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Why Authenticity in Branding Matters: A Cautionary Tale from Lowell Herb Co.

By Beard Bros. Crew
Why Authenticity in Branding Matters: A Cautionary Tale from Lowell Herb Co.
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Editor’s note: It’s hard to believe that I need to issue a clarification but to be clear, Lowell’s Cafe in West Hollywood is closed, out of business. As mentioned in the article below, the WeHo location rebranded and severed ties with Lowell and Lowell apparently has plans to try the model again in other markets. Secondly, there is a “blog” mentioned in this article and the owner of that site is upset that we don’t mention them by name. Too bad.

ed.

We made it, y’all! It sure as hell wasn’t pretty but it looks like we are going to make it through 2019 with our brand (and our sanity) not only intact but stronger than ever. There are a few people in our tight circle that have played crucial roles in any success we enjoyed this year – they know who they are – and, of course, there’s YOU, the grassroots supporters of Beard Bros. Pharms and our effort to preserve cannabis culture of yesterday while carrying it authentically into tomorrow.

Some of the largest and most well-funded cannabis companies in Canada and the U.S. have been severely humbled over the past 12 months, if not bankrupted altogether. Many more may still be renting Lambos and sponsoring Bizcon afterparties but are doing so on borrowed money and the bill is coming due.

The taxed and regulated cannabis market in Cali took a beating this past year. This was due to many shortsighted reasons but one of the biggest contributors to its malaise is the fact that most legal cannabis dispensaries are stocked floor to ceiling with brands that nobody recognizes. These brands are often propped up by shiny packaging, soulless marketing, and/or B-list celebrity endorsements… all wrapped around weed and weed products that are mids at best.

Some companies, like MedMen, wore their disdain for the gritty, old school cannabis culture on their polo shirt sleeves, proudly shunning decades of prohibition-fueled traditions (no fuckin’ ‘tegrity…). The free hand of the market has swiftly slapped them and others like them down, but other massive-scale cannabis brands are not quite so overt in their Chad-liness, which by design fools consumers into a false sense of authenticity all in an effort to capture their dollars.

That brings us to a story that almost perfectly encapsulates the turmoil of 2019, as well as the high price people will pay for the perception of authenticity.

You almost certainly saw headlines and social media posts back at the end of September when Lowell Farms opened their signature restaurant, Lowell Cafe, in the heart of weed-friendly West Hollywood touting it as the first legal eatery to offer cannabis and cuisine on the same menu. Reviews were smoking hot at first, but once the initial high wore off and reality set in, those reviews became mixed quickly. The bad publicity really flared up about a month ago when a blog post went viral with a story about a Lowell Cafe employee showing visible signs of a herpes breakout shortly before a customer claimed to have contracted the infection from using the complimentary Puffco Peaks offered by Lowell to its paying custies. The business responded with an Instagram post showing an employee washing the Peaks – Red Flag #1 on damage control.

Next came an out-of-the-blue announcement at the beginning of December that Lowell Herb Co. would be parting ways with the namesake cafe, effective pretty much immediately. The new name would simply be the “Original Cannabis Cafe”. Damn, that was one hell of a cold sore… or was it?

The official announcement tried to whitewash the decision by saying that the restaurant “is evolving from being associated with a corporate entity into a true home for the entire cannabis community and industry.”

Riiiight. The decision had many industry insiders scratching their heads but it would not be long before the real reason for the split surfaced.

On December 18th, news agencies began reporting that the state of California – namely the California Department of Food & Agriculture – has filed a lawsuit against Nipomo-based Lowell Farms, alleging that the company operated without a valid state license for a significant period of time spanning from December of last year through March 13th of this year when their operation was raided by investigators who confiscated truckloads of illicit boof from the facility.

