How design fuels the cannabis industry’s “green rush”

How does the booming marijuana industry shed its illicit image and attract new customers? By turning to high-end product design and sleek new dispensaries.

On Nov. 8, California voters will get to vote on Proposition 64. If it passes, it means adults in California could carry up to an ounce of marijuana, enough to roll 40 average-size joints. It would impose a sales tax on marijuana sales, and establish packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products. It would also allow for re-sentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions.

If the measure passes, will you grow your pot at home, with your six allowable pot plants?

Or would you rather buy from a high-end dispensary, with a clean, bright interior and cannabis products elegantly displayed in glass-topped display cases that somehow reminds you of an optometrist’s office?

This is just one of the possible results of what some have dubbed the “green rush.”

Marijuana is now legal for medical use in 25 states and Washington D.C., and is legal for recreational use in five states and D.C.

Next week, voters in California and four other states — Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Medical marijuana is also on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota.

Public perception is changing, with over half of Americans now supporting full legalization.

“Right now the industry in the midst of a huge charm offensive,” said Alex Halperin, the Denver-based editor of the newsletter Weed Week.

snoop_dogg_leafs_by_snoop_cannabis_8969

Halperin explained that design is important because the advertising of cannabis products is highly restricted, and many of the products are very similar.

“The branding and design on a package is really one of the few ways that companies can differentiate themselves,” he said. In Colorado, regulations on design packaging means most products come in very sterile, clinical, child-proof plastic containers. But in California, where design rules are less strict, “the brands are telling richer stories.”

You can already see how a once illicit trade is coming out in the open in cleanly packaged product lines like Rapper Snoop Dogg’s Leafs by Snoop, designed by global branding firm Pentagram. Recently the magazine Surface challenged twelve leading design studios to “create a fictionalized aspirational marijuana brand—essentially, the future Starbucks of weed.”

And while product design is getting more refined, so too is the design of the dispensaries.

One of those who is betting on a cannabis retail explosion is interior designer Megan Stone, owner and founder of The High Road Design Studio based in Phoenix, Arizona. She began as a patient, then worked as a budtender in a dispensary, and established her studio in 2013 after completing her design studies.

“I think what most people in this country still conjure up in their head when you say marijuana dispensary [includes] steel bars on the windows, flickering neon green cross outside and the huge armed security guard standing at the door,” Stone said. “I was always surprised with how little thought was put into the experience people were having.”