Andrew Freeman of Aperture Brands on Equity, Diversity and Creativity in Cannabis
Andrew Freeman is chief brand officer of Aperture Brands, an L.A.-based startup building premium cannabis brands, who recently launched Drew Martin low-dose botanically blended pre-rolls.
Formerly a director at a full-service marketing agency, Andrew specialized in public relations and communications for clients in worlds of luxury retail and art. Originally from Florida, he moved to California from New Orleans in 2018 to build a cannabis company with his partner, Drew Martin Gosselin.
We spoke with Andrew for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Andrew, tell us...
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
I'm the co-founder and chief brand officer of Aperture Brands in Los Angeles, where we're building brands that will define the future of the cannabis industry.
Your earliest cannabis memory.
I remember trying to make a functional pipe in ceramics class at summer camp while I was in high school. I disguised it to look like a lizard. The instructor turned a blind eye and let me keep it, and my parents even proudly displayed it in our home without knowing what it was!
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
I'm a type-A personality and generally anxious. I've found that cannabis, especially in lower doses, has an enormous calming and centering effect on me. Also, I love the ritual of sharing a joint with friends. It's such a beautiful way to connect with people.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
I am partial, but we just launched Drew Martin, a line of botanically blended pre-rolls. They're a combination of sun-grown cannabis and curated botanical blends. They taste so good and they're naturally lower dose, which is more my speed. I have not wanted to smoke anything else since I started smoking these. My favorite at the moment is the Ginger, Lemon Balm and Damiana blend—smoking it tastes like being in the South Pacific!
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
Cannabis is so new as a legal industry that consumer preferences are still being shaped. This is an incredible opportunity for brand builders but can also be a stumbling block for marketers that are trying to bring a "tried and true" playbook to the industry. Additionally, the inability to spend targeted ad dollars directly on social media platforms puts us way behind traditional CPG and direct-to-consumer brands in terms of customer acquisition strategy. While these are big challenges, they also represent a huge opportunity for marketers to get creative.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
I am excited by the energy within the industry right now about equity, inclusivity and accountability. We must reckon with the fact that our industry is quite literally based on the criminalization of Black and brown people. We want to be on the forefront of working toward a more just and equitable future for the industry. We've got a lot of overdue work to do.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
When we launched a few months ago, we partnered with an organization called the Last Prisoner Project that works to release individuals incarcerated for victimless cannabis crimes and support recently released prisoners. For the first month of our launch, we donated $1 to the organization for every follower we got on Instagram. We were proud to be able to make a donation of over $1,000 right off the bat.
A recent project you're proud of.
When my co-founders and I first met, we bonded by throwing dinner parties. Our now-CEO Nick Pritzker would set the menu and my partner—in and out of business—Drew Martin Gosselin would pair a cocktail and a botanically blended pre-roll to each course, with a single joint shared by the table before each plating.
When we launched Drew Martin, we wanted to bring people together in the same way, but the Covid-19 pandemic had other plans for our launch. We started hosting digital "salons" across L.A., where invitees received a beautifully crafted gift box and then gathered online from their own homes to smoke a joint, sip a paired cocktail and enjoy a paired dessert. They've been a great way to introduce the Drew Martin brand to interesting people throughout L.A., and the strategy earned us a great feature in the Los Angeles Times.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
I think the most impactful project I have seen recently would be The Accountability List, a living document that aims to create transparency around cannabis companies' diversity, what they've said publicly about social equity, what actions they have taken, and they're hiring commitments. One of that project's leaders, an organization called Cannaclusive, is also leading a coalition of cannabis companies called Cannabis for Black Lives—of which we are members—that is an ongoing accountability group committed to supporting Black-led organizations and communities through corporate hiring and company culture, amplification of Black voices, and financial support.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
I am blown away by the vision of CEO Tim Dodd and CMO Kiana Anviapour of Sweet Flower dispensaries here in Los Angeles. They are tirelessly executing on a forward-looking vision for the cannabis industry. Sweet Flower has changed what going to a dispensary feels like. They have also invested so strategically in education and marketing to connect with new consumers—it's that kind of heavy lifting that benefits the whole industry. When we were conceptualizing the Drew Martin brand, we always asked ourselves, "How would this look/feel/work at Sweet Flower?"
A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.
I'm lucky to live with my partner Drew Martin who has developed all the blends for our pre-rolls and is an award-winning mixologist. He makes a whiskey sour that pairs so beautifully with his Rose Petal & Peppermint blend. The smoke from the joint softens the whisky, and the peppermint works to cleanse the palate between sips.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
Like many, I reached the cannabis industry through a circuitous path. In my previous life I was a publicist and spent a lot of time in the art world. I still get to check out the fantastic galleries and institutions in L.A.—but if I weren't in cannabis, my dream would be to launch a public art initiative.