When America voted for legalization at the culmination of the 2016 election cycle, it told the world what everyone already knew: lots of people love weed. According to a 2017 CBS poll, 61 percent of Americans are okay with adults using cannabis as they please, and 88 percent believe legal medical cannabis should be accessible across the country.
For some big brands, this is an invitation to innovate and commoditize the plant’s reintegration into mainstream culture. In the fashion industry, for example, cannabis presents designers with a symbol imbued with the imagery and emotion of comedy, rebellion, and all the sharp edges of a broken justice system. Nike and Adidas are two behemoths of branding, and both have given several nods to cannabis in very public ways. Nike is known for putting out weed-themed shoes to celebrate 420, and Adidas recently featured what appeared to be a cannabis grow site in its “Your Future is Not Mine” commercial. For brands that shape popular culture and those that provide ancillary products and services, the entrance of cannabis into a legal market is an opportunity to be a part of a cultural revolution.
But the popular shift toward cannabis doesn’t offer every industry the same invitation
In fact, some industries fear that the rise of cannabis will come at their expense. Maybe the brands on this list are truly worried about potential deleterious effects cannabis could have on consumers. What’s more likely, however, is that the industries represented by these brands and organizations are worried that cannabis is a formidable competitor and that its shining properties put a light on their products’ flaws.
Of the nine states with cannabis on the ballot in November 2016, Arizona was the only one that failed to advance regulated cannabis, and a massive cannabis-opposition movement is to blame. Insys Therapeutics was a part of that movement. Insys, a pharmaceutical company, donated half a million dollars in efforts to block the legalization of cannabis in Arizona. There are two levels of shade to this arrangement.
The pharmaceutical company is known for its manufacture of the drug fentanyl, the substance largely responsible for the skyrocketing rates of overdoses claiming American lives in what the CDC has called an opioid epidemic. This makes Insys claim that protecting lives is its motivation to curtail the legalization of cannabis tragically ironic. Second, while it was campaigning against the cannabis plant, it was building a case for its launch of Syndros, a synthetic THC derivative. Five months after the campaign for legal cannabis was shut down in Arizona, the DEA approved of Insys Syndros. In an investor filing, the company made its motivations clear when it said this:
Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol [synthetic THC] product candidate…If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.
Hotels and Casinos
Nevada has joined the fold of states that have legalized cannabis for personal use. That means that adults aged 21 and over can purchase cannabis products from authorized stores. For the most part, people who visit Nevada are really visiting Las Vegas, the city known all over the world as a place where the only rule is to keep what happens there under wraps. That kind of reputation is a great incentive for novices to try cannabis, if only on this one special occasion. The problem for these tourists is that there isn’t a place to indulge. Though cannabis is legal, public consumption isn’t and hotels and casinos concerned with protecting their reputation and licenses aren’t about to let a Federal I substance into their establishments.
If you’re going to Vegas to partake in gambling and alcohol, there are places lining the streets for you. If you’re there to try weed, don’t tell Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts or Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in the United States. Wynn donated $100,000 to the failed anti-cannabis campaign in Massachusetts and recently banned MassRoots CEO Isaac Dietrich from Las Vegas’ Wynn Resorts for his connections to cannabis. Adelson has donated an estimated total of $5 million to anti-cannabis movements in Nevada, Massachussetts, Arizona, and Florida.
The Alcohol Industry
Although cannabis users aren’t necessarily anti-alcohol, many happily choosing to enjoy the products within both industries, the money spent by alcohol companies during the 2016 election cycle suggests that the industry isn’t so sure about the loyalty of its customers. The Beer Distributer PAC donated $25,000 to the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, an anti-cannabis group. The Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association donated $10,000 to an anti-cannabis group, rather ironically claiming that it couldn’t support the legalization of such a dangerous substance. The maker of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Finlandia Vodka, The Brown-Forman Company, stated in its 2014 10-K filing
Consumer preferences and purchases may shift due to a host of factors, many of which are difficult to predict, including changes in economic conditions, demographic and social trends, public health policies and initiatives, changes in government regulation of beverage alcohol products, the potential legalization of marijuana use on a more widespread basis within the United States, and changes in travel, leisure, dining, gifting, entertaining, and beverage consumption trends.
This statement reflects the motives of alcohol organizations like the California Beer and Beverage Distributors and the Boston Beer Company, two groups that have donated to anti-weed campaigns.
The Corrections Corporation of America
In its 2010 10-K filing, the Corrections Corporation of America, a company that owns private prisons, gave this warning:
The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.
The private prison industry profits from crime. Efforts to decriminalize cannabis might be good for people of color, the sick, and social justice in general, but they’re bad for business.