Mountains with a blue sky in the backgorund and green pine trees in front with a hiking path

Seven Things About My Five Years of Cannabis PR

Five years ago, just after the big solar eclipse of 2017, I launched Canna Communication. It was a giant experiment, a risky endeavor that was nearly one year in planning before launch. 

Honestly, it’s a moderately successful business, and most of that’s on me. I’m not much of a hustler; I don’t grind, I loathe networking and luckily, I don’t need dozens of clients to keep the business moving forward. That being said, I do grind, hustle and do whatever it takes for my clients—but I’m more chill regarding my own business.

Some of Canna Communication’s success is due to timing—the business was created just as Michigan moved to license medical marijuana and took off when recreational was implemented in 2020. I was lucky to be in the right place and ready as cannabis got lit in the Mitten.

As I reflect on the past five years, here are seven insights about being an entrepreneur in cannabis communication. The best points are at the end, so feel free to skip down.

1) People Are REALLY Interested in Cannabis.

I’ve had four career PR positions: American Red Cross, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Mercy Hospital and Grand Rapids Community Foundation. When I told people that I worked for any of these entities, I was met with a “that’s nice” or “what’s that?” but when I left the traditional workspace and started working in weed, people became interested in what I do. However, as much as I loved community philanthropy and art, people tended to glaze over when I started talking about those subjects in the context of my work. 

Cannabis is a totally different topic. People tell me about good and bad experiences, ask about products and share stories about people they know whose aches, pains and cancer journeys have been made better with the plant. Even people who hate weed still like to engage with me.

2) Make Yourself An Expert.

Like many PR people, I spend a lot of time reading news about the cannabis industry, and listening to podcasts, and listservs, thus keeping up on emerging products and trends. I pride myself on my expertise, connections, and knowledge about cannabis, which I believe separates Canna Communication from other PR firms. 

Cannabis is a quirky industry and having inside knowledge about what’s going on makes us more effective with the media and clients. I built my early expertise and knowledge on the Canna Communication website, writing blogs based on questions people were asking me. These blogs, which I posted on the Canna Communication website, helped establish the company through SEO and that web presence helps bring clients to us. 

While I don’t write as frequently for the Canna Communication website as I once did, I research and write blogs for clients on various cannabis topics. With that work, I maintain a base of cannabis knowledge that provides value to my company and clients. 

3) Pay Your Dues.

A few core things anger people in the cannabis industry are interlopers—people who don’t know a thing about weed, don’t love the plant, don’t consume cannabis, are in it just for the money and haven’t paid their dues in advocacy. 

Admittedly, my advocacy began when Michigan decided to license and communities had to opt-in or opt-out of allowing medical cannabis businesses to operate. I started e-mailing Muskegon City Commissioners in late 2016 and 2017, asking them to consider opting in. I attended many City Commission meetings, and in the public comment period, I spoke about the positive aspects of cannabis for people’s health and economic gain. When commissioners would have a negative cannabis comment, I’d research it, find facts and return to the next meeting with a response. In the end, Muskegon opted in for medical marijuana. 

When Prop 1, the initiative to bring recreational cannabis to Michigan, came before the voters, I helped with petitions, distributed yard signs, attended forums, and used the Canna Communication website and social media to promote a yes vote. As a result, the state voters passed the proposal, and the City of Muskegon opted in.

This advocacy work connected me with other activists in cannabis and helped move Michigan out of cannabis prohibition. It also made for fertile ground for a cannabis PR firm.

4) If The Work Doesn’t Make You Happy, Move On.

In year three of Canna Communication’s life, I decided to apply for a Michigan-issued Marijuana Event Organizer license. I thought being able to do temporary marijuana events would be a great addition to the company portfolio. The license fee was about $3000, and the application process was one of my life’s singularity most unpleasant experiences. 

The amount of meddling in the life and background of an applicant is just invasive. 

Shortly after I was approved as an MEO, the state went into COVID lockdown. So I was unable to use the license for a year. I paid the renewal fee, sent more paperwork, and another year of COVID prevented more events. Finally, in the autumn of 2021, I worked with Park Place Provisionary on Halloweed—Muskegon’s first cannabis consumption event. It was a moderate success, and I was miserable. I didn’t enjoy the process, the hours and hours of highly detailed work, the state rules, dealing with all sorts of moving parts from food to music and always making sure people were having fun. 

When we finished that event, I swore I wouldn’t do another. I came close a few times to accepting new event work, but in the end, I let the MEO license expire. 

5) Work With Great Clients.

Two men stand in from of a green house with other people in the background. The building is Pharmhouse Wellness. There is a TV camera in the foreground of the photo.
Casey Kornoelje and the Pharmhouse Pham.

Dang! I’ve had some super good cannabis PR clients over the years and am incredibly proud of the things we did together. 

My first paying client was Greg Maki from Agri-Med—I helped him figure out where he could locate a cannabis business by calling and emailing about 50 municipalities in West Michigan—and it was in the City of Muskegon where he established Park Place Provisionary. I helped them open Park Place as Muskegon’s first medical marijuana store and its first recreational shop again. His partner Tracy Powers and I planned and executed some epic opening events. 

