Tina Ulman: How Cannabis Brands Can Affect Policy Change

Tina Ulman is the NV Brand Manager for Old Pal, a multistage cannabis brand that emphasizes communal cannabis, and the Director of Development for NORML’s Nevada + Las Vegas chapters.

Continued after the jump.

For our latest written Q&A session, we checked in with Tina for a discussion about cannabis branding and how cannabis operators can use their company’s ethos to do more than just represent their brand.

In this interview, Tina shares the strategy behind Old Pal‘s specific focus on “shareable” cannabis, discusses how cannabis brands can help affect cannabis policy shifts at the local and state levels, and discusses how her advocacy with NORML and her role as a cannabis company’s brand manager coincide and can complement each other as the industry matures.

Read the interview:

Ganjapreneur: What strategies do you use to make the Old Pal brand stand out from other cannabis companies?

Tina Ulman: Accessible, affordable, and abundant, Old Pal’s vision is simple: “It’s just weed, man.” And while our ethos is simple, it is a position in the market that not many other brands are taking or executing well. The culture we are building around Old Pal sets us apart from other brands. We put a lot of focus on our training and education programs to convey this to our dispensary partners. And we offer experiences for our consumers to feel the Old Pal difference. Through brand trainings and continued conversations with our dispensary partners, I ensure every team member selling Old Pal understands our brand values and vision. Our dispensary partners are incredibly valuable to us as they are often one of the first touch points consumers have with our brand. Focusing on brand and product education at this level establishes consistent messaging for our consumers and continues to push our unique position in the market. On the consumer side, we also have an active events and experiential program. Whether it’s sponsoring a food truck at a dispensary, teaching people how to roll joints or simply creating an inviting environment to enjoy our products at events, we want to bring people together. We want consumers to experience the brand and build community, not just smoke another cannabis product.

Could you explain Old Pal’s focus on “shareable” cannabis? What does that phrase mean, both to consumers and for the brand?

Old Pal is an ode to simpler times, when weed was just weed and joints were passed around to old pals and new ones. When neighbors knew each other by name and community meant something. Using the language of “shareable” and leaning into the nostalgic feeling of the design, we are communicating our belief in community and taking care of one another. Our accessible price points reaffirm that our products are meant to be enjoyed by all, creating a community of openness and support. And we hope our fans feel compelled to spread the love of Old Pal within their communities as well.

Which marketing strategies have you used to emphasize Old Pal’s “old-fashioned” cannabis experience? What has resonated best with your audience?

The most notable nostalgic experience we’ve shared with fans of Old Pal is our 1948 Chevy school bus turned into a rolling hangout machine. We affectionately refer to the bus as The Cosmic Collider. With The Cosmic Collider, we are able to offer a relaxed, good-vibe hang out space for people to enjoy weed and each other’s company. At the core of all our events and experiences, we focus on creating an inviting, inclusive atmosphere for all to roll up a J and pass it around with old pals and new pals alike. Check out photos of the Cosmic Collider online, here!

What can cannabis operators do to propagate a better business environment and smarter regulations?

Cannabis owners and operators have an opportunity to support bills that address decriminalizing, desheduling, and social justice just as much as they support industry specific bills such as the Safe Banking Act. Currently, there are 63 cannabis bills at the federal level that could impact the lives of consumers, prisoners, veterans, patients and the future of the industry. Brands can use their voice and influence to help push the passing of these bills in the right direction. Brands also have the opportunity to educate their teams on the current state of cannabis policy, how they can participate in democracy and voice their opinion to their legislatures, as well as vote for candidates that support marijuana reform. We feel the social responsibility of pushing this industry in the right direction through reform and policy is an obligation of everyone involved in the cannabis space.

How has your advocacy work with NORML affected your strategies for building a stronger cannabis brand?

NORML’s mission to shift public opinion towards legalizing the responsible use of cannabis by adults and assure consumers have access to quality flower that is safe, convenient and affordable parallels Old Pal’s ethos. Our shareable flower is accessible, affordable and abundant. We respect the pioneers and advocates before us and want to be a cultural changing machine, not just another cannabis product. I hold the same values, so it has been a privilege to represent a brand and an organization whose values align with mine and most cannabis consumers today. My strategies are not just to sell cannabis to dispensaries, but to also partner with them, educate their teams, and be a resource for them and their customers.

