By Alicia Wallace
The burgeoning North American cannabis industry — and, notably, the booming hemp-derived CBD sector — has become a red-carpet-like affair with celebrities and athletes signing on to pitch one brand or another.
On Thursday, Aubrey Drake Graham, best known as hip-hop artist Drake, partnered with Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth to launch the More Life Growth Company cannabis producer in Graham's hometown of Toronto.
Drake joins a surging wave of celebrities who have aligned themselves with the cannabis industry by selling products, joining corporate boards, or, in this case, creating a joint venture business.
With a list that already includes Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Montel Williams, Rob Gronkowski, Martha Stewart, Tony Hawk, Gweneth Paltrow, and Whoopi Goldberg, the question becomes: Have we reached peak celebrity cannabis?
"I don't think they've reached full saturation yet," said Ryan McConnell, senior vice president at Kantar, a business insight and brand consulting firm.
Celebrity endorsements and partnerships are a way to help lend credibility and trust to a business, he said. And for an emerging — and somewhat illicit — industry, that can be huge.
"[Cannabis] is a field that is not, in some people's eyes, legitimate yet," he said. "It still has that veneer of being illegal."
But not all celebrity tie-ups are created equal. People are attracted to brands that are real and authentic, said Diana Eberlein, an entertainment marketing specialist.
"If it feels inauthentic, they will lose that audience very quickly," said Eberlein, who now heads up marketing efforts at SoRSE, a company that helps make cannabis oil water soluble. SoRSE worked with Mad Tasty, a brand of hemp sparkling waters launched by OneRepublic lead singer Ryan Tedder.
Canopy Growth's other celebrity partnerships have struck that chord well, she said. It made perfect sense that Snoop Dogg, actor Seth Rogen and even Snoop's pal Martha Stewart were venturing into the cannabis industry.
Drake, while hugely popular, doesn't garner that immediate association with cannabis, she said.
"But Drake is such a big name," she said. "So, it really depends on how he drives the brand moving forward."