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What the legal pot industry wants now: advertisers

If other products can be rebranded, why not marijuana? After all, it's an industry that's expected to reach $44 billion in sales by 2020.

Unfortunately, advertisers are reluctant to be associated with the pot business because of its murky legal status. It doesn't help that the public's negative perception of the product has been shaped over the decades by everything from the 1930s' anti-pot movie "Reefer Madness" to the late Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign during the 1980s as well as more recent efforts by opponents of legalization.

Now, however, a partnership between High Times magazine, the bible of cannabis enthusiasts for more than four decades, and advertising firm Sparks & Honey aims to show these marketers what they're missing.

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According to a press release, High Times and Sparks & Honey plan to release a report next month that will discuss in depth "the behavior, motivations and cultural influence of the cannabis consumer." It aims to show that perceptions of marijuana users as junk-food-addicted losers are as out-of-date as the Cheech and Chong movies that made those stereotypes famous.

"The stoner could be your neighbor. The professor in your kid's college class," Larry Linietsky, High Times' chief operating officer, told CBS MoneyWatch. "It could be someone who's running the marathon next to you. It could be your wife."

High Times has an obvious vested interest in getting advertisers comfortable with its favorite product now that it has been legalized in four states and the District of Columbia. Nearly two dozen states allow pot for medical use.

According to Linietsky, major advertisers are willing to buy High Times ads to promote pot-themed movies and TV shows, but they're hesitant to spend money on cannabis at the level that they would for competitive products that are legal, such as alcohol and tobacco. He's confident that advertisers will find much to like about marijuana enthusiasts.

"Customers are passionate about it," he said. "It's organic. It's locally grown."

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Participants at High Times events run the gamut in terms of net worth and educational levels. They're mostly though not overwhelmingly male, which will be a key selling point for marketers who have found it increasingly difficult to target them through traditional forms of media such as TV.

"When we think about rebranding marijuana, what we're talking about is changing perceptions of what it is, how it's actually affecting aesthetics, design fashion, all sorts of things," said Sean Mahoney, vice president and editorial director Sparks & Honey.

The marijuana market is starting to mimic the wine and beer industries with a mixture of low-, mid-level and high-end brands. It even has celebrity entrepreneurs such as Snoop Dogg, comic Tommy Chong, Melissa Etheridge and country music legend Willie Nelson among others. Connoisseurs render their opinions on the quality of different strains on sites such as The Cannabist.

"We live in a high-anxiety, high-strung world for sure, and people are looking for ways to relax and release," Linietsky said.

Indeed, High Times and Sparks & Honey aren't taking themselves too seriously. They're releasing their report on April 20 -- also known as 420, a day celebrated as an unofficial "holiday" for pot enthusiasts.