As cannabis culture gains more widespread popularity and the consumer base expands to include wealthy, influential figures and people in professional spaces, a new breed of luxury brands is giving weed a more prestige look and feel. For Monogram, the cannabis line launched by rapper and businessman Jay-Z, the goal is to offer the best product to consumers, with a focus on dignity, care, and consistency in the cultivation process. The product comes in five strain varieties: No.1, No.3, No.70, No.88, and No.96, ranging from light to medium to heavy, and packed in two- and four-gram tins that retail for $40 and $70, respectively. The No.70, 88, and 96 strains are also available as $40 pre-rolled and $50 hand-rolled joints. With a marijuana-themed playlist available exclusively on Tidal, and a YouTube channel aimed at showcasing cannabis culture from a celebrity perspective, Monogram is able to show its target audience what it’s like to enjoy weed in style.
The launch of the brand is also closely linked to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, and with both companies being part of his conglomerate called The Parent Co. – an omnichannel cannabis platform that states it’s “on a mission to create the most impactful cannabis company in the world, by combining best-in-class operations with leading voices in popular culture and social impact.” The record label Roc Nation is set to become Monogram’s brand partner.  This partnership will bring a range of artists and athletes under the label, including Rihanna, to play a crucial role in the development of future brands.
Disrupting and evolving the relationship between cannabis and culture, the brand is also challenging the national policy on drugs. Although the manufacture and sale of cannabis products have created thriving business for luxury brands, there remains hypocrisy surrounding anti-drug legislation in the US. “Since policing remains concentrated in African-American (and other underrepresented groups’) neighborhoods, marijuana use and sales in those neighborhoods are more likely to come to the police’s attention, even though studies indicate its use is identical across different racial groups,” says Nora V. Demleitner, law professor at Washington and Lee University, Virginia. “If these offenses are continuously prosecuted, they lead to a disproportionate impact on minority communities.”  To contribute in the fight against this injustice, Monogram has introduced a program, led by Jay-Z himself, to highlight the hypocrisy in the war on drugs, specifically as it affects Black Americans. Also, in addition to an initial $10 million, the brand is set to use 2% of its net income every year to invest in Black and other minority-owned cannabis businesses. 
@monogramcompany | Twitter (2020) ©
The stigma around marijuana use is gradually diminishing, but anti-drug legislation in the US takes a different stance from public opinion. While two-thirds of people in the US support the legalization of cannabis, FBI data shows that police officers still make more arrests for marijuana offenses than for any other drug.  In 2018 alone, more than 660,000 arrests were made in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, which accounts for 40% of the 1.65 million total drug arrests in the US that year. 
Black Americans and people of color are disproportionately searched and arrested, even in states where weed has been legalized.  Monogram is pushing for an inclusive shift by tackling the politics head-on with its new program. “I created this campaign to amplify the voices of those who have been penalized for the very same thing that venture capitalists are now prospering from, with the emerging legal cannabis market,” says Jay-Z.  According to Demleitner, decriminalizing cannabis use and possession will result in an immediate shrinking of the criminal justice footprint. “It will also end the stigmatization of a broad group of the population with a criminal record,” she says.
Luxury brands are a growing part of the cannabis industry, and more start-ups are catering to a growing consumer base, such as Wana Brands, which creates edibles for older Americans, and MedMen, which offers clients a chance to experiment in a welcoming brick-and-mortar space. There’s also a range of cannabis brands putting social justice as a core ethos. Lowell Herb Co supports fair wages for its farmers, while Bloom Farms matches every purchase with a meal donation to a family in need. These brands reflect the general growth in the market, and how its audience values are helping to shape the industry. Despite being illegal under federal law, the US legal marijuana industry was valued at an estimated $13.6 billion in 2019, with 340,000 jobs created for the handling of plants.  The global legal marijuana market size is expected to reach $84 billion by 2028, and as it garners significant interest from investors, manufacturers, and researchers, Monogram’s push for decriminalization highlights the loss of revenue that could have been generated from legal production and sale of cannabis each year. 
@monogramcompany | Twitter (2021) ©
Insights and opportunities
During a high-growth stage, staying connected to your audience is vital
With a growing consumer base, there’s ample opportunity for brands to carve out their niche in the market. “In many states where marijuana has been legalized, it has led to a retroactive expungement of criminal records for possession, “ says Demleitner. “Which means people can go about their business without having to explain a criminal record.”  Overall, legal marijuana could mean increased tax revenues, job growth, and investment opportunities for both the state and federal governments.  Monogram’s deep understanding of its audience – as helped through Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Tidal – means that as the market expands, it can easily stay connected to the expectations of its audience, too.
Lead the change, be the change
With younger audiences especially interested in brand values and purpose, Monogram’s clear position on the hypocrisy surrounding the criminalization of cannabis is smart. When you can pay $50 for a luxury hand-rolled joint from Monogram in some states, but go to jail for purchasing weed in others, it’s especially clear that people want brands to take a stand. Monogram is also building a social justice platform to speak out against the flaws in US drug legislation. This is an opportunity for other brands to address the need to change these laws to better reflect public opinion. “Because of the disproportionate impact of such criminal records on poor and minority communities, the change can help move us closer to achieving racial justice,” says Demleitner. 
Research shows that when people are mentally drained – a widespread occurrence in the pandemic – the phenomenon of flavor fatigue can kick in, making it harder to savor complex tastes. But flavor is also serving as a key point of escapism during the pandemic, with Americans embracing new tastes to create a sense of adventure from home. Monogram’s simple but wide range of flavors seeks to combine these two competing needs. The curation invites a sense of connoisseurship, without overwhelming or seeking to add extra stress to the purchasing experience. According to Monogram’s website, the team has worked diligently since late 2019 to curate a proprietary family of strains featuring a flavor profile for every smoker – from berry to mint and sweet citrus to pine – and they’re labeled by numbers, evoking the luxury similar to the branding of Chanel No 5. The approach keeps the focus simple while inviting audiences to savor the craft.