documentary. The Recording Industry Association of America certified The Documentary as double platinum record in March 2005.
According to High Times, in 2016 The Game became the first celebrity to own a marijuana dispensary and then developed branded strains of cannabis flowers and concentrates (Trees by Game), which are now sold at his dispensary’s Santa Ana, California location (The Reserve). The website for Trees by Game currently shows only t-shirts for sale and its Instagram account is private so we are unable to confirm what types of products are for sale.
Montel Williams is an American television personality, radio talk show host, and actor. He is best known as the host of The Montel Williams Show and the founder of the Montel Williams MS Foundation. In 2016 he founded Lenitiv, a line of medical cannabis products.
“Lenitiv by Lenitiv Scientific is a line of innovative, high quality cannabis and hemp derived CBD products… Lenitiv’s line of proprietary products utilize the latest cannabis manufacturing technologies and research to deliver premium, solvent-free, consistent products. Williams — an award-winning media personality, decorated former Naval officer, entrepreneur, and wellness advocate — was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1999 and has used cannabis products ever since to help manage the disease’s symptoms. An outspoken advocate for medical cannabis law reform, Williams has worked to pass medical cannabis legislation in states such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. As a Naval Academy graduate and decorated former Naval Officer, Williams has led the push for military veterans to legally access medical cannabis without the threat of losing benefits.” (Source: Lenitiv’s website)
Damian Marley is a Jamaican reggae artist who has been performing since he was 13 years old and is the youngest son of Bob Marley. Damian’s nickname, Junior Gong, was derived from his father’s nickname, Tuff Gong. In 2017, Damian and the investment firm Oreva Capital acquired a controlling interest of the magazine High Times. According to the New York Times, High Times is "the magazine that has chronicled the transformation of marijuana use from an underground vice to a major American business."
Percy Robert Miller (a.k.a. Master P) is an American rapper, actor, businessman, record producer, philanthropist, and former basketball player. He is the founder of the record label No Limit Forever Records, P. Miller Enterprises and Better Black Television. His cannabis anthem “Pass Me Da Green” debuted in 1997. In 2016 he launched Master P's Trees, a line of cannabis products that includes flower and edibles in addition to a “liquid gold” oil line which is produced with edible-grade, preservative-free oil. Unfortunately, the website for Master P’s Trees does not seem to be available so we are unable to verify whether these products have yet reached the market.
Trailer Park Boys
Trailer Park Boys is a Canadian "mockumentary" television series created and directed by Mike Clattenburg. The show focuses on the misadventures of a group of trailer park residents, some of whom are ex-convicts, living in the fictional Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The television series is a continuation of Clattenburg’s 1999 film with the same title.
In 2016, the cannabis company OrganiGram partnered with TBS Productions, the company run by Mike Smith (Bubbles), John Paul Tremblay (Julian) and Robb Wells (Ricky) to, according to Vice, “develop branding, packaging, and a competitive product portfolio targeted towards recreational marijuana consumers and distributed exclusively by OrganiGram.” The Trailer Park Boys’ products and accessories will focus on recreational use. The launch was delayed amidst a pesticide scandal and no OrganiGram products with Trailer Park Boys branding has reached the market.
Errick Lynne Williams Jr. (aka Ricky Williams) is a former American football player who played 12 seasons in the NFL. Infamous for being a pot-smoker, he that he’d lost as much as $10 million in salary and potential endorsements during his playing days due to his marijuana use. Now, he's hoping to get his money back.
In March 2018, Williams launched his new business: Real Wellness by Ricky Williams. Defined as a unique line of herbal-based wellness products, RW offers oils and salves, mixing many healing herbs (calendula, arnica, camphor, and lavender, to mention a few) to CBD. Their goal is to promote mental, emotional and physical flexibility.
Founded in 2001 by Selena Mooney (aka Missy Suicide) and Sean Suhl (aka Spooky)SuicideGirls is an online community-based website that revolves around pin-up photography sets of models known as the Suicide Girls. It offers its members access to their girls’ photoshoots, videos, and personal profiles. Its shop sells a range of products: from clothing to books, magazines, and pins. Perhaps you’ll soon be able to find their new Vape Pens there, too?
