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Written by: Custom Cone USA
The cannabis industry is filled with celebrities throwing their hat (and money) into the ring – vying to be the future of cannabis! There are of course the familiar stoners like Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, but there are some surprising faces, like Montel Williams and Mike Tyson! Like most celebrity branded products, many of these celebrity cannabis brands get started with the celebrity licensing their name and brand to established manufacturers; in this case the product manufacturers are cannabis farms and pre-roll producers, which pay royalties or give up a piece of equity to the celebrity in exchange for the rights to use their brand. In this article, we’ll give you the inside scoop of some of the top celebrity cannabis brands, the background behind them, and how you can start your own celebrity brand… that of course depends on how big of a celebrity you know or are yourself!
In order to operate and sell legal cannabis products, you need to secure a license from each specific state. For example, just because you own a legal cannabis farm in California, doesn’t mean you can sell cannabis and pre-rolls into Oregon, even though they are neighboring states. Each state issues their own licenses, sets their own rules, and makes the process nearly impossible to navigate without hours of research and professional legal help, especially as a brand looking to expand into multiple states. Some states only issue very limited numbers of licenses, so in order to tap into those markets, you need to be lucky to be awarded a license or partner with a company that already has been granted the license. On the other hand, states like Oklahoma or Oregon make getting a license very easy!
You will also need a facility to manufacture the pre-rolls – this will require a decent amount of equipment in order to produce the pre-rolls affordably. There is all sorts of pre-rolls machines from cone filling equipment to over-wrapping machinery.
Since it can cost upwards of $1,000,000 to deal with all the legality of applying for a getting a license, building out a facility, and then hiring an entire team to build your business – most celebrity cannabis brands leverage various forms of licensing agreements to help expand their brand quickly and without all the capital costs/risks.
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Leafs by Snoop – Leafs by Snoop was of course started by Snoop Dogg, but if you think Snoop Dogg has hundreds of cannabis plants growing on a farm, you’d be wrong! Instead of becoming the actual farmer, what Snoop Dog (and most other celebrity brands) has done is create a brand, develop the packaging, and then license out it’s use to government licensed cannabis growers and producers. Leafs by Snoop was started by Snoop Dogg and is owned by his investment company, but the brand Leafs by Snoop came to life with the help of the Colorado dispensary LivWell back in 2015. Despite LivWell helping bring the Leaf by Snoops brand to store shelves, they stopped carrying the product years ago. Shortly after Snoop had launched in Colorado with the help of LivWell, he partnered up with one of the largest cannabis companies in the world Canopy Growth out of Canada. Unfortunately for Snoop, Canada has some of the strictest regulations when it comes to cannabis and it’s packaging. Under Health Canada regulations, companies are not allowed to promote or advertise cannabis via celebrities. As you can imagine, a company of Canopy growth’s size is not going to try bending the rules, so they are no longer producing the Leaf by Snoops line. We couldn’t even find a Leafs by Snoop official website, so we are not even sure if they are still around!
Willie’s Reserve – As the name suggests, Willie’s Reserve was started by country music and pot smoking legend WIllie Nelson. Just like Snoop, Willie doesn’t actually own the farms or make the pre-rolls, rather he just owns the branding/packaging, which is licensed out to cannabis companies in each legal state. Unlike Snoop, Willie’s Reserve partners with multiple cannabis growers in each state. Willie’s Reserve is currently in California, Colorado, Washington, Maryland, and Nevada. Depending on the state Willie’s Reserve sources flower from as little as one farm in both Nevada and Maryland, to up to 13 farmers in Colorado. Willie’s Reserve is the brand name that get’s licensed out, but the holding company is called GCH inc., which is Denver-based and private equity funded. Two equity investment groups, Target Capital Inc. and 51st Parallel Inc. came together to create LivWell International Inc., which purchased the rights to the Willie’s Reserve and Willie’s Remedy brand names for use in Canada. LivWell International is run by the same executive team as the Denver based LivWell organization. This transaction gives LivWell the exclusive rights to the WIllie’s Reserve and Willie’s Remedy brand names in Canada, as well as other international markets.
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Willies Reserve pre-rolls come in a custom embossed pre-roll tin. There are 5 pre-rolls per pack. The pre-rolls also feature a custom filter tip with the Willies Reserve logo in bold letters.
Chongs Choice – Chong’s Choice is a company based around the pot-icon and comedian Tommy Chong of the Cheech and Chong comedy-duo. Chong partnered with California based Evergreen Licensing LLC to launch the brand back in 2015. Over the years, the Chong’s Choice brand has grown and expanded into other state markets. Chong’s Choice operates in a similar way to Willie’s Reserve, where Evergreen Licensing would secure licensing deals with other cannabis companies in different states. Only state licensed cannabis producers/processors are able to grow and create pre-roll products, so Evergreen Licensing would need to license out it’s exclusive use of the brand to state-licensed farms in other states. When you get into these multi-state licensing deals, you need to be really careful! It turns out Chong himself and Evergreen Licensing have been butting heads and suing each other over the past couple years. According to Evergreen Licensing, Tommy Chong and his son devised a plan to hack into company email accounts, so they could gain control over Chong branded social media accounts.
Photo Credit: Leafly.com
Chongs Choice pre-rolls come in a custom cigarette box with 5 pre-rolls each in an individual plastic tube. The pre-roll pack is finished off with a custom pre-rolled cone which shows off the Chongs Choice logo.
