A non-alcoholic cannabis-infused tonic, backed by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, is set to be the “drink of the summer.” Queer-owned brand Cann—founded by Jake Bullock and Luke Anderson in 2018—has gone on to become a best-selling cannabis beverage in the US. Dominating states like California, Forbes predicts the brand may soon have around a 5 per cent share of the THC beverage market overall. It falls into a new wave of non-alcoholic drinking as the marijuana market continues to boom. With hundreds of new drinks blended with various combinations and levels of CBD and THC—weed drinking promises a new hangover-free experience.
Cannabis-related businesses have continuously caught the eye of celebrity investors over the past few years and Cann is no different. Some reasons for this could be down to the proclaimed health benefits of weed as well as calls for it to be fully legalised. The brand has the backing of many celebrity investors aside from Paltrow, including former NBA star Baron Davis, actresses Rebel Wilson and Ruby Rose, singer Tove Lo and YouTuber Casey Neistat to name a few. Although Ellen DeGeneres is not an official investor in the company, she did publicly mention the brand in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel. Despite not being a fan of cannabis, DeGeneres went on to jokingly say, “Chelsea Handler told me about these ‘weed drinks’, they’re called Cann.”
This is not the first time comedian and TV host Chelsea Handler has promoted the brand. Handler first featured Cann as part of her cannabis line for the US inauguration in January 2021—the proceeds of which she donated to reparative justice in the cannabis industry. Its celebrity reach doesn’t stop there. As a proudly queer-owned brand, Cann launched its new Pride Month campaign which features some serious queer icons. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 winner Symone is featured alongside drag sisters from The House of Avalon Gigi Goode and Rosy Thorn.
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In an interview with Adweek, Anderson explained the intent behind the new campaign, “Big corporations of all varieties tend to slap a rainbow on something during Pride month and call it a day, without being thoughtful about how to actually support the queer community […] we had to tackle [these] issues and find a way to poke fun at patriarchal culture while elevating queer artists.” Featured in goop, Rolling Stone, Forbes and GQ to name a few, Cann seems to have taken the US by storm.
While this may look cool, and sure, I’d love to try it, it reminds me of a blindingly obvious reality—rich white celebrities can get away with anything, regardless of their pure intentions.
When reading about any new weed company or start-up, regardless of how interesting or cool it may be, there can be an unsettling or uncomfortable feeling that is felt in my gut. The feeling stems from the reality that most ‘Big Weed’ executives are white while black and brown people are still systemically criminalised. Marijuana legalisation has done little to end the ‘war on drugs’—let’s be honest, it was less about the drugs and more about putting BIPOC communities behind bars—its legalisation has only perpetuated systemic racism and exacerbated white supremacy.
During that infamously traumatising summer of 2020, many celebrities verbally came out in support of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and yet a year on it seems that they haven’t learnt anything. I say ‘verbally’ because it appears they’re not putting their money where their mouth is. Last summer, Paltrow, like many celebrities, used her platform to speak about BLM. Despite the action she took and the education learnt, there is still a failure in critically understanding her role as a rich cis-white woman in Hollywood making money off something that black women would be jailed for. Even for individuals like DeGeneres and Kimmel to openly discuss and joke about cannabis use on national television reeks of privilege. BLM is not a trend.
Insider reported that “in 2018, over 600,000 people in the United States were charged for possessing marijuana. For simply having it on them. And despite making up only 31 [per cent] of the population, Black [people] and Latinos accounted for nearly half of all weed arrests.” An estimated 80 to 90 per cent of the US cannabis industry is currently owned by white executives and investors. “So, not only are Black [people] and Latinos more likely to get in trouble for selling and having weed, now that it’s becoming legal, they’re nearly shut out of the industry. Somewhere along the line, legal weed became a rich white business.”
However, Cann is setting itself apart from other cannabis brands by doing its part to give-back. In the same interview with Adweek, Anderson states, “Cann’s primary duty is to give back to communities that have been most marginalised by the war on drugs. So our philanthropic energies go toward supporting organisations that are Black and brown-owned and who work to make space for people of colour in the cannabis industry […] over the last year we have donated $100,000 through give-backs.” The brand has also used its platform to promote and highlight BIPOC-owned cannabis businesses.
Other celebrities like Jay-Z, however, are trying to level the playing field in the industry. Starting his own fund to boost minority-owned cannabis businesses, Jay-Z stated, “I wanted to do something in a real, concrete way, where I do my part.”
While this is an incredible move and should be celebrated, the real win is clearing people’s sentences or criminal drug records, reparations and actually having some real systemic change. So, next time you sip your CBD drink in the sun—let’s be real, as we all will soon enough—think about what you could do to give back.