I’m crazy about Pharmhouse Wellness in Grand Rapids and its owner Casey. It’s one of the few locally-owned cannabis businesses in Michigan. Casey has a great backstory, and his parents continue to help him with the business. He’s devoted to the store’s west side neighborhood and does super interesting social equity work.

Public Health-Muskegon County is a favorite, too. I’ve worked with them for three years and we created a website and a set of fact-based campaigns for youth, pregnant women, drivers, workers and harm-reduction messaging.

It’s been fun to write and do PR work with The WellFlower and Scout Cannabis as they grow, open new stores, and create new brands in Michigan. But, again, it’s a local company and that matters to me when I decide who I’ll align with.

My client highlight list is here—all the good ones anyway!

6) Hike The Pacific Crest Trail. 

The second summer Canna Communication was open, business was very slow. I had two clients in the first two years—Cannalex Law and Agri-Med. I was enthusiastically sending proposals and talking with people, but nothing was happening in cannabis PR.

Roberta King, cannabis PR professional poses on the Pacific Crest Trail. She has red curly hair with trekking poles and a gray backpack with Oregon Mountains in the background.
Somewhere on the PCT—don’t ask about my eyes.

Rather than wallow in self-pity, a friend and I hiked the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail for three weeks. It was something we’d talked about for a few years before, and the timing was right to go in the summer of 2018 

It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and looking at the photos gives me a lump in my throat. I’d go back in a heartbeat. My goal was to consider Canna Communication and how to make it succeed and imagine the plot of my next book, but all I did was hike, eat and sleep. It was the best three weeks of that summer!

7) Yes. I’m High.

I can’t work while I’m stoned and cannot write high at all, so I’m pretty much straight when I’m working, except when I’m trying to generate ideas—then weed is so helpful. But when I’m not working, I try to be somewhere on the stoned scale. I’m usually not too high because I do a lot of active stuff like cycling, kayaking, running, snowshoeing, and hiking, and don’t want to get hurt.

The last place I want to be is in a news headline about a cannabis-user accident. 

But outside of work, I’ve spent the last five years experiencing all aspects of daily life with some level of cannabis in my system. 

It’s a joyful thing.

Target audience

Integrated Marketing and Public Relations: One Message Fits All

When a company wants to promote something new like a slogan or campaign, integrated marketing is the smartest way to do it. Integrated marketing uses various mediums at the same time to get a message out. There may be marginal differences across all platforms, but the goal is to have the overall message remain consistent. Whether the medium is TV, web, print, or social networks it must be recognizable to your audience and each strategy must support all platforms.

A proven best practice is to meld modern and traditional marketing strategies. It ensures that anyone who should receive the messaging does by taking elements of old school and new school marketing to reach consumers where they are. Though the integrated marketing goals may be different, like building brand awareness or driving traffic to your website, the one thing they need to have in common is having an alliance with one another. 

  • Integrated marketing campaigns are powerful for several reasons:
  • Reach a wider audience
  • Brand presence on all platforms
  • Keeps your brand top of mind
  • Builds trust through familiarity
  • Share of marketing assets
  • Allows current customers to spread the word

Importance of integrated marketing.

Let’s say you come across a new brand on Instagram and want to learn more about it. The first thing you do normally is go to the brand’s website. However, the website looks and feels completely different, because what they have up on Instagram is a new marketing initiative and is not consistent with the brand you are seeing on the site. If the website has messaging that differs from their social media, the consumer cannot grasp the gist of the brand. The last thing you want to do is confuse potential buyers.

An example of doing integrated marketing correctly is The Wellflower. Their provisioning centers have a sister company cultivation called Scout Cannabis. Both brands have the same color scheme that carries on throughout all of their marketing on all platforms. Whether you are on their Facebook, in one of their three stores, or looking at an internal email signature, the look and feel of these brands flow together nicely.

Audience Targeting for Integrated Marketing Communications.

No matter what your product is, taking time to define exactly who you are targeting is crucial. The demographics of your audience should include current and potential customer profiles. Things to take into consideration are occupation, age, education level, gender, income, family situation, and geographic location.

Things to consider are:

The needs of your target audience.

The wants of your target audience.

What it is that you are doing or offering that is different from your competitor(s)

How do PR and integrated marketing work together?

PR has evolved through the years. Your media relations are still important but there are so many more baskets to put your eggs in these days. Twenty percent of all newspapers in the United States have folded or merged since 2004, so you can’t count on this medium like you used to, but TV and radio news still hold a lot of power and the medium reaches thousands and thousands of people. One of the most important aspects of a media outlet picking up your story is amplification and credibility. Despite issues with the public and media trust nationally on the local level news outlets still have credibility and reach.

Integrated marketing is when your media efforts complement your marketing efforts. Internally and externally, your messaging must be consistent and ubiquitous. 