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Dr. Greenthumb’s – Dr. Greenthumb’s is a cannabis retail store that was started by rapper B-Real of the Cypress Hill trio. Before even starting Dr. Greenthumb’s, B-Real dipped his thumb in the industry by starting a glass filter tip company called Phunky Feel Tips. The Phunky Feel Tip line consists of both standard, clear glass filter tips, as well as more premium, colorful and uniquely shaped glass filter tips. These glass filter tips are great for rolling joints and adding to pre-rolls, which are of course available in the Dr. Greenthumb stores. The Dr. Greenthumb stores are currently only in California and compared to the previous celebrity brands, which use a licensing model to expand into other states, Dr. Greenthumb’s is just a dispensary and does not currently sell their own branded cannabis. Additionally, Dr. Greenthumb has not expanded out of California yet, but when they do, I would not be surprised to see them license their brand name out, so they can expand into more states and more stores faster!
Photo Credit: CelebStoner.com
Wiz Khalifa – Rapper and pot-smoker extraordinaire Wiz Khalifa has started his own line of premium cannabis and pre-rolls called KKE, which stands for Khalifa Kush Enterprises. Although many of these celebrity cannabis brands take similar routes to enter the legal market, there are subtle legal nuances, which make looking at all these celebrity brands very interesting. KKE appears to be a celebrity cannabis line exclusively for the Reef Dispensary chain, at least in the United States. Reef started out in Las Vegas, but has since expanded into Arizona as well. More recently, news has come out that Wiz has signed a deal with Canadian LP The Supreme Cannabis Company, to be the Canadian licensed producer for KKE branded oils. When you look into the details, Wiz started a second company called Khalifa Kush Enterprises Canada, which owns and licenses the brand to Canada, which is why you see KKE in Reef dispensaries here in the US, but KKE partnering with the Supreme Cannabis Company in Canada. As of now, it seems like KKE flowers and pre-rolls are only available in Reef dispensaries, so if you want to be smoking like Wiz, you have no other choice but to shop at the Reef.
Photo Credit: Cookies
Cookies – Cookies was started by rapper Berner, who has been around the cannabis industry since before it was even born! Berner made a name for himself in California as the go-to guy for cannabis for all the touring musicians and artists making their way out to the west coast. Berner and the Cookies team has made some of the most iconic strains in the industry, including, but not limited to: Girl Scout Cookies, Gelato, Cheetah Piss, and Sherbert. Not only is Cookies one of the industry’s leading brands, but Berner has also turned Cookies into a fashion company that is carried by mainstream retailers, such as Zumiez. Berner also helped start KoKo Nugz, which is a chocolate company that created cannabis themed confections. Cookies started in California, but have been quickly expanding into other state markets as well. Cookies partnered with Culta, which is a Maryland based cannabis company, to bring the Cookies brand to the east coast. Cookies are totally vertically integrated, meaning they own the genetics, they own the grow facility, manufacture the pre-rolls, and they also own the retail store. Not every state allows this type of vertical integration, for example in Washington state it is against the law to be a vertically integrated cannabis company. The benefits of being vertically integrated is tight control over every step of the process, which helps ensure strict quality control; however, vertical integration is also very expensive and time consuming, so in this scenario you see Berner utilizing a vertically integrated system in California where he started and leveraging a licensing model to quickly expand into new states like Maryland and Michigan.
As you can see from the above examples, some of these celebrity pre-roll brands worked out well, some you may not have heard of yet, and others you can read about the legal battles they are engaging in. The world of business, especially the cannabis industry, is hard to navigate and super competitive. When it comes to licensing deals and business partnerships, you need to be super careful – once you start a business with someone, you are essentially getting married! If you are interested in starting your own pre-roll brand, but don’t have the money or business expertise to do the entire process yourself, licensing your brand or forming a partnership with a licensing cannabis business can be a great idea.
While you work on and brainstorm your pre-roll brand, start looking around at your local cannabis industry for potential partners. I would talk to budtenders, go to networking events, and try to read as much local cannabis news as you can. Ask your local budtenders which pre-roll brands are the most popular or which growers have the highest quality flower. Once your brand is ready to be pitched to a licensed cannabis company, you’re going to want to have a short list, as not everyone is going to be eager to partner with you! You’ll want to have as much prepared as possible – examples of your packaging are a great way to show your potential partners that you have already thought this through and have already done the work. More importantly than your packaging or branding, your potential partner is going to want to make sure you are going to be able to sell it! Since you won’t be able to do the selling yourself (the dispensary has to do the selling), you’re going to want to convey that your brand is so good, it will sell itself. Well not technically sell it self, but that your social media presence or concept is so unique and compelling, that your product isn’t just another pre-roll.
The cannabis market is extremely crowded – everyone wants to get in on the excitement, so oftentimes you’ll hear it’s quite hard for a new cannabis brand to get into an established dispensary. If the dispensary is already selling 15 brands of pre-rolls, each with 5-10 strains, they may not want to bring in any more pre-rolls. The best way to get into a new store and woo your potential cannabis licensing partner is by creating a new product. For example, use a different type of rolling paper that no one else in your market is currently using, like hemp wrap or palm leaf. You can also make a new sized pre-roll or work with a pre-rolled cone manufacturer on a pre-roll with a unique filter tip. In addition to creating a new product, be bold with your packaging and do something different or useful for the customer! For example, you can create a pre-roll packaging size that isn’t currently popular in your state or incorporate a hemp wick bundle into your pre-roll packaging, so you stand out to both customers and budtenders!
Starting a cannabis business sounds fun and can be fun, but it is a lot of hard work and is very expensive. Although partnering with someone or licensing out your brand gives up part of your control, this method allows you to reduce your risk and leverage the experience and team of that partner. You’ll want to be very careful and consult with a lawyer as you work through your business plan, but with the right team in place, you could be the next big celebrity cannabis brand!