Lantern's Liz Gottbrecht on Ditching the Stoner Stereotype in Cannabis

Plus, regulatory hurdles and incubator programs for social equity entrepreneurs

Liz Gottbrecht knows something about influence. As director of brand marketing at Lantern, she leads brand strategy and execution across earned and owned channels. Before that, she led brand, creative, and influencer marketing strategies Liz at Mavrck, where she coined the term "micro-influencer" and launched the category, which is now a billion-dollar industry. She is the author of Influencer Marketing Center of Excellence.

​​We spoke with Liz for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Liz, tell us...

Where you grew up. 

I grew up in a small suburb south of Boston, and currently live in Boston. For a city where happy hour is still illegal, the fact that there are two dispensaries in my neighborhood alone feels wild and it’s only the beginning. 

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based. 

I lead brand marketing at Lantern, based in Boston. I started during the pandemic and have met only a handful of my coworkers in person, which even after this year is still crazy to me. 

Your earliest cannabis memory. 

My earliest cannabis memory is going to Tom Petty concerts with my dad and brothers at Great Woods. Once "Mary Jane’s Last Dance" started the entire venue would light up and a haze would envelop the audience for the rest of the night. Magic! Even then. 

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

For me, the positive impact cannabis has had on my life really started with a mentor who was a cannabis advocate and patient. She opened my eyes to its medicinal and therapeutic benefits for those living with cancer. It’s difficult for me to accept how misunderstood cannabis remains, especially in mainstream medicine: How poorly researched, the lack of quality information, how inaccessible it is for so many—still. When the chance to join the Lantern team became available, that was my first thought: How we could immediately impact and bridge the accessibility gap, and do so in a way that puts the consumer and patient first. 

There is a lot of work and change that needs to happen for cannabis to not only be destigmatized, but normalized in our society. With the majority of Americans approving legalization, I believe that change is achievable. It's time for legislators to catch up. To have the opportunity now at Lantern to impact that change and normalize cannabis in our culture, has given my job a positive mission and purpose. 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

Cann just launched in Massachusetts and has quickly earned a permanent spot in our fridge. I try to always have a few on hand to introduce to friends, now that we’re finally able to see and host friends again. The Cranberry and Sage flavor is delicious— not too tart, not too sweet. I’ve been told more flavors are coming this summer. 

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today. 

It’s been said before; navigating the complexity and ambiguity of a regulatory landscape that differs from state-to-state, city-to-city, channel-to-channel, all of which is difficult to scale. Everything from messaging to media is influenced by regs in some way, and it can all change instantly—for better and for worse. 

Recently, it's how other entities have decided to interpret and apply their own regs when it comes to cannabis. For instance, the SMS ban, in which AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are prohibiting cannabis-related texts, even if the consumer is of verified legal age, in a legal market, and opted-in. We also just spent the past couple months integrating with an affiliate partner, only for them to shut down the program at launch because "they’ve decided to follow Google’s lead" when it comes to cannabis. I wish they would follow Apple’s lead instead. Apple recently updated its app store guidelines permitting apps that allow the legal sale of cannabis provided they are geo-restricted to legal markets, which is a step in the right direction. 

It can be frustrating. Despite legalization in 16 states and the sophistication of targeting available on platforms like Facebook and Google, activating on many mainstream channels will remain challenging—or prohibited outright— until cannabis is no longer a federally illegal, Schedule 1 substance. But we’re forced to think out of the box from the start, evolve, and create a new playbook. That’s exciting. 

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

There are so many cannabis brands that still rely on or focus on the stoner stereotype. This industry, our customers, are so much more than that. I admire brands and marketing campaigns that push the industry forward in their creativity, inclusivity, and ability to influence culture. Cann’s Pride Campaign is a phenomenal example of that, for all creatives (not just those in the cannabis industry). 

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support. 

