Last month, Cannabis Business Times published a feature about Jim Belushi’s foray into the pot business. For the many people who roll their eyes whenever yet another celebrity gets into cannabis, the article might be a revelation: Belushi seems to be quite serious, and appears to really know his stuff. This might surprise anyone who ever caught an episode of his sitcom “According to Jim,” which was aimed straight at the average American’s sense of humor for 8 successful years before ending in 2009. And it might outright shock anyone who ever watched the ‘80s movies “K-9,” a buddy-cop story in which Belushi’s cop-buddy is a German shepherd, and “The Principal,” in which Belushi, in the white-savior title role, busts heads with a ball-bat at an Oakland high school.
In the article, Belushi refers to himself as a “boots on the ground guy.” He is portrayed as avidly working his farm in Eagle Point, Ore., and as someone who knows about things like maintaining soil temperature to enable optimal nutrient absorption.
This stands in stark contrast to most, though not all, examples of celebrity involvement in cannabis. It’s a far cry from the endorsement deals and highly promoted investment plays that most celebs sign up for. It’s not always easy to tell whether a given celebrity is just out to make a quick killing or draw buzz, or truly serious about it. It’s easy to be cynical, but it turns out that it often seems to be a bit of both.
Not surprisingly, a lot of famous cannabis entrepreneurs and investors come from the world of hip-hop, a genre that for years has celebrated pot use more openly than most ’70s hippie-rockers ever did. At the top of that list is Snoop Dogg, an early entrant in the celeb-cannabis game. Leafs by Snoop, a straight-ahead purveyor of high-end flower, was launched in 2015 in Colorado, right around the same time that Snoop launched Merry Jane, a publisher of cannabis-oriented news of uneven quality. Late last year, he entered into a partnership with Seedo, an Israeli company that produces a refrigerator powered by artificial intelligence that supposedly makes growing pot at home easier and yields higher quality plants. It retails for $2,400.
In 2016, Snoop entered into a partnership deal with Canada’s Canopy Growth to distribute his products, under the brand Tweed, north of the border. Canopy, one of the biggest outfits in the pot business, boasts a growing roster of celebrity partners. One of them is Snoop’s own seemingly unlikely pal, Martha Stewart, the domestic guru and ex-con. She’s advising Canopy on a line of CBD products for dogs, and perhaps other animals, that is slated to be released later this year. Other Canopy-allied celebs include Drake, the actor and musician who owns the majority share of the More Life Growth Co., and comic actor Seth Rogen, whose Houseplant line of flower products were developed in partnership with Canopy.
It’s hard to know, especially at this early stage of the legal-pot industry, how valuable celebrity-powered cannabis brands really are. When The Atlantic looked at the question late last year, Dina Mayzlin, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, told the magazine that “at the end of the day, it’s usually more about the product, or the logistics of how you sell. I don’t think celebrity endorsements are that powerful.”
That hasn’t stopped dozens and dozens of celebrities, from A List to Z, from storming into the market. There are so many famous folk that either have brands or their own, or who have made pot part of their own personal brand (like comedian Doug Benson, actor Jack Black, and podcaster Joe Rogan) that there’s actually a regularly updated Web site, CelebStoner (Entertainment News With A Twist!”) dedicated to the phenomenon. It recently published a list of the “Top 30 Celebrity Cannabis Brands,” which included Cheech Marin, Wiz Khalifa, Montel Williams, Willie Nelson, and Bay Area rapper Berner, whose Cookies brand has become a mainstay, and whose dispensaries in Oakland and Southern California seem poised to take a lot of market share from local shops.
Under the list of the top 30, CelebStoner presented another list of several dozen more celebrity cannabis figures, from former NFLer Rob Gronkowski to Kiss bassist and public cretin Gene Simmons. Any level of fame, it seems, is enough for entry into the cannabis business.