A dab is loaded for a client at the Gaia booth during the 2014 Cannabis Cup in Denver. Gaia, now known by its new name Mindful, terminated its relationship with ad agency Cannabrand recently after the marketing company's executives were quoted somewhat controversially in a New York Times story. (Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)

‘We’re weeding out the stoners’: How an ad agency lost a client, and respect

The founders of a Denver-based ad agency lost a major client and alienated some industry and activists when they compared certain Colorado dispensaries to “underground abortion clinics” and said they’re “weeding out the stoners” in a recent New York Times piece on legal marijuana’s ever-changing image.

Making matters more severe: The ad company, Cannabrand, deals solely with marijuana clients.

The Times piece focused on the rebranding of legal marijuana in Colorado — something that is happening widely as businesses look to tap a new clientele in a state full of of recreational pot sales. But the tone of the ad execs’ quotes left a bad taste for many.

“We’re weeding out the stoners,” Cannabrand co-founder Olivia Mannix told The Times. “We want to show the world that normal, professional, successful people consume cannabis.”

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Other quotes from The Times piece: Mannix said dispensaries “look like underground abortion clinics.” Her business partner Jennifer DeFalco said pot-rooted advertisements are full of “women with whipped cream straddling bongs” — and she added that “baby boomers are smoking, stay-at-home moms are smoking, business executives are smoking. But for so long, they’ve done it behind closed doors. We want to bring them out of the shadows.”

Colorado dispensary group Mindful, formerly known as Gaia Plant-Based Medicine with three stores on the Front Range, terminated its relationship with Cannabrand after seeing The Times piece.

“Mindful has parted ways with Cannabrand due to recent statements they have made that clearly conflict with our company values,” Mindful’s CEO Meg Sanders said in a statement. “We understand that these comments were hurtful and insulting to the industry and to the many that have fought so hard for years in the name of patient rights and safe access. We remain committed to serving our community, patients and customers with dignity and compassion.”

Cannabrand’s founders Mannix and DeFalco declined an interview but offered this statement on Monday.

“In the recent NYT article there were several quotes that did not clearly convey our stance,” the statement reads. “Please let us clarify; We support everyone in the marijuana industry, and it’s unfortunate that those statements do not accurately portray Cannabrand or our community. Cannabrand’s mission is to broaden the cannabis consumer demographic and to welcome more people into this vibrant industry, which veteran cannabis leaders have readily established. We aim to further public acceptance of marijuana, in hopes that this will advance the ongoing support and legalization of cannabis.”

The original comments set marijuana activist- and industry-connected social media and message boards afire.

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“Their commentary was way over the top. It was really offensive,” Teri Robnett, executive director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance, told The Cannabist. “What bothers me the most is we need to be inclusive rather than exclusive. We need to bring more people into the marijuana community rather than choosing sides and saying who can use this and who can’t. It seems really high school to me — where you try to make yourself look good by making other people look bad.”

Robnett leads a group of patients, organizations and supporters who advocate for medical marijuana patients’ rights, and she posted the Times article, and the feelings it brought up, to her Facebook page to a chorus of mostly like-minded criticism.

“I’ve worked hard to put a face on what it means to be a medical marijuana patient,” said Robnett, “but I’ve never done that at the expense of those who came before me, those who put their lives and freedoms on the line to get us where we are today.”

Robnett said she understands the need to rebrand marijuana in a post-legalization Colorado.

“It’s important to try and change the stereotypes,” she said, “but you don’t do that by demonizing others.”

Cannabis Camera owner Kim Sidwell also took to her Facebook to voice concerns over the Cannabrand execs’ tone — and she also is pro-rebranding for Colorado’s marijuana industry, something she addressed on her photography business’s website.

“I do understand the need to rebrand,” Sidwell told The Cannabist. “We’ve been doing that for a long time.

“But it feels as though some in the industry feel a need to create a divide between one type of cannabis consumer and another. I don’t understand why one group has to be insulted so the other can feel better about what they’re doing. It’s one of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about cannabis culture: There doesn’t have to be a cultural divide.”

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Sidwell also took issue with the Cannabrand execs’ use of the word “stoner” and their description of some Colorado dispensaries.

“I really want to know what their definition of a stoner is,” Sidwell said. “I’ve always had mixed feelings about the term. It’s a term of endearment when we use it about ourselves, but it can also be a derogatory term when used about another person, and I feel they were using it derogatorily.

“And I don’t know what they’re saying when they say dispensaries look like ‘underground abortion clinics.’ I just can’t see what they’re referencing. To me, dispensaries nowadays are very respectable for the most part.”

Mindful’s Sanders had a gentler way of describing some Colorado dispensaries in The Times piece: “I’ve heard time and time again, ‘I walk into a dispensary and I feel like I’m walking into a stoner’s basement.'”

A representative with Mindful told The Cannabist on Monday that Sanders’ statement was all they had to say on the issue.