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By Joshua Belhumeur

The Cannabis Aesthetic: How Will Weed Design Evolve?

Pot is on a rapid path towards nation-wide legalization after decades of societal taboo and excessive legal enforcement. What was once a subculture associated with stoners and youthful rebellion is transitioning into a full lifestyle product category that just may someday have the same diversity of branding and advertising as alcohol. (And that is not to say that a far more diverse group hasn’t been consumers already, they’re just not celebrating it publicly.)

Indeed we are on the precipice of an enormous business opportunity. As a flurry of entrepreneurs begin entering the game, it has me thinking: as pot goes mainstream how will “weed design” evolve?

Design Half-Baked

You know the current weed aestetic. Saturation of neon green peppered with the colors of the Jamaican flag. Throw in some tiedye occasionally and plaster the cannabis leaf everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

Weed certainly has its stereotypes that are only reinforced by design clichés, likely because it has been left in the hands of two types of people: potheads who identify themselves by their belonging to a subculture or the businesses pandering to them. Plus, in an environment of illegality, the design of pot is most about solidarity, naturally leading to a homogenized brand. If supporters of weed are going to ignite a movement for change, they need to stand together.

Ironically, the legalize it subculture has only further emphasized some of the perceptions that lead to pot staying illegal in the first place with its juvenile and tacky aesthetic. I’m not saying it’s right, certainly not to the thousands imprisoned for victimless crimes. I’m just saying I know as well as anyone that design and branding are powerful psychological forces in shaping our paradigms.

Marijuana for the Masses

As weed goes mainstream, the design has and will continue to evolve. I personally don’t smoke pot. I’m not morally opposed to it. I’m not scared of it. It’s completely legal in my city and well on it’s way to being legalized nationwide. I can afford it, it doesn’t interfere with my job (hell, you may be reading a better article if I were high) and I have a completely open mind.

So what does that make me?

I’m a target market, of course. In a post-legalized world, weed design is much more subtle and diverse because the millions who may use it recreationally do not define themselves by their pot use like the vocal supporters that preceded them. Many will have never tried it before and have to be made to feel comfortable with it.

Pot will be marketed as a lifestyle product, like an X-Box, a bottle of bourbon or a canoe, bag of granola and a Patagonia thermal jacket. And with legalization comes the ability for companies to position themselves in unique ways, capturing different segments of the market. We don’t have to feel constrained by the design of the past, though for the early adopter Co.Design argues we must “respect the history” to build trust with them.


My fictional weed brand, targeted to workplace creativity.

Out of the Weeds

With legalization, expensive strains of cannabis will be marketed to professionals the way luxury cars are. Young college grads will have their favorite “social” brands that go against the slacker perception and embrace an active and ambitious lifestyle. People will like their favorite weed brand on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and funny videos will go viral starring pot but without potheads as you might expect.

After all, nearly half of Americans have admitted to trying marijuana, so the overnight market potential is almost unprecedented. With legalization, once secretive users will begin surfacing. There’s a lot of green in our future: both the kind you can smoke and the kind you can spend.

Hopefully BRINK will get a chance soon to work with an up-and-coming cannabis brand and break some of these weed design paradigms. Who wouldn’t want to take part in such a growth market.

By Joshua Belhumeur