By John Schroyer
Sponsored block parties. One-day sales and steep discounts. Concerts headlined by Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa.
These are some of the ways marijuana businesses are celebrating – and hoping to profit from – April 20 this year. But not everyone in the industry is interested in marking the passing of the marijuana holiday.
Increasingly, many companies don’t do anything special for 4/20, saying it doesn’t align with their focus. This is especially in tightly regulated medical cannabis markets, where the focus is on patients with serious ailments.
“I think it depends on how truly medical the company and the market they’re operating in is,” said Evan Nison, a public relations professional with cannabis clients across the nation. “I wouldn’t even say that companies are actively trying to avoid it. I would just say they don’t consider it relevant to them.”
Minnesota Medical Solutions falls into that group.
The company, one of just two licensed medical cannabis producers in Minnesota, isn’t offering any sales or promotions for 4/20, according to CEO Kyle Kingsley. But after receiving an inquiry from Marijuana Business Daily, Kingsley chose a different way to mark the date.
“We’re embracing 4/20 and asking everybody in the medical cannabis industry to boycott Google due to their backwards, outdated stance on advertising for medical cannabis,” Kingsley said, referring to the Internet search giant’s ban on MMJ product ads.
“That’s our 4/20. Nothing else going on,” Kingsley added. “It just isn’t that relevant. I just don’t know a ton about it.”
As the recreational market is coming into its own, and is likely about to get much bigger after the election this November, a split is growing between medical professionals and those who simply love marijuana for its own sake.
And 4/20 is a perfect example of the divide.
“It just shows a culture shift of the industry, as it becomes less underground and secretive,” said Mike Bologna, CEO of Green Lion Partners, a Denver cannabis consultancy. “4/20 was always kind of a rallying point for people to come out and celebrate together with some lax laws, where the authorities might look the other way, especially here in Colorado historically.”
Part of the evolution, Bologna said, is that many companies that want to focus purely on the medicinal side of cannabis are deliberately choosing to not associate with 4/20.
“It’s not medical,” an employee of a Connecticut dispensary who requested anonymity said about the holiday when asked if the business was doing anything special for April 20.
Connecticut, like Minnesota, is a good example of the medical-recreational split on 4/20, given that only licensed pharmacists are allowed to own and operate dispensaries, including the six dispensaries currently operating.
In Minnesota, smokable MMJ is prohibited, and the two licensed companies are only allowed to produce and sell concentrates and non-edible infused products.
New York is another example, where just five licensed MMJ companies operate under tight regulations similar to Minnesota’s.
“You’re not seeing any real participation in 4/20” from New York’s MMJ companies, Scott Giannotti, founder of the state’s Cannabis and Hemp Association, said. “I think in this part of the country, a lot of these people really want to be involved more in the pharmaceutical community, and they don’t want to be known as marijuana people.”
Bologna also thinks that many companies who decline to participate in 4/20 are doing it for strategic reasons.
“I’m sure that (medical companies) are making a concise, concerted effort to separate themselves, because a lot of the 4/20 stigma is still the tie-dyed, dreadlocked stoner look that a lot of this industry has gone out of its way to try and remove,” Bologna said.
“The significant majority (of 4/20 promotional material) comes from the recreational side,” he added. “I can’t come up with a single medical company that I noticed in particular that was using 4/20 as a promotional tool.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean MMJ professionals are passing judgment on 4/20. Rather, it’s a different approach to marijuana as a business.
“We are patient advocates, not necessarily cannabis advocates,” Kingsley of Minnesota Medical Solutions said. “Those are different things.”
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]