Ashley Bailey/For the Times-Standard
Posted: 10/25/2010 01:23:17 AM PDT
When it comes to marketing marijuana, there are already foreseeable roadblocks -- not the least of which is whether it becomes legal in California after November's election.
Funding, community acceptance and regulation are all unknown factors at this point.
But, that hasn't stopped people like Liz Davidson from leading marketing efforts to create a “Humboldt Brand” for marijuana.
Organic, sustainable, grown-in-the-sun are the ideals she is marketing through the not-for-profit Tea House Collective. It's a cooperative based out of Berkeley that educates medical marijuana patients -- currently 500 of them -- about where their marijuana comes from.
The collective was formed after public discussions called “What's After Pot?” were held in Southern Humboldt in March. Branding of marijuana was a constant topic of discussion. Davidson said she started organizing the collective in April, it was incorporated in June, and the certification process was developed over the summer. She publicly introduced the collective at the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo in the San Francisco Bay Area in late September.
Davidson has taken 20 small-scale Humboldt County growers through an organic and sustainable certification process.
Marijuana is currently illegal in California -- unless you have a doctor's prescription for medical use in the form of a 215 card. If passed, a ballot for the Nov. 2 election would allow adults 21 years of age and older to legally possess one ounce of marijuana and grow plants on a five-by-five plot. Local governments would have the ability to tax and regulate them.
Davidson said she would consider using her model for commercial marijuana if it were legalized.
”Broader legalization will change things, but it's impossible to tell how or when or if it will be challenged,” she said. “We're doing what we're doing right now, and we'll adapt to circumstances.”
Davidson called the marijuana grown by the collective's Southern Humboldt growers as “hand crafted” and “artisanal.”
Already in Humboldt County, there is a group of businesses marketing their goods as “hand crafted” and “artisanal” -- ranging from beer, wine, cheeses, jewelry and other crafts -- with the “Humboldt” name. It's called Humboldt Made, and it is managed by the Humboldt County Office of Economic Development.
Jacqueline Debets, Economic Development coordinator for the county, has managed the Humboldt Made project on behalf of the specialty agriculture industry, and wrote grants to fund it.
When asked if the Humboldt Made project would consider including marijuana in its marketing plan in the future, she said it is not an easy answer.
”Branding, indeed protecting and defining the Humboldt Grown brand for marijuana, is an important step and shouldn't be oversimplified,” Debets said in an e-mail. “How it's connected to the Humboldt Made brand is a good question. The product board of businesses governing Humboldt Made will look at it.”
She said the marijuana industry needs to take critical steps, such as setting up quality testing, product liability insurance, as well as certification and laws to license growers.
She said she sees the Humboldt Growers Association taking the lead as an emerging trade association for the marijuana industry.
Joey Burger, president of the Humboldt Growers Association, said the Southern Humboldt-based group was formed in July to be a voice for marijuana growers in the community. It has a five-member board and a five-member advisory board.
He said that growers may have to pave their own way as business owners and start their own “Humboldt” brand, whether through an organization or as individuals.
”Branding is absolutely necessary, especially to keep people outside the community from capitalizing on Humboldt's decades of hard work and reputation,” Burger said. “It's important now if it's medical cannabis and even more important with legal cannabis.”
Some growers have already stepped out into branding their marijuana products and have found success in it.
A local marijuana grower, who wished to be anonymous due to legal concerns, said he has been growing marijuana for 14 years and started his own branding techniques two years ago.
He said he has been successful developing logos for different strains, as well as branding “the story” of Humboldt and its growing culture. He said he shares information and photos of his farm with medical marijuana patients, and users like feeling like they are a part of his story.
”People love learning about the story of Humboldt's sustainable cultivation and natural beauty, why we love to live here and our love for the plant,” he said. “Now patients know my product, they know the quality -- that it's grown outdoors and there are ethics attached to it.”
While growers are ready to embrace the business of marijuana, the community still has room to grow, acceptance wise, said Mark Lovelace, Humboldt County's 3rd District supervisor.
Lovelace said he has been encouraging groups like Humboldt Made, business owners and the community to start preparing for the fact that marijuana could be legalized in the near future.
However, any project involving marijuana would not be eligible for public funding, leaving a road block in many potential partnerships in the community.
Lovelace said there will have to be some acceptance on the part of the whole community to market marijuana successfully.
”There's a cultural acceptance curve between recognizing it's a part of our economy to actively embracing it, promoting it and celebrating it as part of our economy,” he said.
”Is the community as a whole, beyond the industry itself, determined they're ready to have the name of the place they live attached to this industry?' Lovelace asked. “It involves everybody, not just those in the industry.”
Lovelace pointed out that Humboldt Made supports breweries and wineries despite the fact that 77 years ago, both were illegal under Prohibition.
He said he hopes it won't take that long to come to terms with capitalizing on the marijuana market.
On the other side of it, Lovelace said he can see that if projects like Humboldt Made incorporated marijuana businesses into their marketing strategies, the two could possibly hurt each other more than help each other.
”When someone sees Humboldt Creamery milk, they could think, 'Does that have pot in it?' I wouldn't be surprised if people went that far,” Lovelace said. “I think we need to be cognizant of that.”
He said there needs to be a positive outlook to it, and the more people talk about it with legislators and local governments, the better.
Burger said Southern Humboldt is already a step ahead in acceptance, embracing marijuana and the money it brings into the community.
He said Northern Humboldt, and the rest of California for that matter, need to look at legalization as an opportunity for new revenue and jobs. Burger and the Humboldt Growers Association are continuing to work with Lovelace and other local officials on how to move forward with marijuana marketing -- medical and commercial, if it becomes legal.
Lovelace said he wants to move forward with legalization, but doesn't have a position on Proposition 19 since he believes it is incomplete. The Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday that as a group, they support Proposition 19. Supervisor Jimmy Smith abstained from the vote. If legalization doesn't happen this time around, Lovelace said, he's convinced it will come up again on the 2012 election ballot.