Integrated marketing is not a new concept but it’s an important one. Your brand’s message points pull together as a whole through this marketing concept and competent public relations professionals know this and can assist you. There is a lot of information coming at us these days from different people on different platforms. Integrated marketing delivers one distinct message regardless of where it is going out and that makes it easier for everyone.


Nonprofit and Charitable Giving: Cannabis and Community

The legalization of cannabis has created an entirely new industry that is doing more than just generating tax revenue for municipalities. It is greatly benefiting nonprofit organizations and supplying volunteers needed for various events and activities. Many of the founders of cannabis companies began as caregivers and have a strong sense of community. They welcome opportunities to give back. It does seem like things are getting a little crowded in certain cities regarding the number of dispensaries. So how do you set yourself apart from the competitor down the street? A strategic community outreach plan is a solid way to exhibit your dedication to the community.

Giving back

The initial enthusiasm of opening a cannabis business wears off a bit after a few months. One of the best ways to keep up momentum is through community engagement. Since there are many barriers when it comes to marketing and advertising for cannabis. The more involvement you have with neighbors, neighboring businesses, and nonprofits the better. For example, Pharmhouse Wellness in Grand Rapids along with Redemption Cannabis did a turkey giveaway in 2021 that received significant media coverage and drove sales. The companies gave away one hundred turkeys on Thanksgiving Eve. This charitable event showed people that these are companies with a true commitment to the people in the communities they operate in.

Volunteering time and money. Charitable giving for nonprofit organizations.
Volunteering gets noticed.

We’ve seen Muskegon-based companies like New Standard Park Place and MJ Verdant partner with Stand Up for the Cure and Grassy Knoll has an ongoing relationship with The Noah Project. 

Event donations to nonprofits

Most grand opening events have a charitable donation aspect as well. The Wellflower in Ypsilanti donated a portion of proceeds from their grand opening event to We The People Opportunity Farm. This organization supports a workforce of formerly incarcerated individuals. They also have paid internship opportunities and free food distribution. The nonprofit organization a company chooses to partner with for their grand opening usually ends up being a partner in co-promotion moving forward. This shows a true commitment to the cause so it is important to choose a nonprofit you fully believe in.

To go a quantum leap further, Oops Cannabis is helping Ukrainian emergency relief efforts in their own way. This company changed the name of their Russian Diesel cartridge product to Ukrainian Diesel. This product name change drove sales significantly because provisioning centers felt good buying them. Oops is dontating one dollar of every cartridge sold to a relief fund. Now that’s global community outreach!

Nonprofit fund guidelines

There are some challenges cannabis companies encounter when approaching nonprofits for engagement opportunities. Cannabis is still an illegal substance at the federal level so not all nonprofits will gladly receive funds from the industry. Federally funded nonprofit organizations must be choosey about who they accept donations from. A charity may not want to accept donations from a cannabis company because of the stigma that still exists. Accepting these funds could affect how other supporters view them and cause them to lose money instead of gaining it.

Make a plan

There are several things to consider as you choose what your community outreach plan will look like. What do you stand for? What do you have true conviction about? Define your company values and make sure they relate to your charitable donations.

To donate funds is one thing but to walk the walk and volunteer when an organization you care about needs assistance is going above and beyond.  As the saying goes, “Actions speak loud than words.”

As the cannabis industry continues to expand it becomes even more important to create a plan for community outreach so that you can hit the ground running. Make sure your company leadership is in agreement with the plan so execution will go smoothly and set the best first impression with your community as possible. If you are unsure how to begin, Canna Communication is ready to help you consider a strategy and tactics for community giving. We’re here to collaborate with you to ensure you put your best foot forward with community outreach efforts and beyond.

Successful Cannabis Promotion on Social Media

The social media platforms have made cannabis companies social media misfits. As a cannabis company, if you have not been scared off or annoyed beyond recognition by this point, we applaud you. You realize everyone is pushing out the same content with a different brand name because that’s all anyone can really do. You also realize your presence there is expected and necessary. It’s all about how you look at it though, so make your brand stand out from the herd. Be creative and have fun with what you can do and dismiss what you cannot, but whatever you do, do not push the boundaries. These platforms can and will suspend or permanently remove your account if you do not adhere to their guidelines, so you must know what they are.

Ultimately, what really serves your cannabis company is driving traffic to your website. Your website is your online storefront where you can showcase your goodies and the deals you are offering. As your web traffic increases so does its quality rating with Google which is advantageous in searches. Your social media channels can certainly help get people to visit your site, so they serve a meaningful purpose. Here are some guidelines to adhere to, so you can make sure to stay in good standing.

Very strict regulations are an ongoing battle for cannabis businesses marketing on social media. Cannabis violates every platform’s terms of service and community guidelines just by being there and every cannabis brand wants to dominate. Unfortunately, today you can only expect to reach about 3 percent of your audience on most social media platforms. Even with amazing content, algorithms change often, and hashtags help, but not as much as most people think. 

Simply put, follow the rules and you’ll be fine and remain in good standing.

You can post…

Educational, informative content.

Advocacy content including data, statistics, quotes, legislative updates, health reports, research results, and so on.

