Thoughts & Insights

Interstate Cannabis Commerce is Coming.

February 24, 2021 · 4 MIN READ

Get ready for enormous disruptive change and incredible opportunity. A national market for cannabis, across state lines, opens a door for clever, bold brands to not just define their place in the market, but to define the market itself.

Interstate commerce is around the corner. Maybe not tomorrow. But we‘re in a landscape bursting with the possibility of change.  Especially if the Biden administration turns a favourable eye to sensible federal cannabis legislation, it might come with the full open slather approval of the federal government. Then again the courts are a powerful instrument of change too.

The West Coast is ready right now. Oregon has a surplus of state legal cannabis, and nowhere to sell it. For eighteen months or so they’ve had a law on the books that would permit cannabis export to other states. Only federal regulation stands in the way. 

Is the cannabis industry ready to deliver truly national brands?

However it comes. Cannabis will end up being sold across state borders in the USA ( don’t forget Canada and Mexico either…).

On one hand, Cannabis will need it’s own logistics and distribution landscape. It’s pretty easy to see things going down the road familiar to the alcohol industry and other mature CPG markets, perhaps with a similar “three-tier-system” of producers, distributors and retailers.

The smart folks are already salivating at the chance to take a slice of this pie, and the nascent opportunities and  pitfalls here are endless, but as the necessary logistics and regulatory infrastructure does get put into place, there’s even bigger implications coming for brands and communication too.

Dude, where’s my brand?

Right now, trademarks, copyrights, and intellectual property are a mess. With no national market, there’s been no interstate recognition of brand ownership, and multiple brands hold state level ownership, without necessarily owning the rights to use that brand nationally. 

Take “Dogwalkers” – the perfect example of the confusing brand landscape in cannabis. It’s a great name for a mini-pre-roll – a perfect smoke for the time it takes to stroll around the block with old fido. It’s a brand most recognizably owned by GTI, but because it’s such a great naming idea, it obviously pollinated in multiple minds, in multiple states, at multiple times. With each isolated from one another from a branding perspective,  a unique problem arises: There’s several companies with similarly branded products.

So when the borders are open, who gets to carry that brand forward? Who owns the contested intellectual property on the national stage? What happens to naming and identity? All this will have to be hashed out by lawyers, brands and regulators, but however it happens,  there’s going to be huge growing pains, and more and more disputed copyrights in the very near future.

Of course, this represents an opportunity for those willing to think differently.

Can cannabis brands tell true stories that resonate with their customers?

In a national market, they’ll have to, just to survive.

As cannabis becomes more commoditized and consolidated, the character of the industry will inevitably grow up to resemble other mature CPG markets too. It’s not a leap to predict a national cannabis market dominated by a few big brands at the top.  It will also generate almost limitless opportunities to carve out space in consumer’s attention by delivering actual value.

We’re on the precipice of a shift towards preference.

There’s about to be a ton more folks who, for obvious reasons, have never been legally permitted to buy cannabis. Which means their choices have always been clandestine and limited, and now they’re ready for a fresh conversation. Especially in the new East-Coast market, customers are coming to cannabis ready to identify what they want out of the experience.

A totally new national landscape gives the whole industry a chance at a branding clean slate. There’s suddenly so much more incentive to do something genuinely new, to break away from convention and approach cannabis as a whole new lifestyle and wellness category,  where the sky’s the limit.

Especially if there’s a potential risk for fights over the scraps of trademarks and copyright, it makes sense to explore totally new branding, marketing and communication possibilities. In a consolidated world, customers will gravitate to refreshing, unique stories that most authentically represent them.

Is your cannabis brand futureproof?

Are you ready for the change? There’s a choice here to look forward, and define new meaning in a prosperous future, or to be swept aside in the cascade of commercialization that’s coming with interstate commerce. Brands who can navigate this moment well, and find the right connections with their customers will reach the future with opportunity

How will your cannabis brand offer value in a new national marketplace, and how will your customers know?

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