With 2018 only days away, cannabis brands in California are scrambling to prepare for the new regulations. While some companies are closing their doors because they can’t afford the costs associated with becoming legal, others are changing the way they brand themselves.
Korova for example, built their name by producing high potency edibles with products as high as 1000 mg THC. The high dose and affordable price made Korova a hit in the cannabis community, but those same reasons are why I never became a fan of Korova. While working as a budtender, I heard far too many stories of people having a bad edible experience from eating a crumb of a Korova brownie. The new regulations aim to prevent those bad experiences from happening to others, by only allowing 100 mg THC per package, with individual pieces not to exceed 10 mg. This completely knocks out Korova’s high potency model, but according to this Leafly article, they are prepared to produce low potency edibles and have already started to adjust their marketing by changing their slogan on billboards from “Unrivaled Potency” to “Unrivaled”.
Another big branding change happened this week when Hmbldt announced they changed their name to “Dosist”, the Greek word for Dose. This announcement left many consumers, including myself, with questions. I have been a fan of Hmbldt/Dosist’s vaporizers ever since I received one at a Vanderpop event. The vape pen is sleek and unique, using technology that causes the pen to vibrate once you’ve inhaled 2.25 mg THC. Steering away from using the terms Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid, Dosist instead labels their pens based on a desired experience, like Bliss or Sleep. This unique branding strategy has brought the vape company a lot of positive attention, including recent features in GQ & Goop Magazine.
Since the company had strongly established itself as Hmbldt, I was confused as to why they would suddenly rebrand. “If it aint broke, dont fix it” is a saying that came to mind, which led me scouring the internet to find out what was broken that needed to be fixed.
I first checked the comment section on the original announcement post, where I found Dosist giving the same response to all those inquiring about the name change :
“The new name is designed to reflect our commitment to our patients- providing a consistent, repeatable and predictable experience, and increasing access to cannabis-based therapy. As we grow and look to expand beyond California and help more and more people, having a name that reflects our promise to our patients was important. Further, we were not confident we could continue to be compliant with state law, while using the name Hmbldt outside of the state.”
That copy and paste response didn’t satisfy my hunger for answers, so I kept reading the comments until I came across a comment from the Instagram user tzaddu53 which stated “California state rules for medical and recreational legalization may have spurred the move. According to new regulations, products that reference a place of origin like Humboldt County have to be sourced from that region. When Los Angeles based Hmbldt launched, some critics noted its lack of deep roots in Humboldt County, the nation’s breadbasket of cannabis. Local Humboldt County farmers are counting on standing out in a crowded market with the coveted “humboldt” appellation, similar to how true champagne can only come from a particular region of France.”
While waiting for a response from the company, I turned to Facebook to ask the cannabis community if they knew more about where Hmbldt sourced their product from. I was shocked at how quickly people responded with information. Allegedly, it was well known within the community that the company named Hmbldt was not sourcing from Humboldt County afterall. There was even an article about it. When asked to speak on record about this insider knowledge, I could not find one source that was willing to provide more information.
The Head of Marketing for Dosist reached out and stated that their products were sourced from Humboldt and that the name change was simply for expansion purposes, ending the email with the copy & paste comment I had read earlier on their Instagram. I was hoping they would provide some sort of proof to back up that claim. As Amanda Chicago Lewis states in this article she wrote for Rolling Stone, “Since California currently does not have a track and trace system in place, there is unfortunately no real way to verify their claims.”
At the end of the day, Hmbldt/Dosist created a first of its kind device, which is a rare thing to be able to say in this industry. I think their pen is convenient, unique,and effective, so I will continue to use the one I have.
Eager to learn more about the regulations that forced Hmbldt to change their name, I reached out to Humboldt County native, Hezekiah Allen who is the Executive Director of the California Growers Association. Formed in 2015, CGA is made up of a community of growers and business owners who are actively on the frontline of monumental policy decisions being made.
For years, Hezekiah has been advocating for appellations, a geographical indication consisting of a geographical name used on products which have specific characteristics due to the environment in which they are grown. The concept aims to protect farms by preventing brands from capitalizing on the names of counties as part of their branding, which was a move inspired by the wine industry. For example, only wine from Bordeaux, France, may be called Bordeaux. Similarly, a company can only call their flower “Mendocino Grown” if it truly was grown in Mendocino.
When asked what inspired him to push for this protection, Hezekiah replied: “It’s really just a basic honesty thing, if the product isn’t from somewhere, you shouldn’t say it is. From our [CGA] perspective, it’s kind of a truth in advertising thing, consumers should know where the products they are consuming are coming from, if that matters to them, and I think it does matter to a lot of people. To use the name of a place inaccurately is really disrespectful, so that’s the driving feeling behind this for the organization for the last few years.”
Hezekiah explained to me that in 2015, a law was put into place that protected county names, which was a great starting point, but the regulations weren’t detailed enough to be considered appellations, as it did not protect specific neighborhoods. As I learned from Amanda’s article, the 2015 law implied that only the full usage of a county name was protected, so a company like Hmbldt, who removed the vowels, was able to operate even if all their product was not sourced from Humboldt County.
June of 2017, the appellations process was written into state law. The bill required the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to allow “county of origin” appellations by January 1, 2018, the first day of adult-use legalization in California. By 2021, the department, with the help of the community, will create a framework to establish appellations of standards, practices and varietals applicable to cannabis grown in certain geographic areas.
I was surprised to learn that appellations will be a work in progress until 2021, so I asked Hezekiah if there is anything the cannabis community can do now while the details get figured out.
“A lot of consumers probably care about if their product comes from a small farm, and what if, the term small farm isn’t protected and people get to use that word, or cottage grown, or hand crafted, freely? These are things that consumers may care about but the words are only going to have value if they have meaning. The appellation law allows us to define protected terms for standards and practices, but we as stakeholders first have to agree on what the words mean. Once we agree, we can just send a letter to the CDFA and say this word means a lot to us and this is what it means. People can get engaged, we can start defining words now, and we can get that done sooner.”
He also stated that the most important thing we can do is to ask questions. “Ask the retailer what words means. Ask them to talk to the producer to find out more. As a consumer, dig into marketing and packaging, ask questions and hold brands accountable. I really believe that an informed cannabis consumer is going to be a force for good in California.”
When it comes down to questioning if Dosist is truly sourcing from Humboldt County, Hezekiah makes a great point. “They changed their name, which means they don’t have to answer to our questions anymore. My perspective on this particular situation is ‘live and let live’. They changed their name, let’s all move on, but let’s make sure that going forward, we hold each other to a very high standard.”
A follow up post on the California Compliant Cannabis Packaging article. This compliance article covers the rules for compliant packaging of small, child-resistant and edibles packaging.
California Compliant Cannabis Packaging that come into play on July 1st, 2018. Follow along to learn the latest news on cannabis compliance.
Cannabis is gaining ground on wine and becoming a more social industry. Let's look what weed can learn about branding from the wine industry.