While cannabis may still have some distance to go before it’s truly normalized, the plant and related products are no longer exactly taboo. This shift is apparent in increasingly blatant pop-culture references, expanding legalization efforts, and the new, unabashed ways products are marketed to the masses—most notably by celebrities.
A race to dominate the market in the same way Nike owns athletic shoes and Coca-Cola eclipses all other soft drinks has contributed to product saturation and fierce competition in the cannabis space. Much as Nike and Coke did decades ago, cannabis brands increasingly seek celebrity involvement to bolster their image and create emotional links with consumers.
No matter the industry or product, a celebrity’s endorsement—or better yet, ownership stake—can precipitate earned media and consumer interest in the short term. Played right, the hype can become brand awareness that sticks around for the long haul. Cannabis is becoming a lifestyle product that ties into both holistic wellness and recreation, and a celebrity whose respect for and use of the plant—like Carlos Santana, Snoop Dogg, or Mike Tyson—can do wonders for market positioning.
Researchers say the celebrity effect in marketing largely is a matter of perceived trust. A 2011 Taiwanese study concluded celebrity endorsements add perceived value, help consumers differentiate between products, and create a rapid bond with potential customers because of their familiarity with the celebrity—and this can trigger purchase intent in highly competitive markets with an abundance of product offerings.
There’s no denying celebrity brands fare best when their famous namesakes take an active role in promoting the wares to which their names are attached. Celebrities who use their own products—and better still, vocally advocate for legalization, restorative justice, or social equity—see the best return on their investment, possibly because consumers believe the people behind the brands have grander agendas than simply making money.
From targeting a specific demographic like Shavo Odadjian’s 22Red to sharing an inspirational wellness story like Al Harrington’s Viola Brands or spreading awareness of systemic inequities like Seth Rogen’s Houseplant, a celebrity’s involvement can be transformative for brand identity, new product introductions, and creating community.
Here we present a few of the celebrities leaving their mark on today’s industry.
Fourteen U.S. states, Canada, Israel
Cookies is a lifestyle brand that just happens to sell cannabis. Co-founded by Gilbert Milam Jr.—better known as rapper Berner—the brand’s growth has been nothing short of explosive, opening forty-nine dispensaries since 2018. Berner, who is intimately involved in every aspect of the empire, told Insider “revenue, growth, and potential growth” make his company America’s first billion-dollar cannabis brand. The man’s entrepreneurial profile has expanded well beyond the worlds of cannabis and rap: Both mg Magazine and Forbes have featured him on their covers, and AdAge named Cookies one of America’s Hottest Brands of 2021—the first cannabis company to be so designated.
California, Oregon, Washington
Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams’s defiant cannabis use cost him his National Football League career when he chose to retire rather than give up the weed that helped him deal with pain from repeated injuries. His story is central to the football-themed Highsman brand, which Williams not only founded but also takes a very personal, in-the-trenches role in promoting. Meeting budtenders face to face and engaging in clever marketing moves like making surprise in-person product deliveries to consumers who’ve ordered online keeps him intimately connected to the market. “We’ve curated the brand to offer Pregame sativas to give you a lift, Halftime hybrids to help you stay focused, and Postgame indicas for a more reflective mood,” he said.
Arizona, California, Nevada
Heavy-metal rocker Shavo Odadjian set out to build a lifestyle brand that caters to skaters and creatives by assimilating music, art, and fashion. “We’ve always positioned ourselves as a lifestyle brand with cannabis on the menu,” the bassist for Grammy-winning System of a Down said. “We specialize in premium indoor-grown cannabis flower, pre-rolls, and live resin concentrates. I’ve traveled around the world and enjoyed genetics from some of the coolest people, and I’m looking to share that with consumers.” The brand curates its products and considers itself “the frame to the artwork, the amplifier to the band, and the runway to the collection.” 22Red is expanding through partnerships with Curaleaf, Stiiizy, and Harvest.
Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon
Founded by actor/producer/musician Jim Belushi, Belushi’s Farm was inspired by his personal mental health journey with the plant. In part, the farm is dedicated to the memory of his late elder brother, Saturday Night Live legend John Belushi, whose tragic death from an opioid overdose in 1982 at the age of thirty-three might have been prevented had cannabis been legal, the younger Belushi told mg in 2019. The farm is celebrated for its sungrown flower but has branched out into other products, as well. “We are mainly known for our Blues Brothers and Belushi’s Farm brands,” said Belushi, one of the most approachable celebrities in the business. “Various products are available in several legal regions, including pre-rolls, packaged flower, edibles, ice-water hash, distillate, and live-rosin carts.”
