This “Charlotte’s Web” isn’t the beloved children’s book by E.B. White. But it does have a connection to childhood.
Some background first:
The five Stanley brothers of Wray, Colorado, grow medicinal marijuana in greenhouses and—now that medical and recreational cannabis are legal in Colorado—outdoors. Federal law prohibits them from shipping their product across state lines. But they’re hoping to circumvent that ban through what reporter Dave Phillips, writing in the New York Times last week, calls “a simple semantic swap: They now call their crop industrial hemp, based on its low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot.”
That isn’t the only name the Stanleys have changed in their drive to “serve thousands of people instead of hundreds,” in the words of 27-year-old Jared Stanley, one of the brothers.
Here’s how Phillips tells the story:
The brothers, who had a Christian upbringing in conservative Colorado Springs, started a small medical marijuana business in 2008 after seeing the relief it brought to a relative sick with cancer. At first, they grew mostly marijuana high in THC that packed a serious psychoactive punch. On the side, they experimented with breeding plants low in THC but high in another cannabinoid known as cannabidiol, or CBD, which scientific studies suggested was a powerful anti-inflammatory that a handful of small studies showed might have potential as a treatment for certain neurological conditions, including seizures and Huntington’s disease.
For years, this variety languished unused in a corner of their greenhouse. “No one wanted it because it couldn’t get you high,” said Joel Stanley, 34, the oldest brother and head of the family business. They named the plant “Hippie’s Disappointment.”
Then, in 2012, a Colorado mother named Paige Figi came seeking CBD-rich marijuana oil for her 5-year-old daughter Charlotte, who has a genetic disorder called Dravet syndrome, which caused hundreds of seizures per week.
After a few doses of oil made from Hippie’s Disappointment, Charlotte’s seizures all but stopped, and two years later, daily drops of oil keep her nearly free of seizures, Ms. Figi says. The Stanleys renamed the plant Charlotte’s Web.
“Industrial hemp” is a smart repositioning tactic. And “Charlotte’s Web” is ingenious and poetic: allusive rather than descriptive; out of the 1960s and into the future of cannabis branding. But although the state of Colorado has accepted “industrial hemp,” and although some 200 families now rely on oil from Charlotte’s Web for their children’s health, the federal government—which during the George W. Bush administration tried to ban all hemp products with even a trace of THC—remains unconvinced. “In the last four months,” writes Phillips, “the [Drug Enforcement Administration] has seized thousands of pounds of nonintoxicating industrial hemp seeds, including a shipment bound for a research project at the University of Kentucky.”
For more of my posts on marijuana branding, start here.