Salt & Pepper August 2017: Should Promotional Products Be Used to Promote Marijuana Sales?

NOTE: Salt & Pepper is intended to foster intelligent dialogue between professionals. This is not a dagger throwing contest. Be honest and authentic, but please also be kind and keep it classy.


With the sale of legal marijuana – for both medical and recreational use – on the rise, promotional products distributors and suppliers face a dilemma: to use branded merchandise to help promote a product that is still illegal in many areas. This month, Kirby “Salt” Hasseman and Bill “Pepper” Petrie debate the issue and share their thoughts on using promotional products to spur the sale of marijuana.

Salt – Kirby Hasseman

“Marketers ruin everything.”  - Gary Vaynerchuk

We are living in a fast-changing world, for sure.  This does not just mean with the technology at our fingertips.  These changes include everything up to and including employers requiring employees to have a micro-chip injected into their bodies!  Change, as we know, is inevitable. But while we should embrace change, we need to keep a steady hand on the wheel so that our culture does not spin completely out of control.  

That is why I feel, as an industry, we really need to back away from promoting pot.

Yes, more legislation is coming to legalize the usage of marijuana.  Yes, it is becoming more accepted.  But I worry that we are going to end up on the wrong side of history by helping to push this along.  Do you remember the outdated ads that used kids to promote cigarettes? How about the images of mothers smoking because of the milder “taste?”  These marketing efforts make us cringe today because we know now that we were promoting something that was extremely harmful to everyone involved.  Do we know for sure that we are not helping to do the same with pot?

I suggest we take the lead of what happened to the tobacco industry.  Back in the 1971, tobacco was forbidden to advertise on television.  Over time those limitations have been increased, now including some promotional advertising.  Marketing and advertising can be very powerful.  With great power comes great responsibility.

We should walk away from this so we don’t cause more harm than good.

Pepper – Bill Petrie

Let me start off by sharing something that may come as a shock: I’ve never smoked marijuana. That’s right, not even one little puff. Candidly, I have no moral objections to the wacky weed, it’s just never been my thing. Having said that, I believe it would be ridiculous to not use branded merchandise to promote marijuana sales in locations where the occasional toke is legal.

What’s that you say? Marijuana is bad and the industry would never use promotional products to encourage the use of merchandise that cause harm? That type of logic is – and I want to use a technical term here – hogwash. By using that rationale, no one would sell to automobile manufacturers, breweries, distilleries, cosmetics companies, or producers of household chemicals. If you think I’m missing the mark, compare automobile statistics to marijuana: 37,000 people in the United States died in car accidents in 2016 while there has yet to be one documented case of a fatality resulting from the use of wacky tobaccy. There isn’t a single distributor or supplier in the world who would refuse a $15,000 vacuum sealed insulated mug order from Toyota – even though their products are proven to be dangerous and, in some circumstances, fatal. Taking the same order from a legal marijuana dispensary should be no different.

This isn’t 1950 and we no longer live in a world where people are concerned about “reefer madness.” Marijuana is legal in some form or fashion in 29 states and I believe that in 3-6 years it will be as legal as quaffing a beer from a favorite microbrew people over the age of 21. Times change and social morality evolves.

The fact is, the ones who refuse to adapt will be the ones left behind.