Old Vibes & New Technology at Oregon’s Electric Lettuce Dispensary
Electric Lettuce’s retro branding makes it Portland’s most shareable dispensary.
It’s impossible to miss. On the corner of an otherwise grey intersection in northeast Portland, Oregon sits a colorful house with neon signs proclaiming “REEFER” and “GRASS.” One side of the building is covered in a mural of bold shapes and bright, distinctive colors — blue, teal, purple, orange and yellow. A porch with vibrantly colored stairs leads to the main entrance. This is Electric Lettuce, and it’s a recreational cannabis dispensary that’s both a blast from the past and a beacon of the future.
Inspired by an Era
Inside the building, the interior maintains much of the former home’s original structure. Beyond the check-in area is a living room straight out of 1969 that serves as both a lounge and a cannabis dispensary filled with old and new. There are jars of topicals and tinctures, bright packages of rolling papers and little glass pipes, and nestled between them are pieces of the past — patches, tins, painted figurines and toys. A small rabbit-eared television sits atop a refrigerator full of cannabis-infused drinks. Edibles are displayed next to books like “Revolution for the Hell of It” and “Your 1967 Horoscope.” Two soft brown, oversized leather chairs with orange throw pillows inhabit the front window nook. A vintage record player and stack of records sit between them and a variety of classic magazines are available to peruse. The opposite side of the room is a wall of large jars filled with cannabis, each carefully labeled to sniff and select.
Electric Lettuce celebrates the time between 1965 and 1971, when cannabis was illegal but was gaining popularity nonetheless. It was the era that birthed American counter-culture. There were protests against the Vietnam War and the administration that supported it, with widespread cries for “no nukes” and draft cards set ablaze. There was Woodstock, the Beatles went to India and rock music became more psychedelic and experimental. There was a desire for something more than the status quo that didn’t seem to be working anymore. Young people began to question authority and act accordingly, which included lighting up reefer despite its prohibition.
Today, Electric Lettuce is a place designed for multiple types of cannabis consumers. For baby boomers who may be returning to cannabis after decades of hiatus, there’s the comforting nostalgia of an environment that feels familiar. Budtenders are referred to as “Grass Guides.” There are “frequencies” of cannabis to choose from like “mellow,” “groovy” or “active.” Each strain is mapped on a chart ranging from head to body and mild to strong. For more experienced users, there is also detailed information like cannabinoid and terpene content. Younger generations can also find much to explore in the curated collection from a time when cannabis couldn’t be embraced so openly. Brand Director Cambria Benson Noecker says the goal for the dispensary’s décor was to “feel like you went into your now-square uncle’s closet and you opened his box of cannabis stoner paraphernalia from ’60s and unpacked it lovingly onto the shelves.”
Marketing Marijuana Online
Marketing a canna-business presents some challenges, as advertising marijuana is regulated like the plant itself.
In Oregon, cannabis companies cannot “make claims that recreational marijuana has curative or therapeutic effects,” create ads that “contain material that encourages the use of marijuana because of its intoxicating effect” or “display consumption of marijuana items” in them. All advertising on television, radio, billboards, print and online must prove that less than 30 percent of the audience is under 21. Add the diminished but present social stigma, and many traditional ways to reach customers can become limited.
Canna-businesses have found other ways to reach out. Electric Lettuce engages the community by sponsoring charities and events and curating a presence on social media platforms. Instagram, in particular, has been important to Electric Lettuce, which has two locations in Portland, as well as shops in Oregon City and Beaverton.
“[Social media is] a way we can engage with our customers and communicate with them directly, it helps us create brand-loyalty and express our brand voice,” Noecker says. “It also is a method for us to explore and discover other brands that we work with and collaborate on products with.”
It’s easy to see why Instagram works for Electric Lettuce. The distinctive brand lends itself well to the platform with visually appealing components. Each location is tailored to the original building it inhabits, whether it be a house or a former Pizza Hut, and all share common features. Each store sports a mural on its exterior with the same bold colors and shapes. Each lounge has a vintage record player with spots to relax, and old odds-and-ends spread throughout to discover while picking out pot.
There’s also the Electric Lettuce comic series “Zooted,” with a different comic strip as a mural inside each dispensary. In addition, legally required signage has been translated into Electric Lettuce language at all locations. “Be Here Now, Toke Up Later” tops the sign about no cannabis consumption on the premises. Even the website asks if the viewer is least 21 years old before they can “get on the bus, Gus” to see further content.
The exterior murals are also a great backdrop for a funky selfie or souvenir shot and knick-knacks around the store are unique and photogenic, especially next to Electric Lettuce’s brightly branded merchandise.
“We’ve designed this space — the murals, our neon ‘DOPE,’ ‘REEFER’ and ‘GRASS’ signs and more — because we want that to be a moment people share and it’s fun that you get to post ‘reefer’ on Instagram and you’re not in trouble, you’re part of the movement,” explains Noecker. We’ve never told our customers to snap a photo of us and share, but we have gotten a lot of user-generated content from customers taking photos of or with our murals and it’s taken on a life of its own.”
The brand’s design continues into their Instagram account, blending old and new. Photographs of products displayed in late ’60s aesthetic and images of the stores are intermixed with vintage photos from the era that inspired the brand and, at first glance, it can be hard to tell which is which.
Though the older generation that influenced the brand might not be as active on Instagram, they’d find the images being shared are familiar ones, new technology arousing old nostalgia, just like Electric Lettuce’s brick and mortar locations in the Portland area.
Originally published in Issue 33 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
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