Living at a time where accessing cannabis is easier and safer than ever is indeed radical. Right now, over 176 million Americans—about 53 percent—live in places where recreational cannabis is legal. If you add in states that OK its medicinal use, that number jumps to almost 74 percent.
However, legalization alone won't unravel almost a century of cultural bias. We've got a regulated industry and widespread access—that's great. But thousands remain incarcerated for the plant, and a lingering negative zeitgeist governs marketing.
Let's take a historical detour. Reagan and Nixon are often the vilified poster presidents for the "War on Drugs," but the true architect is Harry Anslinger. His racist anti-cannabis policies equated the herb with heroin, sparking excessive policing, biased trials and unjust penalties that disparately impacted people of color.
Then there was the cinematic mess, Reefer Madness, which cemented the lazy, criminal, dumb and drug-addicted stereotypes in the minds of Americans. Pop culture never got the memo, and for decades the burnout stoner became the only portrayal on our screens.
Enter "Faces of Cannabis," an advocacy campaign led by our woman-owned brand, featuring a two-week photo exhibition in NYC. Its mission: to show the world the beautiful breadth, depth and drive of cannabis consumers.
It's been on our minds for some time, years even, but the idea carried a caveat: "How could we actually put this together when it's nearly impossible to depict humanity, consumption or even use the name of the plant in any kind of campaign?" The timing (and practicality of pulling it off) never felt right—until this year, with New York's historic legalization.
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It didn't just take a village, it took a whole city. We started by putting out a casting call to our NYC community, asking folks to submit their personal pro-cannabis stories. Lesson: there are a LOT of people in NYC who want to advocate for this plant.
We then found Matthew Yoscary, a gifted photographer whose work perfectly mirrored the vision of the campaign (and himself a victim of the drug war).
Then it was time to bring everyone together. Shot over two days at Archivo Studio in Brooklyn, each of our 15 "faces" came in to strike a pose (most for the first time) and sit with our partner, Honeysuckle Magazine, for a video interview.
We didn't want this to be a digital-only initiative that got lost in the ether. And so, with our partners at dispensary Union Square Travel Agency, we took over their former location at 62 East 13th St. this month to create an immersive pop-up art gallery.
Marketing the exhibit was a feat (see: can't say weed words, or show consumption in public, or use paid media to get the word out without censorship and other risks). Thankfully with massive community support, tapping our owned and partner channels, and an opening night event, we got the word out and showed the world who cannabis users really are.