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How legal weed will affect the Canadian music industry: Alan Cross

A woman carries a flag bearing marijuana symbols at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, April 12, 2014. .
A woman carries a flag bearing marijuana symbols at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, April 12, 2014. . DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

Back in January, UP Cannabis, one of the country’s budding (sorry) legal marijuana producers, nailed down an agreement with The Feldman Agency, a major talent booking organization whose roster includes everyone from Alessia Cara and the Barenaked Ladies to Our Lady Peace and Michael Bublé.

In addition to getting gigs for its clients, Feldman also specializes in brand integration projects. So, could Feldman help UP get deeper into the music space? Absolutely.

As with alcohol, music and marijuana have always gone together. If Molson can sponsor a tour and Budweiser can have a venue named after it, why couldn’t another legal, government-regulated recreational ingestible product do the same?

READ MORE: Marijuana legalization Bill C-45 officially passes Senate vote, heading for royal assent

Jean Richer, senior vice president of sales and marketing, wants UP to head in this direction. After all, this was part of his job when he worked as a market manager for AB InBev, the massive Belgian-Brazilian beer consortium.

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While regulations for marketing pot are still being worked out — some shows, tours, and festivals have already struck deals with licensed pot producers, occupying a legal grey area of Bill C-45 — Richer and other cannabis companies are most anxious to get into the music endorsement/sponsorship space.

UP began by involving the Tragically Hip. The group enthusiastically bought in as investors; the company’s stock ticker symbol is HIP.V. Earlier this month, UP staged a Maritime Kitchen Party at the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, N.B.

WATCH BELOW: The Tragically Hip strikes deal with medical marijuana company

READ MORE: The Tragically Hip backs Newstrike’s deal to be bought by CanniMed

And then there’s an event on June 24: UP is part of the Stars and Thunder festival in Timmins, Ont., (population: 41,000), which features Bryan Adams, Burton Cummings, The Beach Boys, Our Lady Peace, Blue Rodeo, Colin James, Paul Brandt and more. You don’t get that kind of heavyweight talent to a place like Timmins without some serious financial investment.

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Celebrity endorsement and lifestyle advertising not allowed with this drug: Blair
Celebrity endorsement and lifestyle advertising not allowed with this drug: Blair

Other artists, managers, agents, promoters and music festivals are all hoping to tap into the revenue that will be generated by legal weed.

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Snoop Dogg, an avid marijuana enthusiast (he once claimed to smoke 81 blunts a day) has brought his company, Leafs By Snoop, into the country. Willie Nelson, the estate of Bob Marley, Wiz Khalifa, and Melissa Etheridge are all involved in various marijuana projects.

READ MORE: ‘Let’s just make it happen’: Snoop Dogg lauds Canada’s growing cannabis industry

From the other side, you can bet that the other big producers — Aphria, Canopy Growth Corp, and Med Releaf — are looking at how they can tap into the music market. We already have companies like Aurora Cannabis, one of Canada’s biggest producers, presenting the North by Northeast music festival earlier this month in Toronto. And don’t be surprised to see a marijuana company as a major participant in next year’s Canadian Music Week.

Just how much and how deeply these companies will be allowed to participate in these events remains to be seen.

The tobacco industry is most annoyed at this. After all, brands like Du Maurier, Rothmans and Benson & Hedges once sponsored music events before they were prohibited from this sort of advertising and sunk by strict no smoking laws. Why should another smokeable product be allowed to promote itself through music and other cultural events?

READ MORE: Damian Marley turning California prison into pot farm

The cannabis companies say that they’re just promoting brand awareness and not selling anything. And then there’s that little thing about nicotine, addiction and lung cancer that come with cigarettes.

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At the same time, there are specific rules about how cannabis countries may advertise their goods and how musicians may promote cannabis products. Traditional advertising is, at this point, prohibited and packaging will be highly regulated, but posts through social media and mailing lists are okay. For example, that’s how The Tragically Hip gets the word out on UP. Other musicians are doing the same for other companies.

READ MORE: Aurora Cannabis to buy MedReleaf in all stock deal worth $3.2 billion

But these are mere details. There’s too much money (read: too much tax revenue) to stifle things too much, even in staid, conservative Canada. And Canadian culture is going to benefit financially.

In my conversations with music industry people about the coming weed wave, I’ve learned:

  • Plans are already in the works for “wine and weed” tours through vineyard regions like Niagara, Prince Edward County and throughout B.C. Events could include concerts as part of a visit. Some vineyards already have amphitheatres and performance spaces built.
  • Canadian venues near the U.S. border are thinking about how they might deal with a potential influx of American fans at concerts and festivals.
  • Promoters who have benefited from liquor sponsorships for shows, tours, and festivals (think beer companies, Jagermeister, etc.) have been looking at the revenue potential of weed companies for at least a couple of years.
  • Artists are being approached to be social media influencers for things like vaporizers and other smoking accessories.
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READ MORE: Pot … or not? Small provinces much more prepared for Day 1 of legalization

It will be fun to watch the culture shift. For the first time ever, a once-banned illegal recreational substance will be made legal. Unless you count Prohibition (a ban on a once-legal substance that was eventually unbanned), the legalization of marijuana has no precedent. Music will definitely help ease the attitudinal shift.

Jay Wilgar, the CEO and director of UP Cannabis (which also goes by Newstrike, its corporate name), summed up things: “If music pairs with alcohol — beer, wine, spirits— in a way that enhances the moment, our goal is to show that cannabis products can do the same. Having a good glass of wine is seen as a classy and sophisticated thing to do. We want to show that cannabis can be enjoyed and perceived the same way. And what better way to do it than through music?”