More mainstream brands tapping into cannabis culture this 4/20

Cannabis marking promotional photo of Wingstop meal.

The celebration of April 20th dates back decades, and many have years of memories of smoking a joint with friends or even attending pre-legalization Hippie Hill festivities. For old heads like this, seeing cannabis marketing pushes from traditional companies centered around 4/20 can be jarring as they contemplate the loss of the plant’s activist roots. However, there is a case that this is a win for normalization efforts.

This 4/20, Jack in the Box is releasing new limited items alongside last year’s Pineapple Express Shake. This year, Wingstop and Carl’s Jr. have stoner-focused offerings starting 4/20. The Wingstop Hot Box will be available from 4/20 – 4/23 and includes the chicken of your choice alongside french fries with ranch dip and a drink. The meal is hand-tossed in spicy, cheesy dry rub, drizzled with spicy ranch, and sprinkled with hot cheese puff dust to finish.

When Greenstate asked why Wingstop chose to market to cannabis consumers this year, President & CEO Michael Skipworth said, “It’s no secret that our fans celebrate this holiday with Wingstop in hand.”

Wingstop released a comedic trailer to staff in which character Malcolm Hempstead “teaches” employees how to deal with stoned customers. The video, sent to GreenState by Wingstop, was meant for employees to get them excited for the three-day promotion.

This marketing push is one of many, including a $4.20 Snack Sack from Carl’s Jr., which raises the question– is cannabis still a counterculture?

Adweek podcast Yeah, That’s Probably An Ad interviewed Rebecca Stewart, Adweek Senior Editor covering cannabis marketing, in this week’s episode. On the topic of 4/20 marketing, Stewart explained that the door is open.

“We will continue to see mainstream brands edge closer and closer to 420 because it’s not really a risk anymore; I don’t think you’re putting yourself in the line of fire. You’re not going to get a lot of blowback from your consumers if you have a 420-based program,” Stewart said.

Some industry veterans who are pre-legalization advocates of the plant are skeptical about the entrance of mainstream brands into what was once an underground celebration. And people who love the plant are often in the industry, making 4/20 their busiest day of the year rather than a holiday.

But the plant didn’t sell out just because Jack in the Box, Fatburger, and Wingstop decided to take notice of a growing consumer market. In its own way, cannabis culture making it into traditional marketing programs indicates that the normalization movement is gaining momentum. But in that rush, we cannot forget what it has taken to defeat cannabis prohibition.

Before medical programs and adult-use retail stores, cannabis entrepreneurs were called criminals– forced to risk their lives operating in gray areas. Many people served time, and still are, for doing the same kind of business now featured in national campaigns. While we can celebrate facets of cannabis culture entering the mainstream, we should continue the advocacy and activism from which the industry grew.

So this 4/20, we hope you have the perfect day–but we urge you to remember how we got here.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.