With a few big exceptions, doing business in the legal cannabis realm is just like any other competitive industry.
Store owners want people to come in the doors, buy things and keep on coming back. Producers want to create efficient processes that keep costs down and quality consistent. Product and service vendors are always happy to sell everyone various tools to do businesses better and stand out from the crowd, whether it’s fancy flooring to the best bookkeeping software.
One of the messages shared at the first-ever RAD Expo is that everyone is in the same boat as far as wanting marijuana businesses to someday become ordinary. That means much of the stigma and illicit nature will be gone, and it becomes another legal item that can help people feel good and possibly help their health.
But then there are the exceptions, such as the possibility of increased pressure from U.S. attorneys and the U.S. Department of Justice, a limited banking system, no interstate commerce and a lingering social mistrust of something that has been illegal since the 1930s.
The RAD Expo, short for Retailers and Dispensaries, brought together more than 2,000 store/dispensary owners, producers or other affiliated businesses. The majority hailed from the Northwest, but it also attracted people from states where recreational and/or medical marijuana products are legal plus Canadian provinces that expect to begin legally growing and selling this year.
The RAD Expo also brought some “curious citizens” from other states like New Jersey and Michigan doing advanced research for if and when any legal changes happen.
Along with learning about everything from better labeling to lighting, Expo guests could attend seminars about store design, common legal issues, taxation and marketing.
“People need to focus on bringing in new customers and also make sure they don’t forget their existing customers,” said Jeffrey Harris, CEO of Springbig, a customer loyalty program, one of the speakers on a branding panel. “You need to start thinking about what differentiates your business from what everyone is doing.”
Businesses were encouraged to tell the stories of their owners and product stories well, beyond “we have good stuff.”
At the same time, they were also encouraged to seek legal protection if they do truly have unique logos, slogans or business concepts. Official U.S. trademarks are not available for cannabis businesses, said Neil Junea from Gleam Law, a cannabis-focused law firm.
However, there are some gray areas where businesses can still seek copyright protections like names or logos, but not for general images like pot leaves or common keywords like “420,” “canna,” “Sativa” or “High.”
At the same time, the maturity of the industry means that some popular brand or strain names are likely to be challenged more by authorized trademark holders, such as Girl Scout Cookies or Gorilla Glue.
Overall, people seeking advice on being part of the developing landscape were urged to seek help, whether it’s from brand experts outside of the cannabis industry, peers, clients and customers. Social media is useful, although there are risks of shut-downs due to potentially illegal content.
“Don’t rely on yourself or your family members,” Junea said. “Bring the lawyers in right away. “