GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In what may be another sign of marijuana’s growing mainstream appeal, two experienced marketing and public relations professionals have started a new business aimed at providing communications for marijuana businesses.
With changes coming in how medical marijuana is regulated in the state and a potential ballot proposal that could make Michigan the next state to legalize recreational marijuana, two West Michigan women bring more than 50 years of marketing experience to a firm devoted to pot.
“I’m sure that there will be a lot of people that are going to be surprised to see me in this connection and that’s OK. I’m really comfortable with that,” said Roberta F. King, the founder of Canna Communications.
Just a couple pf weeks ago, King was the vice president in charge of PR and marketing for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. In more than three decades in communications, she has also worked with the Red Cross of Muskegon and the Grand Rapid Art Museum.
Sometime last year, she heard a story about the medical marijuana business and said she had an epiphany.
“I said, ‘That’s it. That’s what I can put myself behind because in Michigan, and many other states, it’s still about helping people,'” King said.
In a few months, medical marijuana dispensaries will have to get a new kind of license from the state.
“Everybody is having to come out of the closet and start putting their name and their reputation behind the product that they’re making,” King said.
She said the days of avoiding the spotlight in a cash-only business will be over.
“They’re going to need legal and accounting and banking and public relations and marketing and they’re going to need digital,” she said.
King partnered with her friend Dottie Rhodes, who owned Plenty, a design and communications business in downtown Grand Rapids. They join the 40 percent of marijuana-related businesses that are run by women.
Similar firms exist in states like Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal.
The federal government still considers marijuana a schedule one illegal drug and advertising on television, radio and even Facebook is forbidden — but King says she believes creative solutions are possible.
“We knew this was going to be hard,” she said. “But that’s OK.”
She says that she is mostly inspired by marijuana as medicine, but also looks forward to full legalization — a prospect still far from reality, though signatures are being gathered to put it on the 2018 ballot in Michigan.
“We’ll have a business regardless of whether that happens because I do think the medical businesses are going to want to compete,” King said. “Is it going to be better after full legalization? Absolutely and I look forward to that time and I’m working to help move that forward as well.”
She said with the potential profits in the marijuana business, it is inevitable that there will be major money coming forward to get in the game.
“I’m sure corporate entities would love to control this business because there is money in cannabis,” she said. “I hope that there will always be a place for boutique growers.”
Whether West Michigan is ready for a marijuana PR firm may be open to debate, but King and Rhodes say they want to be out in front of what they believe is a high-growth industry.