The process of building a brand in the cannabis industry is hampered not only by federal law, but by misconceptions about the product.
The question of how to make your product stand apart from others while creating a more thoughtful image of the industry is what led Denver resident Lisa Buffo to launch the Cannabis Marketing Association.
“The magnifying lens is on us,” she said. “How do we convince people it’s not a drug?”
Prior to 2016, Buffo had helped launch tech start-ups, which got her into marketing, but she said everything she knew about marketing didn’t seem to apply when she entered the cannabis business.
So she created an organization to support professional and creative growth through education and networking opportunities.
The mission of the CMA is to “bring a positive perception to, and authentic understanding of, cannabis and its consumers around the world.” It does this by “supporting the professional growth of cannabis communications professionals by providing industry education, cultivating community, and establishing best practices.”
Buffo, 30, said she was motivated to start CMA because she had family members and friends who struggled with various levels of addiction, but they all found that cannabis actually encouraged them to lead a healthier lifestyle. She is also a consumer, which helps her realize how important outreach is.
She said the objective of destigmatizing weed is what she and her team are helping their clients with through webinars, events and direct contact. CMA’s clients include growers, processors and retailers that want to present their product thoughtfully.
She emphasizes that CMA is an industry group, not a marketing agency; however, most of its members offer marketing services. CMA has created chapters in Denver, San Francisco, L.A., San Diego, Seattle, Boston, New York City, Jersey City, N.J., and Washington, D.C.
There are members and liaisons in these cities who organize local events. This year, CMA hosted the first Cannabis Marketing Summit online in June. The focus was on how to build a brand, but also in the context of how much the world has changed with cannabis and now COVID-19.
Buffo said the Cannabis Marketing Summit is especially intended for senior level marketers responsible for the marketing budgets of licensed brands in the industry.
Summit webinars are available for anyone who is interested in watching, but non-members are asked to pay $15.
Membership also provides access to other videos and a content library to help people further enhance their cannabis marketing knowledge.
The goal of the summit was to evaluate the current state of cannabis marketing and learn about effective strategies and campaigns for cannabis brands across the country.
Scheduled summit speakers included Ericka Pittman of Viola Brands; Daniel Stein, CEO of Evolution Bureau; Daniel Yi, CCO of Shyne Group; Cory Rothschild, SVP of Brand Marketing Cresco Labs; Kyle Porter, President of CW Media; Valya Coryat, CMO of Trulieve; Jennifer Dooley, CSO of Green Thumb Industries; Richard Baca, CEO of Grasslands; and Joe Hodas, CMO of Wana Brands.
Although Buffo also has experience in the nonprofit world, and would like CMA to become one someday, it currently is restricted due to IRS rules.
In 2018, the IRS said it would not acknowledge tax-exempt applications relating to any activity involving controlled substances regardless of its legality in the state the organization is located. Additionally, membership is not tax-deductible, but could possibly be written off as a business expense.
Membership for an individual is $99 per year; a business membership is $125 monthly or $1,500 annually. Visit thecannabismarketingassociation.com for more information.
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