Cannabis for Black Lives, started by Cannaclusive, is a coalition of cannabis companies engaging the broader industry to support Black-led organizations and communities through commitment to corporate hiring and company culture, amplification of Black voices, and financial support with ongoing accountability measures. Every two months, they work to support a different community organization in their network so that they can create pathways for those most impacted by the War on Drugs. This is important because many of those pathways are blocked right now, particularly when it comes to financing. 

The last couple of months, it supported Copper House Detroit, an organization founded by Jess and Cara Jackson. Jess was one of our first partners when we launched in Detroit. As a Black- and Queer-owned business, Copper House’s mission is rooted in equity and activism as a safe space and destination for cannabis education, activism and community in Detroit, where marginalized communities are still 10 times more likely to be criminalized for cannabis yet account for less than 4% of ownership in the industry. It’s also Detroit’s first bud and breakfast destination, and the funds from this campaign will help drive an expansion project to create 1,000 sq ft of studio space needed for private accommodations post-pandemic (you can still donate here).

A recent project you're proud of. 

I’m extremely proud of our team’s work to advocate for, mentor and support social equity entrepreneurs through our incubator programs, ensuring social equity rules and regulations are manifested in reality. 

State-mandated social equity regulations are a step forward, but the business of starting a cannabis company is complex and highly regulated; financing, licensing, business knowledge, networking, mentorship— expertise that our team has from decades of startup experience and from building Drizly. In partnership with local advocates and leaders, like Sarah Woodson and The Color of Cannabis in Colorado, as well as Rebecca Colett, Calyxeum, and The Detroit Cannabis Project in Michigan, we’re working together to bridge that gap to creating sustainable cannabis businesses through incubator programs in every market we launch. 

Someone else's project you admired recently. 

Not projects, but three companies that have literally paved the way for cannabis delivery in Massachusetts. Freshly Baked and We Can Deliver were the first to receive license approval from the CCC (Cannabis Control Commission) this spring (Microbusiness with a Delivery Endorsement, and Marijuana Courier licenses, respectively). These two companies are the first to not only complete the lengthy (years-long) licensing process, but everything that comes with being first: Inspections, new processes, new technologies, new integrations. All while continuing to build their businesses in preparation for this launch. It’s not easy being first, but they have created pathways and opportunities for all that come after them. 

In addition, the impact of Massachusetts Cannabis Association for Delivery (MCAD) and its founder and president, Chris Fevry (also the founder of Your Green Package). Chris and MCAD not only successfully lobbied for the creation of a new delivery license, but led the grassroots advocacy efforts that dismantled the anti-social equity lawsuit from the CDA (Commonwealth Dispensary Association) in response to the social equity exclusivity provisions for the new delivery licenses. 

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things. 

Without a doubt, our incubator partners Sarah Woodson, founder of The Color of Cannabis, and Rebecca Colett, founder and CEO of Calyxeum and The Detroit Cannabis Project, have been advocating for Social Equity regulations in their respective states for the better part of the last decade. The Color of Cannabis provides pathways for restorative economic and criminal justice to communities negatively impacted by the war on drugs not just through course offerings, but lobbying and criminal justice support. Sarah led the development of the Cannabis Advancement Program, which, pending legislation, Colorado will dedicate $4M in new funding to advance industry involvement for communities negatively affected by the war on drugs. 

Rebecca founded The Detroit Cannabis Project, an all-inclusive incubator program providing social equity entrepreneurs with the business expertise, technical assistance, tools, and access to capital necessary to create successful, sustainable cannabis businesses in Detroit. The incubator culminates with a Shark Tank-style pitch off, and is supported by ongoing mentorship and networking through the licensing and go-to-market process. The program just graduated its first cohort of 35 entrepreneurs from a pool of 200 applicants, with future cohorts planned for later this year. 

A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.

Right now it’s food. I love Dinner at Mary’s, an infused, three-course meal kit and delivery service. I can hardly cook, let alone cook with cannabis, and the meal kits Sam and the Dinner at Mary’s team creates couldn’t be an easier or more enjoyable way to liven up another dinner at home. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry. 

Most likely, I would be found leading brand marketing at a startup, otherwise brand marketing at a DTC brand or design consultancy. 

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

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