Images of products – just don’t post anything that implies the products are for sale, trade, or delivery.

Keep an eye on all social media updates to its guidelines so you’re always adhering to the current rules. This includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and Tik Tok.

Closely monitor the activities on your page, particularly if you outsource content creation, sharing, and communications on your business page to a marketing agency, freelancer, or another third party. It’s equally important to monitor your employees’ activities on your page as well to ensure they comply with Facebook’s rules.

You cannot…

Say that a product is for sale, trade, or delivery.

Ask people to buy a product, i.e. put in bio “Nothing for sale and 21+ only” 

List prices.

Encourage people to inquire or contact your business about a product.

Show images that depict the sale of cannabis products.

Post anything that gives instructions on how to grow, sell, or use cannabis.

Provide any contact information for people to buy cannabis products.

Make any medical claims.

Safe content looks like this:

Budtender bios and recommendations 

Cultivation behind-the-scenes

Cannabis lifestyle imagery and content

Memes for cannabis enthusiasts, nothing cartoonish or child-related, i.e. Mickey Mouse

General cannabis education

Product education

Dosing tips and guidelines

Having an experienced marketing team creating your content makes a difference, but not everyone has access to that initially. If you are going at it alone to begin, start with some objectives you can measure like increase in number of followers per month and number of engagements per post. Focus on the power of your social content more than the frequency. Variety is the spice of life, so get creative and bring something new and fun to your audiences. A lot of different types of people use weed. You can still stay on brand and market to Deadheads and soccer moms alike. Sometimes they are the same people. Never judge a book, right?

post it notes to show the branding process

Branding Brings Connections to Your Work

Think of some of your favorite brands and why you like them. The most successful branding efforts bring connections to you, they speak to your heart, not talk at your head. We humans act according to the way we feel, so if you can make people feel a certain way they’ll stick with you. To make this happen you must understand and embrace your “why.” Why does your company exist? If your why is at the core of your brand it separates you from every other company that does what you do. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

When a brand creates an experience or evokes an emotion repeatedly, over time it builds loyalty and therefore consumer loyalty. If you have a core purpose frame your identity, as opposed to tying your brand solely to the actual product, and you set yourself up for success and longevity. Take for example, the Kenneth Cole brand. Through focused branding, it has been donating a percentage of profits to AIDS research and awareness since 1985, so people feel like they’ve done something good when they spend their hard-earned dollars with Kenneth Cole. They aren’t just selling footwear and handbags. This is a perfect example of a purpose-led brand that ties its purpose to a singular tactic. Bissell is another fine example with its Bissell Pet Foundation. A portion of profits from this corporation go to helping homeless pets. You see branding is not just a logo and template to follow for all advertising. It is looking at what your relevance, coherence and credibility are. Link your brand to a perceived positive impact and you’ve got something that separates you from the rest of the businesses in your community.

a red ribbon to symbolize a brand connection

Emotion inspires action and branding is the key!

This is where amplification comes into play. It is not sufficient to just push out content. You need to amplify your message by using the media, advocacy, influencers, native social media and advertising where you can. Most platforms have very specific rules about cannabis advertising, but it can still be done and being newsworthy and relevant helps with amplification.

Deep down the cannabis consumer wants more than to just buy weed. They can do that almost anywhere these days. Your employees want to do more than just sell weed. The attrition rate is just as high in the cannabis industry as it is in the restaurant industry. So how do you get good people to stay and not jump ship for the highest (pardon the pun) bidder and keep customers coming back regardless of what deals are going on down the street? People want something to identify with, so what resonates with them will sell them. Express what you stand for, so it does some actual good. You gotta live it! The people that work for you need to be inspired by it and that feeling will translate when they interact with your customers.

This is particularly true in cannabis public relations and marketing. Redemption Cannabis in Jackson, Michigan is a perfect example of a cannabis company with a purpose. Ten percent of all revenue goes to those affected by the war on cannabis. These funds are mostly used in cannabis conviction expungement efforts. On a national level, Ocean Cannabis is a brand committed to ending the cannabis plastic problem. By sourcing their packaging from 100% reclaimed and recycled plastic found in oceans, each product purchase recovers the equivalent of fifteen straws or one water bottle worth of recycled plastic. Their goal is to “smoke the ocean clean, one joint at a time.”

a photo of a person ligthing a pre-roll to illustrate branding a cannabis business

Humor goes a long way when you’re trying to connect with a person or group of people too. You know that person that wasn’t that attractive to you at first, but then became more attractive as you got to know them better because they were kind, funny, clever, compassionate, smart, etc? Your brand is no different. Make people laugh—because cannabis consumption is for better health and fun! Humor creates a sense of intimacy before they even walk in the door. From there you can create retention with stellar customer service, ambiance and products. 

What’s Your Plan?

Do you have an actual corporate business purpose statement? Is that statement backed by a solid activation strategy? You planned for your cultivation and/or retail store, but how about your brand. How much went into developing what the consumer recognizes your product as? Noteworthy advice: Transcend the ego of your bottom line, your investors, the pressure of outdoing everyone. Stand for something that speaks to people like they are actual human beings, not just dollars.

