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(This opinion column appears in the February issue of Marijuana Business Magazine.)
Everyone in the hemp industry knows the story of Charlotte’s Web: A group of well-meaning brothers working under Colorado’s medical marijuana system developed a cannabis strain that worked miracles on a sick little girl named Charlotte.
Word spread about the awe-inspiring results of this low-THC, high-CBD extract. CNN paid Charlotte and the Stanley brothers a visit in 2013, and the story made the brothers rich and changed minds around the world about the value of a plant formerly sneered at by mainstream medicine.
It’s an inspiring story.
But what many folks in the hemp industry don’t know is how it happened, or how those well-meaning caregivers spread word of their product’s healing properties without inviting class-action lawsuits or the wrath of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which reminds CBD entrepreneurs at every turn that they can’t make medical claims.
The secret behind the shocking business success of the company that became Charlotte’s Web Holdings is available to every creator in the hemp industry. It’s free and as close as your local newspaper. I’m talking about the press.
As we examine liability concerns in the cannabis industry, I want to share how the press can be your secret weapon in gaining global recognition without spending a dollar on advertising or hiring a lawyer to shield you from FDA sanctions.
The story of Charlotte Figi is a great example.
Charlotte and her caregivers didn’t start sharing their CBD story on prime-time television. Instead, a local newspaper reporter in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the first to tell their story.
The caregivers and Charlotte’s family were completely honest about the girl’s disease and her treatment at a time when many parents would be considered criminals for giving their children an illegal drug.
And in an age when people guard their medical privacy and look at the media with suspicion, Charlotte’s advocates invited a local reporter and photographer to come see her progress firsthand.
What happened next was no surprise to folks who work in journalism.
Free To Tell It Like It Is
The local newspaper report about Charlotte Figi caught the attention of larger newspapers in Denver. More reporters started inquiring about this little girl, and they were again welcomed to find out more and share the story.
Media attention grew until the Denver correspondent for The New York Times wrote a piece about the Figis. That’s when CNN sent a team to Colorado Springs.
CNN does great work, but the network doesn’t have the manpower to discover every sick child experiencing a shocking medical outcome. Global media outlets read about those cases in newspapers.
You can review every news story ever written about Charlotte Figi. None of them tiptoes around CBD’s effects on the girl or use vague, lawyer-approved language like “may help support a healthy lifestyle.”
And none of the stories mentions any scary-sounding side effects of taking huge quantities of CBD (and yes, there can be some, even if they are rare).
The story of Charlotte’s Web should inspire everyone making healing products from cannabis.
Forget the slow-moving FDA. Forget the constant vigilance of label language and making sure customer testimonials don’t pop up on your site.
Instead, find out the names of your local newspaper reporters. Read their work and share it on social media. That gets a reporter’s attention faster than the fanciest news release.
And when you have a patient or a client finding amazing results from your products, get those folks in touch with a local reporter.
You can’t make medical claims. But reporters can share the story of your experience with no chance of government sanction. Sometimes those local newspaper stories turn into priceless global media exposure. Just ask the Charlotte’s Web pioneers.
As you may know, Charlotte died last year. Let her story inspire you to keep seeking the healing properties of the cannabis plant — and let the Stanley brothers’ experience show you how to avoid liability concerns while still letting everyone know how miraculous this plant can be.
Kristen Nichols is editor of Hemp Industry Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].