The Movers, Shakers and Bakers in the Cannabis Revolution

08/25/2015 11:59 am ET Updated Aug 25, 2016

Entrenched stoner culture often treats newcomers with a raised eyebrow.

Maybe the old guard fears mainstream change and convention, and indeed progressive brands continue to modernize the culture with fresh ideas and innovations. The traditionalists represent the foundation, but what about the other 86 percent of cannabis consumers who have a more casual relationship with the plant? These individuals might not have the same High Times savvy, yet they certainly have a place in the rapidly evolving new marketplace.

David Bell, Professor of Marketing at Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania, recently told Forbes that the legal cannabis market has yet to establish the main brands for what "represents a huge economic opportunity." The following are some forward-thinking innovators and companies I've noticed who are successfully modernizing the industry without alienating traditionalists.

PROHBTD

Building an authentic lifestyle brand can be a challenging endeavor in the modern online marketplace where so many imposters half-heartedly masquerade as the real deal.

One media company has answered the challenge. Los Angeles-based PROHBTD elevates cannabis culture out of the stoned age and into the counterculture mainstream with stylish concepts and designs that eschew predictable stereotypes.

The company's use of dynamic visuals is immediately evident in the original video channels that include The Stash product recommendations, the Smoking Pot cooking shows and the animated Learn Channel series. Daily all-original stories often include street art visuals and timely satire that encapsulate a wide selection of celebrity interviews, witty narratives, research analysis and native POVs that deconstruct the propaganda behind cannabis prohibition.

The PROHBTD voice and style is more akin to Tastemade and Vice than traditional outlets like High Times, and everything on the site characterizes a company that cares about the image of cannabis culture.

Despite rumors of celebrity investors, co-founder Drake Sutton-Shearer prefers to focus on what the company does. He remarks, "We are fortunate to have raised $1M toward our seed round from some great investors. However, our focus is on directing the conversation towards what really matters, which is destigmatizing the narrative around the plant and helping people get comfortable with cannabis through modern contextual experiences involving content, commerce and community."

MedWest & James Slatic

California-based MedWest has been ahead of the game since CEO James Slatic started the company in 2009. Back then, MedWest was one of the original CO2 extraction companies making concentrates for vape pen cartridges, oils and other formulations. Today, the company continues its technologically advanced standards applying them to oils, concentrates and various infused products.

With an emphasis on purity and consistency, MedWest produces soft gel capsules, pre-filled oil syringes, different types of wax and the market leading Bhang line of products that includes vaporizer sticks, chocolate edibles, oil cartridges, chewing gum and sublingual sprays. Slatic remarks. "As we continue to fight for the end of prohibition, we are forming the base of the next great American industry". As a founding member of the NCIA (National Cannabis Industry Association), he also has a front row seat to what drives the industry forward while helping to influence change.

Dale Sky Jones

It takes a lifetime of work to change laws and perception, but Dale Sky Jones is making it happen. She is the Executive Chancellor at Oaksterdam University--the UCLA of cannabis studies--but it is her ReformCA efforts that might ultimately define her legacy. As the Chairwoman of Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA), she plays a pivotal role in the effort to put recreational cannabis on the 2016 state ballot, and assuming such a measure would pass, legalization in the world's largest state economy would have global repercussions. "As we move into the future of cannabis being a commodity rather than contraband," says Jones.

Education and best practices from existing enterprise will offer new options that enhance the ecological, economical and energy-efficient manufacturing practices. During prohibition, these technologies were used against the defendant as criminal enhancements to a sophisticated drug enterprise. Now it is simply what it is... innovation... a rather important business practice.

Altai Brands

The edibles marketplace is littered with companies competing for spots in the consumer cupboard, but not all companies are created equal. Altai has raised the bar with chocolates that combine the highest quality infusions and the finest European confectionary technique. Lead by a former Ritz Carlton pastry chef, the artisanal chocolatier makes indulgent products like Sea Salt Caramel Bon Bons and the Bittersweet Single Origin Alt Bar. Altai delectables are made for foodie-centric chocolate lovers familiar with names like Valrhona, Teuscher and Puccini Bomboni, but the Monterey, California-based company utilizes its custom state-of-the-art facility to give consumers more than just a sugar rush. "In the cannabis industry the rules are still being written, and it is exciting to be a part of that conversation," says Robert Weakley, the company's CEO & President.

We built our facility out to be ahead of the curve when it comes to regulations, and we want to be a model of what can be done in this industry. In order for to create the desired flavors and experience, we use the absolute highest quality of artisanal ingredients. For example, we use Tahitian vanilla, a tea blend from the Middle East and a single origin chocolate from Peru near the Machu Picchu ruins.

Casa Verde Capital

Snoop Dogg briefly became a Lion with his reggae reinvention a few years back, but the hip­hop icon has already added another persona as a Wall Street­ style Bull. Last February, TechCrunch reported that the multi­platinum rapper started Casa Verde Capital to invest in the top cannabis startups. The venture capital firm includes managing members from the talent agency Stampede Management. An investment from Casa Verde is a major endorsement in and of itself.

MANTIS Ad Network

Cannabis-related content faces many discriminatory hurdles navigating the larger online platforms, but the MANTIS Ad Network is helping to level the playing field.

Launched in 2014 by co-founders Matthew Price and Paris Holley, the Los Angeles-based company enables media entities to monetize websites, grow traffic and expand their brand in the cannabis space. MANTIS quickly became the largest cannabis-friendly ad network, and it now reaches more than 7 million monthly viewers across more than 150 publishing partners.

Most of the major cannabis sites are now affiliated with the network, which allows media companies to have complete control over what ads appear. While MANTIS is an invaluable partner for media sites, it also helps retail companies direct marketing dollars to their target audience.

It is a massive win-win for all parties involved. "Cannabis advertising was considered virtually impossible even a couple of years ago," says Price, "but today the industry is thriving, and marketing your cannabis-related product or service has never been easier."

New West Summit

The abbreviation "www" might not stand for wine, weed and web, but the Bay Area certainly makes these products better than most. San Francisco will focus on two of these topics Nov. 21-22 at the inaugural New West Summit at the Parc 55 Hotel.

Highlighting the fast-paced developments in the cannabis-tech space, the conference will bring together the industry's leading thinkers, doers, investors and creators to focus on issues like technology, capital, content and professional branding.

New West Summit is arguably the first conference to focus exclusively on these interconnected issues that empower forward-thinking cannabis companies to excel. "A lot of entrepreneurs and investors who've operated successfully in other sectors are now coming into the cannabis space with fresh ideas and stepped-up operating models," remarks New West Summit co-founder Dean Arbit. "New West Summit provides a venue for the leaders of industry to discuss specific trends and disruptive concepts without the 'noise' we see at other industry events."