Decide your purpose. Mean it. Stand by it. Seek the assistance of marketing and public relations professionals to build your brand. You are good at what you do and we are good at helping you express to consumers why you do it. 

When it comes to cannabis tourism, no trip is compete without a sunset over take Michigan with a bit of orange sky, sand dunes and bare trees near the beach

Traveling and Cannabis Tourism in Michigan

Michigan is a four-season travel state, and a fair number of people who travel here take advantage of legal recreational cannabis or Michigan’s reciprocal medical marijuana program. As a result, we’re seeing cannabis tourism growing here.  Michigan welcomes the cannabis curious from nearby prohibition states like Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin and everyone who travels here to enjoy all that Michigan offers—including legal weed.

Cannabis tourism is a growing area for many communities in Michigan. Cities, villages, or townships that have opted in for recreational cannabis have the opportunity to promote them, but few do. Michigan has around 700 marijuana dispensaries in operation scattered throughout the state. And while you can’t buy legal recreational cannabis in Michigan’s largest city, Detroit (it’s medical only), you’ll find an abundance of provisioning stores in other tourist hotspots. Places up and down Michigan’s Lake Michigan coastline from Benton Harbor near the state line with Indiana to Muskegon have a variety of cannabis stores. In addition, you’ll find cannabis available in Bay City over in the Thumb region and in Up North places like Cadillac and Marquette and Houghton in the UP near Wisconsin. 

cannabis tourism is helped by Michigan's two cross lake ferries from Wisconsin. This photo taken from the Lake Express ferry shows the red lighthouse at the Muskegon harbor.

What proves to be perplexing for cannabis tourists or tourists who want cannabis is finding a place to consume and what to do with the cannabis you don’t consume while in the Mitten State.

Here’s a little list of where you can’t consume cannabis in Michigan. Some of it is Michigan law, and some are the preference of property owners.

  • In your car or driving or sitting in a vehicle on any Michigan roadway.
  • In a boat on a Michigan waterway
  • Out in public where anyone can see you smoking
  • On private property where cannabis is expressly prohibited
  • In most hotel/motel rooms or on hotel property
  • Around the campfire at the Michigan State Park or on a state park beach or trail
cannabis tourism in Michigan is one the rise and this image shows a red kayak in blue water  and the shore of Lake Michigan

It truly crimps your options, doesn’t it? Until more properties (hotels, motels and resorts) allow cannabis consumption, travelers will be challenged to find a place to consume. We wondered why this was the case.

“We have yet to see a community fully embrace cannabis; it’s still often held at arm’s length,” Andrew McFarlane from Michigan Cannabis Trail and Michigo said.

This disconnect is apparent where Michigan’s cannabis stores are most densely located and how they’re not embraced or even recognized by local visitor’s bureaus and Chamber of Commerce entities. 

You’d think Ann Arbor, Michigan’s historical epicenter of marijuana, would embrace the plant and stores in its geographical area—but that’s not the case. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for established organizations to change and adopt a formerly illegal substance.

“There are certainly a large group of people who still think that cannabis is a bad thing—and until they’re no longer in leadership positions, we’ll always have roadblocks,” Andrew said.

There’s no legal or ethical reason that a visitor’s bureau can’t list a cannabis business as a traveler’s destination. It’s a matter of will and desire.

Andrew also pointed out that the Visitor’s Bureau in Modesto, California, has its Motown CannaPass that people can register for, which unlocks information and cannabis-friendly businesses in the community. “It’s normalizing the cannabis experience and promoting community businesses—which they should be doing,” he said. 

He noted that at least seven licenses are in progress for cannabis consumption lounges in the state. However, none have opened as of early 2022. These lounges are bound to be a focal point for

For people traveling in Michigan who are looking for options when it comes to a consumption space, you’ll have to look carefully and plan accordingly. Finding a place to stay that is cool with cannabis is the first step—Michigan Cannabis Trail and Bud and Breakfast websites offer some options. 

cannabis tourism in Michigan involves the out of doors like this wooded trail with white birch trees and green pines.

Here’s something we found interesting—you can consume in a Michigan State Park, but not in public (see the campfire note above). So you can consume cannabis in your tent or camper. Of course, it’s not as cool as sitting around the fire or walking on the beach, but it’s something. 

If you’re in town for the annual Hash Bash in Ann Arbor on the first Saturday in April—that’s a fun spot to light up. In addition, organized cannabis events are popping up across Michigan. These licensed events allow consumption and have sales in the same place—usually with live music and other cannabis-centric activities. Expect to find them throughout the summer of 2022.

As you travel in Michigan, be discrete where you fire up, and you’ll be fine.

a graphic of marijuana leaves that form 420 for a blog about 420 and its meaning

All About 420 and Other Cannabis Secrets

People who are friends of marijuana know all about 420, or 4:20, or 4/20. It’s long been the code word for taking a moment to partake in a bit of cannabis. 

