Perhaps unsurprisingly, Snoop Dogg is responsible for all of this. The legendary rapper began cultivating his association with cannabis long before efforts to decriminalize it gained traction in America, and he’s seen his public persona evolve on a similar arc with weed itself: once a menace to public order and polite society, now considered by many to be harmless and fun at parties. In 2015, Snoop launched his first line of cannabis with the American company LivWell, in Colorado. He called it Leafs by Snoop. HuffPost pretty much summed it up: “This makes sense.”
Read: The art of packaging pot
Snoop also brought Stewart, his good friend and cooking-show co-star, into the game. While Snoop’s American line was in development, he connected with Canopy Growth to see whether he could expand into the Canadian market. Canada federally legalized medical marijuana in 2001, so its market for corporate cannabis is a little more mature than in the U.S., where some state laws ban marijuana while others allow various levels of medicinal or recreational use. Snoop’s team “reached out through just the general ‘Contact us’ form on our website,” Jordan Sinclair, Canopy Growth’s vice president, told me. “We thought it was a hoax at first.” Snoop and Canopy launched the Leafs brand in Canada in 2016 (LivWell and Canopy have since become corporate partners), and then Snoop introduced Canopy’s executives to Stewart.
Before Stewart’s announcement in February, the major celebrities who had signed up to start weed brands were mostly the ones you’d expect: Willie Nelson, Tommy Chong, Damian Marley, and several rappers following in Snoop’s footsteps, including Wiz Khalifa and Ghostface Killah. Those celebrities come from subcultures where the penchant for smoke was never controversial. The real money, though, is likely to be made in selling to broader audiences, whose attention is trickier for weed brands to capture. “The industry is fairly strict when it comes to advertising regulations,” Sinclair said. “Promotion is very difficult, and credibility building and brand building are also very difficult.”
To make an end run around paid advertising, the weed industry has to find ways to get anxious retailers to carry their products. They need enough novelty to drum up excitement in the press—in other words, they need someone like Martha Stewart. “We didn’t expect the amount of traction that that announcement generated,” Sinclair recalled. “It was as much press and as much reach and as many stories as we generated on the day that cannabis got legalized in Canada, and we were the business that made the first legal sale ever.”
The power of celebrities like Stewart isn’t just in their counterintuitive willingness to be associated with weed, but in their position within commerce in general. Stewart “can make one phone call and get a meeting with any major American retailer,” Sinclair said. Without a beloved mainstream name attached, a company might go years before landing in the same store. “We’re essentially borrowing credibility,” Sinclair told me.