Marketer and digital strategist Tomas Haffenden imagines a world in which he won the ‘Brand Cannabis’ account.

There are three things about the future we can count on with complete certainty: flying cars, hoverboards and the eventual legalisation of cannabis. But after a hundred years and billions of marketing dollars spent on negative messaging, is cannabis the most challenging challenger brand of all?

Join the Cannabiz revolution

Want to stay ahead of the cannabis curve with the latest local and international news, analysis and intelligence and access to Australia's legal cannabis industry?

This article is included with our Premium subscription.

As you read this, slow but steady decriminalisation of cannabis is happening across Australia. Most recently, ACT legalised possession and personal use, but none of that really matters. In reality, the mounting evidence supporting its medical benefits twinned with the multi-million dollar value of the export market alone are simply too huge to ignore.

Yet even with a seemingly endless stream of clinical trials and medical papers singing its praises, there still seems to be a collective hangover of distrust towards cannabis. A recent report suggested that even though many Australian health professionals support the use of medicinal cannabis, they can’t get access to the training they need to feel confident prescribing it. It would seem the negative marketing of cannabis has been so effective that it remains for many a treatment of last resort.

Anyone looking back at the historical vilification of cannabis is in for a treat. To say that some of the ads and approaches have not stood the test of time would be generous. To call them scaremongering and laughably devoid of fact would be far closer to the truth.

Tomas Haffenden - Cannabis News Australia - Cannabiz

Anyone yet to having the pleasure of watching Reefer Madness, The Assassin of Youth or my personal favourite She shoulda said no! – here’s a spoiler alert. The key takeaway from these, and numerous other films and publications of the 1940s and ‘50s, is that cannabis is bad, very bad. Every trending social no-no from promiscuity and disrespect of authority to suicide and murder were directly linked to poor old cannabis.

Societal shifts in the ‘60s seemed to ease attitudes towards the plant as it became more accessible and closely linked with the care-free, rebellious spirit of the time, but this change had nothing to do with branding. With no marketing dollars, it was an organic, grassroots campaign, and as a man unintimidated by the use of puns, it is essential you know I’m grinning as I write that.

The ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s were not so kind, as Nixon declared a ‘War on Drugs’ and wrote a blank cheque to the anti-drug marketing department. Now, for most marketers, the prospect of unlimited money is a foreign one, so let me explain. Usually when you present your big idea and the client loves it, sour-faced Jill from finance follows up with a budget figure with only three zeros in it. Now imagine that, but this time Jill is in jeans, smiling and still adding zeros to the budget as you leave the room.