So 4:20 can happen on any day at 4:20 PM or if you’re an early bird (or night owl) at 4:20 AM, but also on the day April 20. 

You can use it in a sentence, as in: “Wow, it’s 420 already. I’m going to step outside.”

People who love cannabis are delighted to observe when our car gas points out that we have 420 miles until empty or when the Michigan Public Radio announcer says it’s 4:20, which they do nearly every afternoon between news stories and weather. 

People who love weed will always spot 420 in a street address, phone number, or license plate and are happy for that magical combination.

420 is becoming a bit mainstream—this year Food Network recently announced actor and comic Ron Funches would host Chopped 420, a competition cooking show with cannabis added.

Knowing about 420 is a respectful nod to a community of people with a love of cannabis and also to the fact that we’ve had to keep our consumption under wraps for so long. We’re lucky that cannabis prohibition is over in Michigan, and adults can enjoy cannabis in its many forms.

So, rather than being a secret code, it’s a well-known high holiday, and cannabis fans and cannabis businesses everywhere are celebrating. But the story of 420 isn’t common knowledge, and if you’re celebrating a holiday, you need to know the backstory.

Where 420 Began

The history of the code word is clear; it began in California with five friends at San Rafael High School and the search for a plot of marijuana somewhere on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The friends, also known as the Waldos met after class each day at 4:20 to search for the weed, which was never found. They used 420 as their code word for marijuana, and the friends carried it through in conversations and correspondence. From that group of five high schoolers, the code of 420 spread across marijuana culture and has been part of our language since the 1970s.

Communities around the globe celebrate 420—Denver has a big event each year, as does San Francisco, Seattle, Amsterdam, and multiple locations in Canada. With COVID-19, celebrations are likely to be scaled back or canceled—and passing joints, that’s history too.

Are There Other Cannabis Codes That Need Breaking? 

Let’s start with a glossary of a few cannabis words that you might hear in a provisioning center or from a pothead* friend.

Blazed—this describes a pleasant cannabis high.

Blitzed—word to describe being very high, more so than blazed.

Bubbler—also a bong. Uses water to cool the smoke from burning cannabis.

Cannabis—also marijuana, nug, flower, bud, MJ, Mary Jane, ganja, herb, hippie lettuce, jazz cabbage, reefer, dank and the good—as in the good stuff.

Cannavore—people who prefer edible cannabis over smoking, vaping, or dabbing.

Cone—if you can’t roll a joint, you can stuff some flower into a pre-made cone and consume it that way. Pre-rolls are made in cones.

Dab—consumption of a cannabis concentrate like shatter, budder, or wax.

Florist—a code name for a provisioning center. Some florists deliver!

Mids—describes mid-level cannabis. Not the best, not the worst, just average flower.

Joint—also doob or doobie, J or Jay, phattie, fattie, spliff, or a blunt.

Nail—it’s a device heated and used to consume a dab, which is a cannabis concentrate.

Wake and Bake—when you get up in the morning and consume some cannabis.

*Pothead—is a term of endearment that describes someone who loves cannabis. It’s like being a Deadhead or Parrothead or Gearhead. It’s preferred over stoner.

Where is The Pot leaf Emoji?

If you search your emoji collection for a marijuana leaf, you’ll need to keep looking. Due to American federal prohibition and prohibition across the world, there is no leaf emoji, but some emojis are code for cannabis and cannabis use. 

Try one of these in your next text.

A face with squinty eyes: 😆 or contentedly smiling 😌

A blazed smiley: 🥴

How you hold a joint: 👌

Substitute for a cannabis leaf: 🌿 or 🍃 or 🍁 or 🥦

This tree also works for a cannabis bud: 🌳

An edible: 🍫

A joint: 🚬

Bong or bubbler: ⚗️

 👁 💚 🌿

So from 420 to emojis—we’re happy to provide the insight. And if you ever wondered anything about cannabis, just ask us. We’re happy to share all the secrets!

This blog was written by Canna Communication for our client, Agri-Med . It is with their permission we’re posting it here with some slight revisions.

Communicating Cannabis Safety and Science From The Inside Out

When you live in a community that went from zero cannabis provisioning centers to a half dozen in less than two years’ time, you know that people are testing the weed waters.

The City of Muskegon adopted a land use ordinance that allows not only cannabis provisioning centers, but grow operations, processing, testing and transporting. Under the adult-use rules microbusinesses, special events and consumption lounges are also allowed. 

It’s one of the most inclusive cannabis ordinances on this side of Michigan.

There’s a term used in public health that you might not be familiar with—harm reduction. 

a handful of cannabis buds to illustrate cannabis provisioning centers

Harm reduction is a set of strategies and ideas that are aimed and reducing the negative consequences that might come from drug use. It’s not about trying to get people to stop using drugs (or alcohol for that matter) but helping people understand their limits, the consequences of using substances. It’s what public health departments have done for years—discouraged under-age drinking, teen smoking, all age drinking and driving and promoting safe sex to prevent HIV. 

Public health has been at the forefront of dozens of harm reduction efforts over the years. Cannabis is no different.

