BLK MKT cannabis brand sparks controversy over racist marketing

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January
20,
2020



 
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Wedding
Crasher
by
BLK
MKT.
Photo
courtesy
of
GTEC
Holdings
Ltd./GlobeNewsWire

A
booth
slogan
at
Vancouver’s
Lift
&
Co.
trade
show
last
week
sparked
controversy
over
racism
and
diversity
in
the
cannabis
sector.

At
its
centre
was
a
booth
from
BLK
MKT,
an
adult-use
brand

launched
in
early
December

by
LP
GTEC
Holdings,
with
large
text
on
one
side
reading
“Once
You
Go
BLK…”

Lift
&
Co
itself

tweeted
advertisements
for
the
booth
,
including
the
slogan,
and

a
hail
of
angry
responses
followed

accusing
the
company
of
being
complicit
in
advertising
that
was
both
racist
and
sexualized.

(The
term
Once
you
go
black,
you
never
go
back

is

widely
understood
to
be
sexual

and

refer
to
sexual
stereotypes
about
Black
men
.)

Thanks
to
the
brand
name,
the
new
debate
attached
itself
to
arguments
over
the
term
“black
market,”
ongoing
for
several
years
in
the
cannabis
sector.

On
one
side
of

that

debate,
a
number
of
Black
Canadians—ranging
from
industry
insiders
like

Danielle
“Miz
D”
Jackson

to

Senator
Wanda
Thomas
Bernard
—have
expressed
discomfort
with
the
term.

Such
opponents
have
taken
issue
with
what
they
see
as
implied
connection
to
Black
communities,
and
Senator
Bernard
told
the
Standing
Senate
Committee
on
Social
Affairs,
Science,
and
Technology
in
April
2018,
“I
believe
that
term
sends
a
subliminal
message
which
may
contribute
to
unconscious
bias
in
the
criminalization
of
cannabis.”

Those
who
use
the
term
believe
it
has

no
racial
implications
in
its
roots
,
which

date
back
to
medieval
language
.

As
with
the
debate
over
the
term
“black
market”
itself,
in
arguments
over
the
BLK
MKT
slogan,
the
company
had
no
shortage
of
defenders,
who
believed
the
slogan
was
harmless,
edgy,
or
funny.

As
debate
raged,
a
secondary
discussion
opened
about
whether
the
slogan
was
effectively
advertising
the
brand
by

drawing
attention
to
it
,
however
negative.

Some
argued
all
publicity
is
good
publicity,
but
parent
company
GTEC
Holdings
evidently
felt
concerned
enough
about
the
debate
that

they
released
a
corporate
statement

arguing,
“while
it
should
be
obvious,
we
would
highlight
that
this
brand
has
absolutely
nothing
to
do
with
race.”

The
statement—itself
criticized
by
many
in
the
sector
—went
on
to
highlight
the
company’s
diversity
and
complain
“it
is
surprising
and
ironic
that
some
people
have
been
seeking
to
characterize
our
company
as
‘nothing
but
white
men.’”

The
statement
argued
those
who
had
criticized
the
slogan
were
nothing
more
than
“a
group
of
individuals
on
Twitter,”
but
the
company
went
on
to
announce
it
would
no
longer
use
the
slogan
in
the
future.

Nonetheless,
the
misstep
may
still
have
done
the
company
damage
among
those
who
feel
it
perpetuated
racism,
provoking

some
consumers
who
trusted
the
company
to
write
them
off
.

Hill
Knowlton
National
Cannabis
Sector
Lead
Omar
Yar
Khan,
who
had
just
published

a
piece
arguing
lack
of
boardroom
diversity
was
constraining
businesses

in
the
cannabis
industry
prior
to
Lift,
said
“The
fact
that
someone
thought
this
branding
was
a
good
idea

might
prove
my
point
.”

Meanwhile,
others
speculated
GTEC
Holdings
will

make
changes
in
their
marketing
department

following
the
outcry.



 
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Jesse
B.
Staniforth

Jesse
B.
Staniforth
is
the
editor
of
the
free
cannabis-industry
newsletter
WeedWeek
Canada.
He
also
reports
on
Indigenous
issues,
cybersecurity,
and
food
safety.

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