From Snoop to Roseanne: What Drives Hollywood’s Budding Marijuana Moguls

The legal weed business is estimated to be worth $22 billion by 2020 — and stars like Willie Nelson and Whoopi Goldberg are uniquely positioned to cash in

There’s something special in the Hollywood air lately — and it smells like a mixture of kind kush and cool cash.

In February, actress-comedian Roseanne Barr struck an agreement to open the Santa Ana, California, medical marijuana dispensary called Roseanne’s Joint. Not long after, “The View” maven Whoopi Goldberg launched the medical marijuana company Whoopi & Maya, designed especially for women. And those efforts followed marijuana ventures in Colorado spearheaded by notable showbiz stoners Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson.

Clearly, celebrity connection between the entertainment industry and the marijuana industry is growing like a weed. But why? In an effort to clear the smoke on the matter, TheWrap spoke to experts in the marijuana field.

On one hand, celebrities are diving into the canna-business because of that oldest of Hollywood motivations: money. Allen St. Pierre, director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), told TheWrap that the legal-marijuana industry is estimated to generate more than $5 billion annually.

“And there are estimates that by 2020 or so it could be up to $22 billion. So it’s big money,” St. Pierre noted.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, noted that the relatively new marijuana industry also offers a ground-floor opportunity to “really establish a brand” and an “open space like you don’t see in other industries right now.”

But there are other reasons why the time is right for Hollywood’s joint ventures with the marijuana industry. The increasingly legal status of marijuana has freed celebrities from both the stigma and the legal restraints that they previously would have faced by entering the pot business.

“If they’re really big, they sign morality clauses when they engage in contractual agreements on movie-making or TV series productions,” St. Pierre said. It’s hard to imagine that Disney-owned “The View” would be OK with Goldberg’s venture, for instance, if not for the increasing legalization of marijuana.

Beyond the legalities, shifting cultural attitudes have made it possible for high-profile personalities to make their profile even higher with a marijuana brand.

“Really at this point the only demographic group that does not have full approval of full legalization is people over the age of 65,” West said.

For the marijuana companies, signing a famous face to endorse your product has an obvious appeal.

“In our celebrity-obsessed world and country, if you’re going to be in the world of retail marketing and products, having a famous, well-known, respected celebrity … in some ways, it’s like standard Marketing 101,” St. Pierre said.

Just how beneficial a celebrity endorsement can be for a marijuana company? At this point, West said, the concept is still new and there hasn’t been enough market research to tell. While a high-profile endorsement “can provide a distinct, memorable market for your brand,” West said, “the jury’s still out” on the direct financial benefits to a company.

Despite the increasingly favorable conditions for a celebrity to enter the weed market, there are still drawbacks. Former boy-bander Nick Lachey drew heat last year after pushing for an ultimately unsuccessful marijuana initiative in Ohio that would have restricted most cultivation to a small number of farms, including his own.

West cautioned that celebrities entering the weed market should not be, “or even appear to be, motivated completely by money. The celebrity endorsement game is a money-driven game, and I think everybody understands that. But this is an industry that, at its root, an ongoing social justice movement.”

Besides, as St. Pierre noted, the mere presence of more celebrities in the marijuana industry is likely to give further momentum to the already advancing legalization movement.

“It really does lend more and more to the almost fait accompli feeling that marijuana is becoming legalized [and] that it will be legalized,” St. Pierre said.