Canna Communication approached Public Health-Muskegon County (PH-MC) about harm reduction efforts and asked if they needed any communication help from a communication professional and cannabis insider.

So much of what people see generated from public health entities are negative when it comes to cannabis. We know that at some point negative advertising doesn’t work, it turns people off and doesn’t deliver the intended message. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) created a series of anti-cannabis videos in early 2020 which stirred up cannabis activists from across the state—the outcry about the portrayal of a cannabis consumer was so filled with stereotypes and cliches that MDHHS pulled the video series despite having spent $330,000 on the campaign.  We’ve spotted random billboards throughout Michigan created by local health departments that are making an effort to disparage cannabis, consumers, and the industry—and they’re doing it with medical cannabis funds.

Every year, local county entities are able to apply for funds from the State of Michigan for marijuana prevention education. The funds are derived from fees collected by the State from medical marijuana cards. Each county in Michigan can apply for funds and the dollar amount is based on how many people in that county hold medical marijuana cards—so the more cards, the more money that’s available. 

Prior to the passage of Prop 1 which legalized cannabis, many county sheriff’s departments applied for funds and used it for marijuana law enforcement. With legalization, law enforcement has backed off from applying and some county health departments have taken advantage of the pool of funds.

Canna Communication began working with PH-MC in the winter of 2020 with a research project to find out how parents who consume cannabis talk with their kids about use of the drug. That primary research with about 100 people from across Michigan helped us understand that science, honesty and facts were the most effective way to get a message across. Sure, we had an agenda—discourage kids from using cannabis and for parents to take care to keep cannabis from young people. 

The grant that PH-MC received was used in a four-part effort focused on encouraging youth to avoid cannabis via their parents’ input, discouraging pregnant women from using cannabis, safe consumption of edibles and information about driving and cannabis. We created a simple website with information that was fact-based and not meant to deceive or mislead people about cannabis. The website is a starting point for ongoing campaigns in those four areas—we can add information as it becomes available to use it as a home base for our efforts. We used social media and digital geofencing to spread the word. 

Working With Muskegon’s Cannabis Provisioning Centers

Once a cannabis business enters a community, it’s important for people there to understand the facts about the product, the risks involved and how to be a responsible consumer. Most provisioning centers (aka marijuana dispensaries) educate their budtenders and customers about the products they’re buying and start slow and go low is a common phrase that’s used to advise newcomers about cannabis edibles.   

PHMC also partnered up with four Muskegon-area provisioning centers—Park Place Provisionary, Cloud Cannabis, Bella Sol Wellness and Redbud Roots and provided pre-printed customer bags and social media materials regarding the safe consumption of edibles. It’s one way to meet cannabis users where they’re at.

Michigan voters made legal cannabis the law of the land, but the tone by which we educate people about cannabis is up to interpretation. Providing the facts with balanced information and avoiding judgment is the surest communication strategy.

For more information about this campaign give Canna Communication a call.

Feature photo by Botanical Rising on Unsplash

people working on a marijuana microbusinessna microbusiness

Starting a Marijuana Microbusiness: 10 Things to Know

Every day we hear from people who are interested in starting a marijuana microbusiness. 

Yay, you! We want you to have a marijuana microbusiness, too, but we also don’t want you to get your hopes up without having some basic facts. This is a challenging industry, it’s very competitive and expensive. If you’re up for the challenge of starting a marijuana microbusiness, read on!