Following their flawless trend of dousing their publicity fires with gasoline, an official response from Lowell denied exactly zero of the allegations but promised that the unregulated products processed in the time period in question were still lab tested and safe for consumption. Considering the fact that they have products placed in over 300 California dispensaries, that is at least some small relief. Still though, state law dictates that entities caught operating without a valid license are to be fined up to 3x the cost of a state cannabis license for every day they were found to be out of compliance. Considering the fact that an annual Processing License comes with a $9,370 price tag, and considering the fact that Lowell appears to have been out of compliance for over 100 days, they could be looking at a million dollar fine from the suits in Sacramento. Not the best publicity for a restaurant quickly becoming known for mediocre food, overpriced weed, and a side dish of canker sores. The split now makes sense.

But why Lowell branding to begin with?
Who is Lowell Farms/Lowell Herb Co./Lowell Smokes?
Well, we pulled this tidbit directly from their own LinkedIn page:
 

ABOUT LOWELL HERB CO.
Lowell Herb Co. has elevated the perception of cannabis consumption with its sophisticated packaging and best selling products. Based in California, Lowell Herb Co.’s ethos is reflected through its instantly recognizable bull logo that pays homage to the fight against cannabis prohibition.

BRAND STORY
The Lowell Herb Co. story dates back to the spring of 1909, William “Bull” Lowell began growing what was called Indian Hemp on his farm on the central coast of California. Henry J. Finger took a dislike to Bull’s “marijuana being smoked by the wrong kinds of people”. Finger conspired to outlaw cannabis and later passed the 1913 Poison Act. Bull believed in a man’s right to smoke the dried plant and enjoy its benefits. When the stubborn Bull refused to stop growing his beloved plant, Finger shut down Bull’s farm and later threw him in jail. Today Lowell Farms, a community of family farms honor the great Bull Lowell’s tradition of growing cannabis naturally and with a deep love and respect for the plant.

OUR PLEDGE
1. We grow our flowers with only ORGANIC fertilizer
2. We never use synthetic pesticides
3. We pay our farmers a proper living wage
4. We use natural materials from seed to sale

To their credit, Lowell Farms was among the first of the Big Cannabis brands to acknowledge the imbalance between decades of War on Weed and the new legal market that made lucrative what was once outlawed. They pledged to hire folks with non-violent cannabis charges on their records. Until these past crimes are eventually expunged, those lingering charges can really limit the employment opportunities for good, honest people who just want to make a living. So, kudos to that, if they followed through. But what caught our eye in that brand description was the yarn they spun about ol’ “Bull” Lowell growing cannabis back in the early 1900s and even getting locked up for it. They treat this story as gospel and their creepy logo pays homage to the man by dressing a farm animal in human clothing (because that screams QUALITY CANNABIS to me…). Cool story and all, but in their most recent press release they acknowledge that the brand was founded in 2017, not 1909. So, what’s the actual story?

Well, in a 2018 profile piece in the New Yorker, it is made clear that William “Bull” Lowell is a purely fictional character that is about as real as a cow in corduroy pants. Should we have really expected anything less from a brand endorsed by the likes of Miley Cyrus and Usher?

It appears that Lowell still has an appetite for culinary cannabis as their website still hypes the Lowell Cafe, but in Las Vegas this time. If you feel like gambling with your oral health, roll the dice! This is a slow-motion train wreck that every blue-suited-brown-shoed fuckboy who thinks that “the cannabis dollar looks like a good dollar” better be paying attention to. The culture matters. In fact, it’s essential to your success. Some companies, like MedMen, just ignore it. Others, like Lowell, fabricate it. Neither one will cut it. It is way past time to get the people who planted the proverbial seeds for legal weed in on the harvest.  

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Christine Smith
Christine Smith
10 months ago

I personally worked as a sales rep in Northern California for Lowell Farms. For 2 months. Then I quit. The founders do not even smoke cannabis. They are a few friends from New York, moved to California to Boom in the Cannibis industry. They also sold and marketed the TOXIC “Suicide Girls Carts”.

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