2022: the year of stunts and desperation
Last year seemed pretty bad for stunt cannabis products and obnoxious marketing tactics. That was, after all, the year of Canna Bumps, the now-banned snortable-pot product. But if 2022 has shown anything, it’s that weed marketing continues to be filled with inanity and gross irresponsibility.
One chilly autumn weekday at around noon in 2002, I was walking up Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC, when the earth began to shake and the air was suddenly filled with the sound of a guy yelling over an incredibly loud drum and bass groove. A black limousine stopped at the light at 7th Street NW, about 25 feet from me. That was the source of the brain-melting cacophony.
The back-seat window drifted slowly down, and there I saw the scowling visage of Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion and world-famous convicted rapist. Tyson stared into the middle distance for about 20 seconds, the window slowly slid up, the limo rolled away and the thumping slowly dissipated, to the relief of everyone nearby.
I thought about that day when I heard earlier this year that Tyson had—almost inevitably—entered the weed business, coming out with a brand of cannabis edibles called Mike Tyson’s Bites. The gummies are ear-shaped, commemorating the thing Tyson is perhaps most remembered for, at least by non-fans of boxing: having bitten off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a bout in 1997. Many people thought the product was hilarious. And from one point of view, it was. From another, though, it was just depressing, and in some ways emblematic of the state of pot marketing in 2022.
What I remember most from my encounter with Tyson was that he looked like the most miserable person I’d ever seen. He had recently lost a title bout to Lennox Lewis, whose children Tyson had previously promised to “eat.” He was about six years out of prison from his rape conviction, and in less than a year, he would tattoo his face and file for bankruptcy. Mike Tyson is an indisputably terrible person, but many in the pot biz applauded him for his business savvy.
Mike Tyson’s Bites induced a lot of yucks, but it also showed that the cannabis business still has a lot of growing up to do. Stunt products and stunt marketing still abound. Celebrities continue to pile into the business, some with serious intent, but most just seeking marketing buzz. Holyfield himself, after at first taking offense to Tyson’s sociopathic pot play, signed on, planning to launch his own brand called Holy Ears, made with delta-8 THC.
Which brings the topic to delta-8 itself, perhaps the biggest cannabis-marketing story of 2022. While the product has a legit place in the legal-weed market, most of it is sold in a legal gray area. Many delta-8 producers are taking advantage of hemp’s legality to market products that are made from hemp, but are chemically manipulated to concentrate THC levels (most cannabis products that one buys in a dispensary are made from delta-9 THC).
These products are often sold online and mailed to consumers, including in states where cannabis is still illegal. They are often untested and, especially when it comes to vape products, potentially dangerous. Officials in various states are cracking down in various ways, but the market for delta-8 (as well as similar delta-10 and other products) was still going strong at the end of 2022. Eventually, this market will be legally stamped out, which means the people working in it are by definition fly-by-night operators.
Also in 2022, the dudebros continue to pile into pot. Perhaps their worst public showing was when a bunch of them traversed the convention floor during MJ Bizcon wearing t-shirts that read “Buy Weed From Rich White Men.” This was supposedly a response to the Buy Weed From Women movement, which has popular t-shirts of its own. The bros might not have generated a lot of goodwill in the pot community, but they did win the 2022 Doobious Achievement in Marketing Award from Leafly.
Here’s hoping for a more-adult 2023.