It's the great debate in the cannabis branding industry: can you represent a cannabis company without using a pot leaf in the logo or packaging?

The seven-point serrated leaf is obviously a total cliche for the cannabis industry. It’s like using a light bulb to represent an idea (or worse, an energy company). As a designer, I’m not a big fan of using cliches because they're unoriginal by definition. It’s important for brands to express what makes them unique and better than competitors. However, it’s hard to show that you’re unique if your logo looks like every other cannabis business.

Not using a marijuana leaf on your infused product could lead to a safety issue. It is necessary to inform the customer that they are about to consume a medicated product. And, what simpler way to say there is marijuana in your product than showing a picture of it?

There are certainly alternatives to a perfectly representational pot leaf (or using a stock image) for your cannabusiness logo. One solution is to abstract the leaf. While not totally doing away with the leaf, abstracting it in a creative way will at least make it look different from competitors.

When we designed the logo for Brand Joint, I struggled with how we should depict the cannabis leaf. On one hand, I really wanted to avoid using cliches to help eliminate the "stoner stigma" associated with the industry. In my case, however, displaying the leaf felt necessary. The key differentiator between Brand Joint and other branding agencies is that we specialize in designing for cannabis-centric companies. Additionally, I felt the double entendre of our business name would only be understood if we added the visual.

We played with different abstractions of the leaf… some very ornamental, hand drawn, and a few that worked in conjunction with the letters. In the end, we chose to simplify the leaf to it’s most basic level. To me, this represents how we work to strip down our clients to their basic essence in order to express their authentic brand.

Do I think that that every cannabusiness needs to incorporate a pot leaf into their logo? Definitely not. In this early time of legal weed, it’s important to label your products responsibly. But, as regulations and packaging requirements continue to form, that might actually free us up to avoid using cliches on logos and central art on packaging. As the industry grows more mainstream and the shelves become more crowded, differentiating products through smart design and branding will become paramount to success.

A logo doesn't need to show a literal depiction of the product you sell or the service you provide. The logo should be a visual cue to make the customer think of all the aspects and experiences related to your brand. You're not just promising your customers cannabis, you're providing wellness, healing and some sort of positive experience. That experience is the essence of your brand and that's what your logo should reflect.

There is no one answer to the pot leaf debate. The truth is each brand must do the soul-searching required to know what they stand for and how they want to represent themselves. In the meantime, I think we can all agree to be responsible and creative.