Their product line is built on three distinct vape cartridges focusing specifically on the effects: Chill, Hustle, and Zero. You can pretty much guess the effects you’d get by smoking ‘Chill’ or ‘Hustle,’ but their true genius-move is actually ‘Zero:’ The name speaks to its anti-munchie effects. Its minimalist look (sleek transparent and metal packaging), is in synch with its promise.
In tune with this massive wave on celebrity cannapreneurs, Hemper decided to take them all, package it up, and ship it into one monthly-subscription-box. They pick 10+ new items every month, giving its clients the ability to discover the latest products from an array of categories and premium brands throughout the industry without leaving your home.
After identifying influencers with strong social followings, Hemper approaches them with a selection of products that can be branded, and show them a selection of products that can be specially branded for them, ask them to pick about 10 items for their customized subscription box and offer them a profit share, said Bryan Gerber, Hemper's co-founder and CEO in an interview for Green Entrepreneur. Names like DJ Flosstradamus, rappers Ty Dolla $ign, Fetty Wap, and Rico Nasty are have curated their own Hemper box.
In March 2019, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg launched Houseplant, a recreational Canadian cannabis company in collaboration with Ontario-based grower Canopy Growth. Rogen and Goldberg’s partners in Houseplant also include the California-based United Talent Agency through its business ventures group.
“Houseplant is the result of years of experience and dedication, with each element and expression thoughtfully designed to make it easier for people to learn to love cannabis as much as Houseplant does,” the company said in a press release.
The two Vancouver natives worked together on projects such as Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Interview. “We are so proud to be launching in Canada, our home,” Goldberg said. “After spending five years diligently preparing for the launch of this company, we’re excited to be able to share our passion for cannabis with Canadians in this way.” The first strain of cannabis introduced is Houseplant Sativa, with Houseplant Hybrid and Houseplant Indica strains, as well as soft gels and prerolled joints, to follow throughout 2019.
Lifestyle authority and television personality Martha Stewart announced a partnership with Canopy Growth in February 2019 to develop hemp-derived CBD products for animals. The partnership includes Sequential Brands Group, a consumer brands company in the fashion, active and home categories that works with Stewart. With several clinical trials underway, the company said it plans to leverage Stewart’s consumer experience while exploring the effects of CBD on human and animal health.
In April 2019, NorCal Cannabis, one of the largest vertically integrated cannabis operators in California, announced a joint-venture with comedian, actress, entrepreneur, author and activist Chelsea Handler to develop a new line of female-focused, branded cannabis products that will include three distinct vape lines and at least one edible brand.
“While we’ve seen many celebrities coming out with cannabis lines, Chelsea walks the walk,” said Douglas Cortina, CEO, NorCal. “Chelsea’s mission to create a brand that celebrates sisterhood while providing accessibility to those in need aligns with our values at NorCal. We respect the heritage of the cannabis industry, and appreciate Chelsea’s message that cannabis is both a force for good and here for good.”
NorCal is a vertically integrated operator, which means that the company cultivates, processes and distributes products via a network of owned and third-party retailers in California.
“Cannabis has become an integral part of my life. I’ve been open about my usage. When I ‘rediscovered’ it recently, it helped me get through some tough times, and it helped me get off sleeping pills. I now see it as a part of my overall wellness regime,” said Ms. Handler. “I wanted to take my experience and create something specifically for women who have either never tried it before, or who had a bad experience 20 years ago. We were missing the educational component to cannabis, and now with the legalization of cannabis and micro-dosing, we are in a whole new world of possibilities.”
There are still many more cannabis brands to talk about. These are just a few examples, and a teaser of what’s to come. In my Rebranding Pot series, I’ll explore the companies and people that are reshaping the future of the cannabis industry.
Adriana Kertzer is a NY-based design entrepreneur, lawyer, and author. A leading expert on the use of references to the Brazilian slums in the branding of luxury items, Adriana is the author of Favelization: The Imaginary Brazil in Contemporary Film, Fashion, and Design, a book originally published by the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum (Smithsonian Institution). She is currently working on a new book, Rebranding Pot, about the changing aesthetics of the marijuana industry. www.adrianakertzer.com