Do you feel like Old Pal’s ethos — and the spirit of other cannabis companies, as well — can help to encourage smarter legislation/regulations? Why or why not?

The hope is that, as more and more brands on the market are promoting responsible use and reverence for the plant, state and national policy makers will take note and realize that there is more to this plant that just getting obnoxiously high. Not everyone who uses cannabis nor brands are focused solely on getting ripped. Responsible marketing of responsible use will hopefully open eyes of those making laws and regulations that this isn’t as scary as a space as many tend to think.

What’s the biggest obstacle you have come up against while growing the Old Pal brand? How have you addressed and/or overcome it?

The biggest obstacle I’ve faced in my role has been educating industry employees and consumers that high THC is not always a leading product attribute. Not everyone who smokes weed is looking for a skyrocketing high. Yet, many brands lean into new grow technologies increasing THC strength or strain crosses to produce high potency flower. But at Old Pal, we believe a lot of people smoke cannabis, for different reasons. We’ve created a brand and products that are accessible to all types of cannabis users, from the everyday smoker to the occasional social smoker. Through our brand trainings, sales materials, and marketing, we continue to drive this message to help shift perceptions about the importance of THC percentages and show the wide array of cannabis users out there.

Do you anticipate any major cannabis policy/regulatory shifts in Nevada’s near future, and what change would you most like to see?

I absolutely anticipate changes in policy/regulation in Nevada when the legislature meets again in 2021. Myself and my team members from NORML are already working on legislation for patient rights, parental rights and consumer rights. In 2017, Nevandans asked in Question 2 on the ballot that cannabis be treated like alcohol and it still is not. Our policy makers still have not established proper social use venue legislation. We live in a state where cannabis is legal yet you can only smoke it in your own home. Nevada desperately needs social use venues so consumers can smoke and are not subject to criminal charges. I would also like to see a reasonable patient home grow of 12 plants, expungement of all cannabis charges, and better business ethics and policies so all may have a fair opportunity.

What do you think makes Nevada’s adult-use marketplace stand out from the rest of the country’s post-prohibition states?

Our opportunity to lead the country when it comes to tourism and the role cannabis plays in it stands out from the rest of the country. Year over year, Vegas revenue has been down in food, beverage, gaming, lodging and events. Consumers’ likes and interests change, and we have an opportunity to listen to the people and adapt. A tourist coming to Vegas might want to enjoy a preroll while they play blackjack, not everyone wants a drink these days. The life of the mega clubs with $5,000 tables is coming to an end. People want to relax, smoke weed, listen to live music and enjoy life. Las Vegas can offer that and it will impact our economy tremendously when they do.

What has been your proudest moment so far from your work in the cannabis space?

Bringing my community together to want better, and do better, without a doubt has been the proudest moment. The unification of the cannabis space especially with my fellow leaders has been so impactful in creating a place where we can learn what is happening in cannabis policy and how we can have a say in it. When I joined NORML in October of 2018, there were 20 people attending the meeting — now, we have over 120 people at the meetings, standing room only in the back. I wanted to help create a space where people can learn, come together, and meet like-minded people who believe in the power of cannabis and want to act on it. I believe if you are blessed to be making a living in cannabis you have a social obligation to be bettering the world with it, not making it worse and being overtaken by greed. My second proudest moment would be meeting and speaking to Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard in Washington DC. She has my vote!

What advice would you offer to new cannabis business owners, or to someone who is thinking about starting a business in the cannabis space?

I would tell them to enter this industry for the right reason and not just money. You don’t have to consume to be a part of the cannabis revolution that is occurring right now, but the plant, its advocates, and its users need to be respected. There is immense potential for what this plant has to offer humanity from medicinal use for physical and mental health challenges, to building communities and opening minds. There are a lot of people working to right the wrongs of our past and the negative position many have taken on this plant, and they need to be celebrated and supported to continue pushing this industry in the right direction. The power of this work and the plant is not something to be taken lightly.

Thanks so much, Tina, for answering our questions and sharing your thoughts on cannabis branding, culture, and the political responsibilities of operators in this space. To learn more about Old Pal’s unique cannabis vision, check out OldPal.com!


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