The main headline in the business section of Sunday’s New York Times was “When Cannabis Goes Corporate”; the story centered on Tweed Marijuana, one of 20 companies officially licensed to grow marijuana in Canada.
Tweed Marijuana logo. Lovely typeface.
There are no precise equivalents to Tweed outside Canada, where marijuana cultivation and sale are federally regulated.* But even without direct comparison, the Tweed name stands out as multilayered and highly distinctive.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Canada’s marijuana economy—as I was—here’s a little background from the Times article:
A [Canadian] court ordered the government to make marijuana available for medicinal purposes in 2000, but the first system for doing so created havoc. The government sold directly to approved consumers, but individuals were also permitted to grow for their own purposes or to turn over their growing to small operations. The free-for-all approach prompted a flood of complaints from police and local governments.
So the Canadian government decided to create an extensive, heavily regulated system for growing and selling marijuana. The new rules allow users with prescriptions to buy only from one of the approved, large-scale, profit-seeking producers like Tweed, a move intended to shut down the thousands of informal growing operations scattered across the country.
Tweed occupies 150,000 square feet of property in Smiths Falls, a town of 9,000 in eastern Ontario, that used to belong to Hershey, the chocolate company. In 2008, after 45 years of operation, Hershey decamped for cheaper quarters in Mexico. Tweed took over part of the former Hershey plant in 2013.
Like the logo, everything about Tweed’s branding communicates elegance, seriousness, and control. This is no stoner’s paradise; there’s no confusing it with the funky-sounding Herbs Nest (Colorado) or the purposely perverse Twisted Greens (Washington). Tweed’s mission statement reads: “We believe in providing only reliable, high quality products, and strive to do so with the utmost empathy, compassion, professionalism and integrity.” Company executives—“Team Tweed”—are photographed wearing sport coats, dress shirts, and ties. (One inadvertently amusing touch: the silver-haired director of operations is named Brian Greenleaf, a fine aptronym.)
According to the Times, before it could begin operations Tweed had to submit a 300-page application (“not including attachments”) to Health Canada, the federal agency responsible for drug controls. The plant has “sophisticated carbon-filtering systems” and requires employees to pass “rigorous security checks,” conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which can take four to six months. The company is publicly traded; it began selling shares on the Toronto Venture Exchange in April 2014.
Given these constraints, it’s only logical that a Canadian marijuana operation would want to avoid names with countercultural overtones. But why Tweed, a name associated with a heavy woven wool fabric that in turn was named for the River Tweed in Scotland?
It’s stated nowhere on the website, or in the Times story, but “tweed” is in fact a coded word with multiple meanings.
In Cockney rhyming slang, “Harris Tweed” (more likely pronounced ’Arris Tweed”) means “weed.” In The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang, published in 2005, “tweed” is defined as “marijuana” and described as a contraction of “the weed”; its use in print is antedated to 1995.
Tweed is also a surname, most famously attached to William M. “Boss” Tweed (1823-1878), the leader of New York’s Democratic Party machine for much of the 19th century. Boss Tweed is also the name of a rock band formed in the 1970s and still performing.
Finally, and most innocently—and, for all I know, most relevantly—there’s a town named Tweed in eastern Ontario, about 80 miles from Smiths Falls.
Whichever Tweed begat Tweed Marijuana, this much is certain: Tweed’s product names evince a solid, old-world tone consistent with the corporate name. Elsewhere, cannabis strains tend to have hippie-trippy names like OG Kush and Blueberry Haze. At Tweed, you can order strains “with vaguely aristocratic names like Argyle, Houndstooth, and Twilling,” the Times reports. (For clarity, the “common names” are also listed: Donegal, aka Chem Dawg; Herringbone, aka AK-47.)
Also noted in the Times story: the rise of private equity funds, like Privateer Holdings, dedicated to cannabis investments. Piracy is a minor theme in the weed industry: a Canadian competitor of Tweed’s is called Lafitte Ventures.
As the once-underground cannabis economy gains public acceptance and government approval, we’ll be seeing a lot of new names and brands. Will cannabis nomenclature remain true to its counterculture legacy, or will it strike out in new directions with broader appeal? I can’t predict trends, but from an aesthetic and marketing perspective, I’d vote for the Canadian model.
See also: Ganja-preneur.
* In the U.S., 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some use and sale of marijuana. In the Netherlands, the government has a “tolerance” policy toward “soft drugs”; in Portugal possession, but not production, is decriminalized; in Spain only small-scale production for personal consumption is sanctioned.