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Friday, May 27, 2022

Weed Firm Uses Celebs to Puff Up Pricey Strains

Carefully curated like a selection of fine wines and packaged with the care of a high-end cigar, the meticulous presentation of Chroncierge cannabis is just one aspect of the company’s efforts to become, as its name implies, the “concierge of cannabis.”

Cannabis publication High Times, which opened a “creative hub” office in Mid-Wilshire this month, has launched its own line of apparel. Debuting in its online store last week, the brand’s T-shirts, jackets, hats, and lighters have a throwback feel with printed slogans that include “Reefer Madness” and “Devil’s Harvest.”

The High Times logo is also featured prominently on apparel items, designed to target a diverse crowd – from doctors and lawyers to musicians and students – who want to proudly display their love of cannabis, according to a statement from the company.

“The culture that has formed around cannabis is now flourishing, with advocates for legalization existing in every facet of society,” said Larry Linietsky, chief operating officer of High Times, in a statement. “High Times recognizes the need to celebrate the activists and fighters worldwide by giving them banners to fly, and so we’ve launched the High Times apparel division in 2016.”

Items range in cost from $4 for a pin to $120 for a satin jacket, and the selection will be updated seasonally. High Times also has plans to collaborate with artists and designers on future apparel items.

As of now, the High Times clothing line is only available for purchase through the company’s website.

– Hayley Fox

A luxury-focused brand with an emphasis on celebrity partnerships, Chroncierge touts private-label, top-of-the-line pot. With Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana use in California, leading in the polls, Chroncierge is positioning itself to grow from its 5,000 card-carrying members, looking to corner the market on luxury pot brands.

The company, operated by four partners and a part-time staff of about six employees, is scouting office space in Los Angeles and Orange counties, debuting new high-profile partnerships, and launching a strain of branded marijuana and related merchandise.

Jud Nester, a co-founder, said there’s a growing number of similarities between the marijuana business and the wine industry, as both place a premium on high-quality, small-batch products.

“Nothing’s really cooler than a limited edition,” said Nester, 40, who envisions a day when upscale marijuana “tastings” are a reality. “I could already see it’s different than going and doing a wine tasting, but I can see all the parallels so perfectly.”

Chroncierge works with a number of licensed California growers to produce its strains, which are sold under its brand at dispensaries at more than $400 an ounce, a significant premium to the standard $300 to $350 for similar quantity, Nester said. It individually packages its high-end joints in delicate glass test tubes with cork stoppers; nuggets of marijuana are sold in glass jars with branded lids.

Chroncierge’s products were once available by delivery as well, but a 2014 lawsuit and resulting Los Angeles Police Department crackdown has led the company to halt the practice.

Although Colorado, which legalized the recreational use of the drug in 2014, has a smattering of top-shelf marijuana options, federal law bars companies from transporting product over state lines, which has limited the competition in California.

High note

Nester, a session pianist, co-founded Chroncierge with three others a little more than two years ago as a members-only, direct-to-consumer cannabis service based out of a small office in Orange County. He is the only partner that agreed to have his name published in this story, as others cited concern over the continued legal scrutiny of the industry. The partners have professional backgrounds in industries including real estate, apparel, and entertainment, and together they handle all aspects of the Chroncierge business, from working with licensed growers to package design.

When the company began, hopeful smokers would apply for a Chroncierge membership, be vetted by the company and, if accepted, invited to private parties to receive the specialty weed. Chroncierge then toyed with providing private courier and delivery services but soon dropped the practice as an increasing number of similar businesses were shut down by law enforcement, Nester said. Although delivery was always illegal under Proposition D, a 2013 city of L.A. initiative that allowed a limited number of medical marijuana dispensaries to operate, the practice faced a crackdown after the Los Angeles city attorney filed a lawsuit in 2014 against weed and alcohol delivery app, Nestdrop.

Chroncierge then began to focus on celebrity collaborations, and in November of last year released a strain of cannabis developed with rapper Freddie Gibbs. Freddie Kane OG, as it was called, was launched in coordination with Gibbs’ album release and was accompanied by Freddie Kane apparel. Chroncierge is now developing a strain of cannabis with rapper Cam’ron and has plans to release an extensive line of branded clothing with the fashion-focused performer as well.

Despite these relationships, the stigma surrounding pot has some celebrities reluctant to team up with the company, Nester said. Legalization would remove many of those barriers and prime Chroncierge for high-profile partnerships.

“That allows me to unload every bullet I’ve loaded into my gun,” said Nester.

Out of shadows

As cannabis moves out of the shadows of the black market, financial heavy hitters and prospective investors have begun to show interest in what some projections suggest could be a $22 billion industry by 2020.

Private equity firm Privateer Holdings has invested in Leafly, the self-proclaimed world’s largest marijuana site, and Marley Naturals, the official cannabis brand of Bob Marley’s family.

John Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics at New Frontier Data, said celebrities dipping their toes into the cannabis industry isn’t a phenomenon isolated to Chroncierge. Willie Nelson, for example, has Willie’s Reserve, a line of high-quality cannabis, and Whoopi Goldberg has Whoopi&Maya, medical cannabis products targeted at women.

Those celebrities are producing marijuana and related products under their own brands, said Kagia, while Chroncierge is releasing celebrity collaborations under its own umbrella. Pot companies aren’t able to advertise in mainstream publications or on network TV, but associating with a high-profile figure can help brands get increased exposure.

“It’s one of the ways in which these companies are able to overcome challenges of limited marketing,” he said.

Marijuana companies are forced to rely on alternative lanes for marketing, said Kagia, such as Instagram, which provides a direct channel to users. While there’s been no quantification of the return on investment obtained from each Instagram follower, amassing a following allows companies to create visibility at a time when there are few established brands in the field.

For Chroncierge, which has nearly 18,000 followers on Instagram, the platform can help lay the groundwork for expansion, said Kagia.

“It becomes much easier to engage those cannabis enthusiasts upon the activation of the adult-use market,” he said.

Air of exclusivity

Where many cannabis companies went hippy, Chroncierge went hip-hop, embracing a music genre that has long publicly celebrated marijuana. As part of the firm’s efforts to widen its appeal, the company has plans to branch out into other genres of music in coming months.

At the Aftershock concert in Sacramento on Oct. 22, Chroncierge, along with a group of partners that includes cannabis-focused marketing company the Grow Division, will debut brand Heavy Grass.

“We wanted to create a cannabis lifestyle brand for the rock ’n’ roll market,” said Eddie Donaldson, co-founder of West Hollywood-based Grow Division. “We hope one day we’ll be the Jack Daniel’s of weed.”

They are taking a multifaceted approach. With marijuana still illegal in most states, the brand will debut with a merchandise focus: With a plan to hit the festival circuit this year, Heavy Grass will be largely in the form of bandanas, T-shirts, and hats in lieu of actual cannabis products.

Under the Heavy Grass brand, Chroncierge will also launch a specialty line of pot dubbed Heavy OG in a few weeks. Intended for medical marijuana consumers for now, Nester said he hopes to make it available to a wider market if Californians vote to legalize recreational marijuana with Proposition 64 in November.

“Nobody wants to be regulated, but we all want to be legitimate businessmen in something that should obviously be a legitimate business,” he said.

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