Willie Nelson’s cannabis brand raises $12 million to fund expansion

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Celebrities who flaunted their pot smoking for decades when it was taboo are now cashing in on the legal cannabis boom.

GCH Inc., a Colorado firm that markets country music legend Willie Nelson’s brand of weed, said on Wednesday that it has raised $12 million to expand beyond its current market of Colorado, Washington, Nevada and Oregon. That brings its total funding to $29.5 million. Earlier this month, a private equity firm backed by billionaire Peter Thiel said it has amassed $200 million for its cannabis portfolio, which includes the official brand of the late reggae star Bob Marley.

From comedians Cheech & Chong to the rapper Snoop Dogg, pot-smoking artists are finding that celebrity branding can work just as well as in the cannabis market as it does for soft drinks, sneakers and insurance companies — and maybe even better. For now at least, having a big name behind a product can break through the clutter of cannabis strains like Gorilla Glue and Mob Boss, according to Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce, a marketing consulting company.

Beyond Stoners

“It’s a quick way to get a story and some name recognition and a bit of trust,” he said. “It’s the jump-start way to brand and market this type of product.”

It makes sense that celebrity branding would be popular in the nascent pot industry as businesses work to promote a product that was once sold only by illicit drug dealers. For companies to prosper, they’ll have to extend pot’s appeal beyond the traditional stoner set, and having a famous name behind a product can help.

That’s why Tuatara Capital, a cannabis-focused firm based in New York, decided to invest in GCH, the company behind Willie’s Reserve, according to Al Foreman, a partner at Tuatara.

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