Should he? Shouldn’t he? Ray Gracewood had a decision to make. He’d spent close to a dozen years as director of marketing for Moosehead Breweries. He loved the job, loved his world of consumer packaged goods branding and positioning. But now, in January 2016, he’d been offered a new job—as chief commercial officer for Organigram, a Moncton-based medical marijuana producer.
Organigram was only the 13th company in Canada—and the first in New Brunswick—to win a federal production licence. After two years in business, Organigram boasted 80 employees in its Moncton Industrial Park production facility and had reps across the country cultivating its medical marijuana sales. The company had successfully gone public and was now listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
To make matters more enticing, of course, the new federal government had announced plans to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Significantly too, the New Brunswick government—recognizing that province’s desperate need to develop jobs-producing industries—had become one of the most progressive, pro-marijuana jurisdictions in the country. Organigram itself recognized the possibilities, understood, as Gracewood puts it now, “what we wanted to be when we grew up.” That, in fact, was why they were interested in Ray Gracewood.
It was an opportunity. And yet, Gracewood also understood that marijuana was not beer. There was not only a “stigma” to peddling pot, but no one yet knew whether Ottawa would actually follow through on its legalization promise, or when, or—perhaps most importantly from a marketing perspective—how it would decide to regulate the new industry.
There were, Gracewood admits, “inherent risks.” And yet, “when else would you have the opportunity to be involved with an industry that didn’t yet exist, with a brand that didn’t yet exist? It was a chance to do what I love in an industry that is new and different.”
He said yes.
Eighteen months later, he is doing what he loves. In November 2016, after eight months of negotiation, Organigram and TPB Productions Ltd.—the corporate-speak for Trailer Park Boys pot-loving ne’er-do-wells Bubbles, Julian and Ricky—announced a deal to develop a national brand built around the popular TV series, which is now seen internationally on Netflix. “Our company is a national company but with a strong connection to the region,” Gracewood explains. “Trailer Park Boys is a national brand with a strong connection to Maritime pop culture.” And, of course, to pot.
The plan is risky. No one knows what kind of advertising and marketing controls the federal government will impose on recreational marijuana, but it has made it clear it doesn’t want to promote its use to young people or encourage over-consumption.
That said, Gracewood says, “we’re continuing to have negotiations” with Ottawa over how the recreational market will roll out. Gracewood argues marijuana is closer to alcohol than to tobacco as a product, and he hopes Ottawa will see it his way.
Like much in the fledgling marijuana industry, the answer is still very much up in the air.
But that too is part of the excitement.