Willie and Weed

www.spokesman.com
by: John Nelson

The branding power of Willie Nelson draws a crowd even in states where weed is illegal.

Take Texas, for example.

At the Luck Reunion, an annual music festival held on Nelson’s ranch about 45 minutes outside Austin in March, there was a huge line to get into the Willie’s Reserve merchandise store, where vape pens, lighters, bandanas, hats, T-shirts and other clothing were on sale. No weed was available – at least legally – anywhere at the festival, but that didn’t seem to matter to the cannabis lovers who clamored for the merch.

“There’s a huge demand among fans to show their love for Willie,” said Elizabeth Hogan, vice president of brand and communications for Willie’s Reserve, Nelson’s cannabis brand.

Alan Verhines, a fan attending the Luck Reunion from Indianapolis, walked out of the store with a Willie’s Reserve tote bag, hat and a few other items he had just purchased.

“Most of this stuff I’m going to give away,” he said. “It’s never too soon to think about Christmas.”

Another fan, Ben from Austin (who asked that his last name not be used), purchased a Willie’s Reserve vape pen.

“I’m a big believer in hemp, and I’m a big supporter of Willie,” he said.

Beyond the swag, the Willie’s Reserve cannabis products have an ardent following. You can buy his licensed flower strains and products in states where weed is legal, including Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

Some of the strains sold in Washington include Mr. Nice, LA Confidential, Big Blue and Glitter Glue. Besides flower and pre-rolls, Willie’s Reserve has an ever-growing menu of edible products.

In the Spokane area, Willie’s Reserve is sold at Primo Cannabis, Apex Cannabis, Locals Canna House, Cannabis and Glass, Lovely Buds and Lucky Leaf, according to the Willie’s Reserve website. Pullman, Clarkston and Walla Walla also have outlets.

So far, reviews from retailers are positive. Neil Waldbjorn, store manager for Local Roots Marijuana in Everett, said he’s impressed with Willie’s Reserve as a company. Waldbjorn was attending the Luck Reunion wearing a Seahawks ball cap, standing out among the vast field of cowboy hats.

“The company is well organized, which shows me they’ll be around long term,” he said.

Willie’s Reserve partners with farmers who use sustainable practices, giving an assist to “the independent American farmer,” Hogan said, an offshoot of Nelson’s well-publicized efforts with Farm Aid, the long running benefit concert to assist American family farms.

The company’s website lists six growers it works with in Washington, including Leaves of Grass in Wenatchee. On the retail end, outlets offering “good consumer experience” are chosen, according to Hogan.

In Texas, Nelson is supporting efforts to legalize hemp farming, a logical first step in a conservative state that still doesn’t allow medical sales of marijuana.

“It’s very meaningful to Willie to see hemp plants grown in his home state,” Hogan said.

Eventually, that could lead to legal sales of cannabis, she said, given the state’s libertarian streak.

“There’s a strong appreciation for freedom in Texas,” said Hogan, looking around at the crowd of fans scurrying around the Willie’s Reserve store at the Luck Reunion. “The more we can show that cannabis can be sold responsibly elsewhere, the better chance we have.”J

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