a stack of coins growing some seedlings to show how starting a marijuana microbusiness costs money
  1. Microbusinesses are not that different than any other marijuana business in that you’ll need to locate in a city, township or village that has opted in for recreational marijuana and for the business you want to create. For instance, if you want to create a consumption lounge, you’ll need to find a municipality that has created zoning for a consumption lounge. Some places are only allowing specific kinds of adult-use/recreational licenses. You can’t have a microbusiness in your home unless you’re a marijuana consumption event planner.
  2. There aren’t many places in Michigan welcoming to adult-use/recreational marijuana licenses of any sort, at least not yet. You’ve probably read articles about how most municipalities have opted-out. We believe this will change this year and next. We HIGHLY recommend if you desire a specific location, start meeting with and persuading the municipality of your choice to opt-in. Many municipalities opted-out to take a wait and see period—if yours is one that did that—it’s time to start building your case. There’s no guarantee of success when working with elected officials, but you need to start working on this angle if you have a specific area in mind. 
  3. Once you locate a municipality, you will need to find a property that meets the local zoning ordinance. This is easier said than done. Finding the right property in the right municipality for the right price will likely be the hardest part of starting up your Michigan microbusiness. 
  4. You’re going to need a lot of money. Just because this is a microbusiness application you’re seeking, that doesn’t mean micro-cash. For instance, just to have your application reviewed by the State, you’ll need to pay a non-refundable $6,000 application fee, and an annual assessment to $8,000. You’ll also need to locate a property that’s zoned for your business, and either purchase or lease that building. There are hundreds of items, small and large, that you’ll be paying for as you move forward. We recommend that you hire an accountant to help you keep track of your expenses. If you’re in a social equity community and qualify, you can save some money on some of the state fees.
  5. Get your paperwork in order. You’ll need to create your business structure, determine if you’re want to be an LLC or a corporation, as well as determine the best tax status for your company. Make sure your partners are on board with the risk and the amount of time the start-up phase of this business will take. Starting a marijuana microbusiness takes a lot of time!
  6. You also may want to consider getting prequalified under the MRTMA as many municipalities require pre-qualification in order to apply for a municipal license. This will also give you the certainty to start spending money since you won’t know for sure whether the state will allow you to own a marijuana microbusiness until you become prequalified. 
  7. The state microbusiness license, while less burdensome than a medical marijuana business license, still takes an effort to complete. You need to round up your tax paperwork from the last year, be ready to explain in a narrative form any missing paperwork or discrepancies; you’ll need to speak to any legal action against you and no matter how minor the misdemeanor or lawsuit, you need to address it. You’ll be going through a thorough background check and it’s best to explain and provide paperwork for anything that has happened in your background that involves law enforcement, recent litigation, or taxes.  If you’re not good at this kind of detail work get some help.
  8. You’ll need to secure and pay for local marijuana business permits and/or licenses. For the most part, that’s usually $5000. 
  9. At the same time you’re making an application for a marijuana microbusiness license you’ll need to have a business plan and a social equity plan completed. While the state does not require much for these plans, oftentimes a municipality will. A business plan is typically comprised of two parts: financial projections and a narrative. Business plans need to be completed with care and attention–not only for State or municipal review–but so that you will have a plan of attack and can hit the ground running.
  10.  As soon as you have a permit to get started with a building, you need to determine if your DBA is the actual name of your business, and if not, you can start working on what you want it to be. You’ll need to find a website URL and develop a strategic marketing communication plan to guide you as you get ready to launch. 

Still ready to do this thing? GREAT! If you need help with anything microbusiness-related, give us a shout or even better, hop on over to our partner site Marijuana Microbusinesses and find out more.

a prerolled joint great for using cannabis for the first time

Cannabis Curious: Let’s Try Some Weed

There are a few things to know about using cannabis for the first time. Okay, it might not be the first time you’ve used cannabis, but if you’ve been away for a few years or decades—welcome back.

Is the marijuana you bought that much different than what you might have consumed in the past? No, and yes.

It’s true that cannabis is more potent than it was in the past. Good genetics and careful growing have made a better looking, smelling and tasting plant. You also know now what the potency is—in the past that information wasn’t available to consumers. That goes double with edibles. Carefully review the packaging on your goods so you know the percentage of THC that you’re about to consume.

If you’re using cannabis for the first time or the first time in recent memory, go easy.

Try a couple of hits from the joint or pre-roll. If you’re vaping cannabis, it’s not like tobacco vapes and there won’t be a giant plume of smoke when you exhale, and much less smoke than a joint, too.

Vapes are made from cannabis concentrates, so take one hit and wait a 10-15 minutes before you do another, as it can be powerful. You’ll feel something quickly with either the joint or the vape and then make a decision about more consumption. You’ll stay high for at least two hours depending on how much you smoked.

an orange box with a vape cartridge inside

Edibles have a reputation for sneaking up on people and for people overdoing it. When it comes to food, we’re not used to eating one tiny square of a chocolate bar or only part of gummy candy. But with cannabis-infused food, you need to take care. If you’ve never had an edible, use the mantra “start low and go slow.” That means 5mg of anything, so that’s ½ of Michigan recommended a dose of 10mg, if you’re anxious about getting too high, cut it to 2.5 mg. And here’s where it gets tricky—because edibles are absorbed via that stomach and that’s a slower absorption process than smoking or vaping.

It takes an hour or more to feel the effect of an edible.

It’s a common mistake to eat a bite, think that you’re not feeling anything and have another bite or two and then BOOM, you’re unpleasantly stoned. Resist the urge to consume more until you feel the effect of the first dose. We recommend doing something active like taking a walk or a hike after you consume, you’ll then notice the high more gradually and we promise you’ll appreciate nature even more.

The high will last about 3-4 hours, depending on the THC level and your body composition. The high will just gradually fade away, the same way it came on. It’s quite pleasant.

Whatever you do—don’t drive while consuming or after consuming marijuana. It’s against the law and dangerous.

If you overconsume and feel extraordinarily high there are a few things you can do.

  • Drink water.
  • Nibble on a couple of black peppercorns.
  • If you have CBD in the house, take a dose of that.
  • Lock into the couch and watch a mindless TV series or cartoons and pet your dog or cat.
  • Throw on your headphones and enjoy your music.
  • Don’t worry. You’re not going to die—no one has and you’re not going to the first.
  • Phone a friend who has experience with cannabis. You know that person and they’ll let you know everything is going to be alright.
  • Take a walk, the fresh air will do you good.
  • Take a hot shower, for some reason hot water helps bring you down.
  • Go to bed and sleep it off.

We’ve written about cannabis microdosing before, check out this blog if you’re interested in that option.