Canada’s largest cannabis convention, Lift & Co. Expo, took place this past weekend in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. Among all of the excitement, product launches and deal-making – one brand stood out and caused a large controversy among Canada’s “canna-Twitter”.
It all started with this tweet from the Lift & Co. business Twitter page, posted on Friday, January 10, showing off the BLK MKT branding and booth on the expo floor:
BLK MKT is a recreational cannabis brand recently launched in December of 2019 by GTEC Holdings, a Licensed Producer based in Kelowna, British Columbia.
The brand name actually created a much smaller controversy earlier last month when it first launched. In early December, Twitter users pointed out that it may be a distasteful name given the recent transition away from using the term “black market” among segments of the cannabis community (see @melrollingstone’s tweet from November).
Past the name, the main controversy seemed to be focused on the usage of the term “once you go BLK…”, which was displayed in red and white letters on the brand’s expo booth. This tagline, a play on the saying “once you go black you never go back”, allegedly refers to white women who have slept with black men. This is widely considered a racist (or at least racially-charged) form of the stereotype that “Black men are all “endowed” with large sexual organs”.
An almost instant backlash began spreading across social media, mainly focused on cannabis Twitter. A few well-known cannabis community members, including famed cannabis activist Dana Larsen, spoke up against the branding choice, labeling it racist and distasteful. These tweets generated a large amount of outrage against the BLK MKT branding, as well as support for the brand, resulting in a series of arguments about what constitutes racism and if this branding falls into that category.
Lack of Diversity to Blame?
Parts of the argument against the BLK MKT branding focused on the supposed disconnect from cannabis companies (and their mostly white boardmembers) to the community and average consumer. However, the plot thickened as it became apparent that the founder and CEO of the company, Norton Singhavon, and the Head of Marketing, Adil Hirji, are both people of colour. Additionally, GTEC allegedly employs several past informal market growers and focuses on offering genetics that are often associated with the “black” market.
Norton seemingly knew exactly what they were doing when they created the BLK MKT branding. If “controversial” is what they were aiming for, they accomplished that mission.
Any Press is Good Press
Several cannabis Twitter users acknowledged that the BLK MKT / GTEC Holdings controversy was flooding their timelines, increasing brand awareness for a relatively new and unknown company. Many suspect that the “once you go BLK…” tagline was deliberately used to create conversations.
Regardless of your stance on the matter, the name and booth branding indisputably created an influx of conversations and focus on the brand BLK MKT, becoming the topic of discussion during Lift and Co. Vancouver 2020. Not all press is good press and brand optics can be irreparably damaged.
However, the jury is still out on whether BLK MKT’s branding is effective or not. Future sales data will tell the full story. For now, we can see that canna-Twitter is still extremely split on this topic, as indicated below by Harrison Jordan’s poll that received over 500 votes.