Greenings by Moody’s Medicinals
Five Finger Death Punch frontman Ivan Moody launched his CBD brand Moody’s Medicinals in 2019. With Greenings, the heavy metal rocker hits the hard stuff with an edgy line of premium flower, infused pre-rolls, and gummies. “For years, I’ve had a very public struggle with alcohol addiction,” he said. “I wanted something natural that wouldn’t leave me with sluggish side effects. Greenings is a result of the emotional and physical relief I found through cannabis.” The products didn’t bow until late December, but Moody already is talking with potential partners who will move his brand into California and Arizona.
THC products in California, Oklahoma, Jamaica; accessories worldwide
The late Reggae icon Bob Marley is the patron saint of cannabis. Marley Natural, which offers THC and CBD flower, pre-rolls, and vape cartridges as well as a line of sophisticated accessories, was developed by his estate in collaboration with private equity firm Privateer Holdings. The family remains actively involved. Through a partnership with Docklight Brands, a Marley Natural dispensary opened at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2021. “The products honor Jamaica’s vibrant energy and are responsibly sourced and integrity-driven with a belief in the positive potential of herb,” said Charles Hoch, senior vice president of product and marketing at distributor Greenlane, which represents the accessories.
Launched: 2019 (Canada)
Actor, comedian, and writer Seth Rogen, who has made a career out of playing lovable stoners, moved Houseplant’s headquarters to Los Angeles two years after launching in his native Canada in partnership with Canopy Growth. In addition to flower personally selected by Rogen and his longtime friend and collaborator, director/screenwriter/producer Evan Goldberg, the brand also markets pre-rolls and accessories, many of which were designed by Rogen. Like the actor’s on-screen characters, Houseplant’s packaging is retro and whimsical, resembling brightly colored Lego blocks. Rogen is an outspoken advocate for social responsibility, going so far as to invite consumers who don’t support equity and justice reform not to buy Houseplant products.
Like Berner, Cypress Hill frontman B-Real (born Louis Mario Freese) parlayed a significant fanbase and a reputation for knowing good weed into a brand—in his case, one named after his group’s most enduring music video. Dr. Greenthumb operates six dispensaries in California, was preparing to open one in Boston in late 2022, and is scouting additional locations in Michigan. The vertically integrated company grows its own craft flower and wholesales products to other California dispensaries under the Dr. Greenthumb and Insane brands. “Dr. Greenthumb is built for all people, from a fifty-year-old accountant to a college art student who just saw the Cypress-Hill-getting-kicked-off-of-SNL-for-smoking-weed clip on social media,” Chief Revenue Officer Travis Howard said.
Ric Flair Drip
Twelve U.S. states
It’s hardly surprising “Nature Boy” Ric Flair named his brand using street slang denoting style and swagger. During his 1980s professional wrestling heyday, the sixteen-time world champion was known as much for his over-the-top attire as his ring antics. In May 2022, Tyson 2.0 acquired a majority stake in Flair’s company, which he actively promotes with public appearances. Both brands now are part of Carma Holdings, an umbrella company cofounded by Mike Tyson and Chad Bronstein, founder and chief executive officer of marketing technology firm Fyllo. Carma plans to add more legendary characters (like retired boxer Evander Holyfield) to the stable and take the entire operation global with partners including Columbia Care, Verano Holdings, and HEXO Corp.
Twenty-four U.S. states, Canada
Mike Tyson’s first cannabis foray didn’t work out so well, but his second swing—Tyson 2.0, cofounded with Fyllo founder and CEO Chad Bronstein—is hitting the market as powerfully as he pummeled opponents in the ring. Thanks in part to a cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution partnership with Columbia Care, Iron Mike’s premium and affordable flower, concentrates, and edibles were available in twenty-four U.S. states and several Canadian provinces a scant year after the brand launched. Much of the brand’s success stems from Tyson’s intimate involvement and his reputation for knowing good weed. “Tyson 2.0 products are all tested and approved by the legend himself,” Bronstein said.
