Culture: The Re-branding of Cannabis in the Music Industry

by Ella Walsh


Views on the normalisation of cannabis in society is firmly dependent on social interactions, who you are talking to, and their relationship with it. There will be some in society that rarely encounter cannabis or those who use it, and are unlikely to perceive cannabis as an element of mainstream British culture. On the other hand, cannabis will be considerably more normalised for those who identify proudly as ‘stoners’ or ‘smokers’. This is by nature of their use, who they are likely to associate with, and the prevalence of cannabis culture. Music culture is often at the heart for those who use cannabis, it is a sphere of society where cannabis use is often embraced without judgement. From concerts to festivals, lyrics to music videos, and following artists on social media, it is clear that cannabis is comparatively normalised in the music culture, and possibly the music industry in general. 

Over in the US there is a budding relationship between the cannabis industry and the music industry. Following in the footsteps of other Hip-Hop artists Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, Jay Z launched his own cannabis brand, Monogram. Following this, it was announced last week that Jay Z will also be the new ‘Visionary Officer’ for TPCO, which is now one of the largest cannabis companies in the world. As the ‘Visionary Officer’ Jay Z will be responsible for advising the company on the recruitment of other artists and entertainers, for the purpose of promoting the brand. This role undoubtedly encompasses TPCO’s strong reputational capital, highlighted in last week’s episode of ‘All Good Points’. Jay Z has considerable influence in both the music world and mainstream culture, his repertoire will encourage other artists of his caliber to endorse and represent the TPCO brand. 

It only seems natural that artists and the music industry capitalise on cannabis reform, and it’s got the team wondering about the future relationship between the adult-use cannabis industry and the music industry in the UK. We caught up with Olivia*, who works in A&R to get her thoughts on cannabis in the music industry. 

Since entering the music industry how quickly was cannabis on the scene, and how often do you come across it when you’re working?

“I actually think it’s scary… not that it’s scary because I am a smoker myself. So when I got into music I already knew everyone would be smoking, it’s a lifestyle in a sense. When I go to shoot it wouldn’t just be the artists smoking, but the cameraman, the props crew, the club staff, everyone on set would be smoking. It’s more accepting, it’s everywhere. I feel like creatives, or people in the creative industry, use it to help with their expression, but then for some people it’s to shadow life.” 

How does the acceptance of cannabis use in the music industry compare with other industries you’ve worked in?

“It’s unfortunate that in other industries it’s not accepted. It’s deemed that if you are a smoker it’s less professional and it gets rid of that clean image. But I think people should just be able to be open with it, but it’s looked down on. Look at the first thing I said to you in the interview, I didn’t know how to name myself just because of branding. It’s like me, who I am day to day, I’m a smoker, it doesn’t impact my life, and it’s like you should accept me for who I am. I know my limits and I know my tolerance…”

Cannabis is clearly accepted on the ground, but how does the corporate side of the industry view it?

“They’re accepting, but I think the only reason they’re accepting of it is because they’re doing harder drugs. It’s not even weed that’s the main drug in the industry, it’s cocaine. That stuff really p***** me off, because I’m looked down on because I’m a smoker, but everyone in that office and major officers are using cocaine. I’m a weed smoker, but I wouldn’t go towards man made drugs, and it’s like how can you look down on me?… when you guys do something worse but you just hide it.” 

Despite still being illegal, cannabis is the most commonly used drug in the UK. Although support for legalisation is growing, public opinion still remains divided. One major barrier which continues to tarnish reform is the stigmatisation of cannabis and people who use it. Much of the ‘common sense’ understanding of cannabis is entrenched with inaccurate information and fear; ultimately making it a difficult debate to effectively engage with. Part of the re-branding of cannabis will inherently involve addressing misinformed perceptions of cannabis, and those who use it through nuanced discussions and education. While this is incredibly important work, there are other fascinating elements to the re-branding of cannabis to be explored.

In a regulated market cannabis products will be competing with other established markets, which doesn’t always mean alcohol and tobacco markets, but also the wellbeing, and the non-alcoholic beverage markets. If the future regulatory framework permits such marketing strategies, cannabis may assimilate into mainstream advertising. It is unlikely we will see recreational cannabis products advertised on daytime TV, but we may see British artists or ‘influencers’ endorsing cannabis brands, or branding their own cannabis products. This area of marketing will play a crucial role in reframing people’s perceptions of what cannabis can be, and of those who use cannabis.  

Thanks for the chat Olivia, finally if cannabis were to be legalised in the UK, do you think artists and the wider music industry will endorse cannabis brands, like we see in the US?

“I feel like it’s really weird! I’ll give you an example, an artist I work with is currently branding his own weed line, and his label has signed it off and everything. It’s like, how can that be accepted when it’s actually illegal at the same time.This government is dumb, the economy is really suffering right now and it would be a good time to legalise. I’ve been affected by knife and drug related crime, and legalising weed could help.There’s a big market, I’m from a deprived area and I know people who are involved in the illicit drug market, legalisation would take the money out of their pockets. So I shouldn’t be pro-legalisation, but I am. I’d hope it would be legalised, but judging the system and government we have here, it could just be something that is overlooked.” 

Olivia’s insight resonates with what we are seeing over in the states. She is right to use deprivation and drug related harm as solid reasoning for legalisation. Part of Jay Z’s new role involves leading the company’s social equity ventures through investing in black and minority ethnic owned cannabis companies. This role is placed alongside the company’s mission to bring about meaningful change in the criminal justice system, through education and employment programmes aimed at hiring those who have been criminalised for cannabis offences. In the US drug related harm has been perpetuated by the war on drugs for over 50 years, which has disproportionately impacted black and Latin American communities. Naturally there will be fears that legalisation will not economically benefit these communities. It is therefore important that the cannabis industry continues to acknowledge these nuances within cannabis reform, and doesn’t solely look at it as a money making game.

Olivia’s concerns over the possibility of future regulation are all too common, and highlights the need for nuanced discussions to address fears on either side of the fence. There will be people who are apprehensive about reform because they don’t feel it’s necessary, and believe drug laws are working as they should be. But there will also be people like Olivia who feel legalisation is important, but have many doubts over whether it’s possible and what reform will look like. 

From speaking with Olivia it seems that cannabis is without a doubt far more normalised in the music industry than general society. We also learnt that, like the advocacy space, the music industry is thinking 10 steps ahead of current legislation. If one British artist is already creating a cannabis brand, there will certainly be more to follow, and we will continue to watch this exciting space as it grows. 

This piece was written by Ella Walsh, Content Officer at Volteface. Tweets @snoop_ella

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