Two steps forward and three steps back, or at least that’s how it may seem to those involved in the cannabis industry. Just as we think the stigmas are waning, we’re reminded of the ugly truth. This week at CES, Keep Labs, a Canadian tech startup, took a stand against cannabis censorship, boycotting the show after being asked to censor their content. Despite receiving a 2020 CES Innovation Award for its cannabis storage technology, show organizers wouldn’t allow Keep Labs to mention the word “cannabis.”
“We were told we could not show our commercial. We couldn’t have any marketing materials with the word ‘cannabis’ on it, and we could make absolutely no references to cannabis. We could only exhibit as a generic, electronic storage device,” Philip Wilkins, Keep Labs Founder & CEO, told Cannabis Tech during a phone conversation.
Wilkins, Co-founder, Ben Gliksman, received this information from CES less than a month before the show. Confused, Wilkins stated, “We were shocked quite frankly, we thought that’s why we won the award – because we are an innovative company in a booming industry.”
Honored by the award, but disappointed in the censorship, Wilkins said, “We had a decision to make, water down our brand and go to the exhibit, or do we try to take this conversation further.”
Keep Shines a Spotlight on Cannabis Stigma
Seeing an opportunity to bring the plight of ancillary cannabis businesses to the light of day, Wilkins and Gliksman took a stand and refused to change their image for CES. “That’s not who we are,” Wilkins demanded, “we are purpose-built for cannabis, and it would be doing the entire industry a disservice to say otherwise.”
With national legalization in Canada and federal legalization looming in Mexico, it’s only a matter of time before the United States also changes legislation regarding cannabis, and he believes the time has come to bring the conversation out of the shadows. Speaking of the banishment of cannabis, Wilkins said, “This is what’s happening to cannabis companies all around the world.”
“We are a tech company, we are not facilitating the consumption of cannabis,” he pointed out.
No Irony Lost in Location
The cannabis market, despite the gray area of federal legalization, is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. So, for Wilkins, it was shocking to learn that CES, which is held in Las Vegas, where cannabis is legal, would censor their booth and marketing materials. “Here we are trying to say, ‘If you consume cannabis, keep it responsibly,’ but we weren’t allowed to broach that subject at the show where we won the award. We were mystified by it,” Wilkins elaborated.
Wilkins spoke of the irony, saying, “Outside of CES, you could walk into a dispensary, buy an edible, and leave it anywhere for anyone to touch. We are a storage device trying to help keep it safe and out of the hands of children, yet we can’t even say the word ‘cannabis.’”
Grasping the Silver Lining
While the result was undoubtedly disappointing, Wilkins believes some positives will come from this experience. “We’re very proud of the unification of the industry as a whole, the outreach we’ve received from other cannabis technologies and publications has been so positive,” he stated.
Continuing, he said, “We’re grateful that we can have this conversation, we don’t like that it had to be started in this fashion, but its started none-the-less, and hopefully people are starting to understand the perception has changed – obviously someone at CES felt we were an innovative company in an innovative field.”
If getting the conversation of cannabis into the limelight their goal, they’ve certainly succeeded, as the controversy has made headlines in dozens of mainstream publications, including:
- CNN – CES 2020 hit by questions over its treatment of cannabis company
- Fortune – CES Cannabis Conundrum: Makers of Award-Winning Product Can’t Mention Its Purpose
- AP News – Cannabis startup pulls out of CES tech show amid limits
- Gizmodo – CES Must be High
The story is garnering a vast amount of attention from a wide variety of media outlets from tech publications, cannabis publications, to even more traditionally conservative publications like Fox News and Forbes.
“We’ve been trying to have this conversation for years now,” Wilkins added. “For cannabis to come out of the shadows, we need mainstream publications to initiate the discussion. If that’s the one good thing that comes out of this, that’s good for the industry as a whole,” he concluded.