Singer, songwriter, bestselling author, and Parrothead-in-Chief Jimmy Buffett said he never imagined Coral Reefer would be anything but “a cool name for a tropical band born out of the Key West lifestyle of the mid-1970s,” but Surterra Wellness (a division of Beau Wrigley’s Parallel) changed his mind. The Coral Reefer brand offers PAX Era pods, vapes, and an infused balm in limited markets. Buffett hasn’t indicated any interest in turning Coral Reefer into a lifestyle phenom like his more well-known Margaritaville (which incorporates restaurants, resorts, footwear, rum, tequila, craft cocktails, and a casino), though legions of rabid fans probably would embrace the move.
California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon
Upon retiring after sixteen seasons with seven National Basketball Association teams, former power forward Al Harrington founded Viola Extracts, named for his grandmother, who found cannabis significantly alleviated symptoms of glaucoma and diabetes. The company cultivates its own plants and manufactures products in-house in four states. Harrington keeps a tight rein on his company and employs his considerable clout to benefit social equity efforts, primarily through Viola Cares, which provides immediate resources for people in need of support and helps shape local policy regarding criminal justice reform, expungement, and reentry into society. The Viola Accelerator aims to create 100 Black cannabis millionaires.
Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s high-end luxury brand is elegantly packaged and carries a luxurious price tag to match. “I created Monogram to give cannabis the respect it deserves by showcasing the tremendous hard work, time, and care that go into crafting a superior smoke,” Carter said when he partnered with Caliva to launch the first products in December 2020. Some of the craft bud claims a THC concentration in excess of 34 percent. Monogram merged into The Parent Company (TPCO) along with Caliva, and Carter became TPCO’s chief visionary officer, in charge of the development and promotion of brands. Monogram’s products are distributed exclusively by Caliva in limited California markets.
Mirayo by Santana
Ten-time Grammy-winning guitarist Carlos Santana partnered with Left Coast Ventures to bring his technicolor brand to market. Now part of TPCO, the brand’s sungrown flower and pre-rolls are inspired by famously spiritual Santana’s Latin heritage and designed to promote spiritual wellness. “With Mirayo, I hope to help people use cannabis as a door to more benevolent behavior like kindness and compassion,” he said, adding the brand celebrates the “divine light” within. For the moment, TPCO seems content to own the brand without doing much to promote it. Products are popular in limited California markets served by TPCO division Caliva.
Calvin Broadus, better known as rapper Snoop Dogg, entered the industry in 2015 with Leafs by Snoop in partnership with Canopy Growth Corporation. The brand lasted about as long as the initial media hype before the Toronto Maple Leafs sued over trademark infringement. The beautifully packaged products never had a chance to get wide distribution. Since then, Dogg has become cannabis royalty and the force behind investment firm Casa Verde Capital. He and his new partners at TSUMo Snacks are predicting better things for Snazzle Os savory edibles. “We jumped on the opportunity to collaborate with him to create these salty, crispy, onion-flavored rings that are reminiscent of his own favorite snack,” said TSUMo founder and CEO Caroline Yeh.
Colorado, New York, Ohio
A longtime legalization advocate with a rap sheet to prove it, country music legend Willie Nelson is so deeply ingrained in cannabis culture that both a strain and The Emerald Cup’s lifetime achievement award were named after him. (He won the organization’s first lifetime achievement award in 2018.) According to lore, he and a band of cohorts dreamed up Willie’s Reserve at Nelson’s kitchen table. Though Nelson, 89, stopped smoking weed in 2019 due to lung issues, the brand features some of his favorite strains in flower, pre-rolls, and vape carts. The brand’s intellectual property is owned by Long Play Inc., in which Nelson has a stake.
Garcia Hand Picked
California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon
Jerry Garcia—singer, songwriter, cofounder of the Grateful Dead, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee—had been dead for twenty-five years when his family and Holistic Industries collaborated to launch a cannabis brand honoring his legacy. The move generated some controversy, primarily because although Garcia was an advocate, he wasn’t much of a partaker, preferring the harder drugs that eventually contributed to his death. Award-winning packaging for Garcia’s Hand Picked flower, pre-rolls, and gummies, designed by Garden State Greenhouse, pays homage to the late musician’s graphic art. Daughters Trixie, Annabelle, and Sunshine are actively involved in curating products and promoting the brand.