BLK MKT, a Canadian adult-use recreational cannabis brand owned by LP GTEC Holdings, got plenty of attention recently. Their booth in the Vancouver Lift & Co. trade show in mid-January displayed the slogan, “Once You Go BLK . . . ” Needless to say, that tagline has generated some serious controversy.
While it might be said that any attention (at least for a fledgling brand) is good attention, this marketing move might buck that assumption. Twitter was busy with people weighing in on the situation. Critics say the slogan only serves to shine a spotlight on the lack of diversity in the marijuana industry. The company says the brand and slogan were considered relevant, exciting and edgy. It staunchly defended its decision, noting it was vetted by employees, friends, family and industry experts.
The BLK MKT name could be short for what the illicit side of the marijuana industry was (and is) still commonly called: the black market. LP GTECH Holdings’ corporate statement referred to the ‘legacy cannabis market’ as it relates to Canada’s legal medicinal cannabis or Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).
Others say that the tagline is known as a reference to black male sexual stereotypes, as in, “Once you go black, you never go back.”
I don’t like the term ‘black market’ simply because I’m tired of ‘black’ being associated with everything negative. It may be difficult to understand if you have not experienced this stigma personally. I prefer ‘legacy’ or ‘self-regulated’ as this is where I come from.
— Miz D (@Dvibz) May 2, 2019
The company issued a highly criticized press release on January 15 that read, “The BLK MKT ™ brand is a reference to the legacy markets. We do have some cultivation personnel that has experience from the legacy ACMPR era, and we believe that cultivation is a core competency for the company that provides us with a sustainable competitive advantage.”
Several outspoken critics have had issues with the term black market as it relates to cannabis, even before this marketing fiasco. In April 2018, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard addressed the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. She said, “I believe that term sends a subliminal message which may contribute to unconscious bias in the criminalization of cannabis.”
In the company’s corporate statement, LP GTECH Holdings defended itself. The company said that the marketing tagline intended that once consumers tried the BLK MKT products, they wouldn’t want to consume any other brands. They said, “while it should be obvious, we would highlight that this brand has absolutely nothing to do with race.”
The company also disagreed with critics who have characterized the company as ‘nothing but white men’. The statement included information on the company’s ethnic and gender diversity: “Our CEO is Chinese, our CFO is Female, and our Head of Marketing is of East African descent. We also have people of colour working throughout our cultivation facilities, in both entry-level and management positions. Moreover, approximately half of our total employees are female.”
In the end, LP GTEC has decided to remove the marketing slogan from the BLK MKT line of products. While this might just be a temporary glitch or lapse of judgement, the company will have to tread carefully in the future to ensure consumer confidence and brand loyalty.