On the New Creativity Cleaning Up Cannabis’s Reputation 

Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi and David Paleschuck dish on the industry’s present and future.

Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi and David Paleschuck, respectively.

Cannabis is experiencing a sudden coming of age; as legalization continues to ripple across Canada, USA, and the rest of the world, the herb has taken a contemporary leap that has taken it from the grungy stoner days to an educated and refined industry that caters to everyone who’s a friend of the plant. From the rebellious to the CEOs, the hippies, the yuppies, the mommas and the poppas: there’s a product for each kind of consumer out there. 

Two books in particular—High on Design (Gestalten, 2020) and Branding Bud (Quick Trading Publishing, 2021)—delve deep into exploring this aesthetic and cultural shift by analyzing the new branding and creativity behind a flower in search of proudly cleaning up its reputation. The editor and author behind each project—Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi and David Paleschuck—recently spoke about current and future trends. 

Santiago: You live in Seattle?  I was there once. I can’t remember anything in particular about the city, but it gave me a good vibe and I’ll forever keep that present. It’s almost like the city has excellent branding.

Dave: It’s pretty amazing here. I’m originally from New York City. I moved out here partially for nature—there are incredible landscapes around here. The other thing that prompted the move was getting recruited by Microsoft. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. 

Santiago: I can imagine. Good for you! In the end, you got a great paycheck and amazing nature. Not a bad deal!

Dave: I’ve worked for companies like American Express, MasterCard, and PepsiCo, but it was during my time at Microsoft that cannabis became legal in Washington—that day I knew I had to quit the corporate world and get into this new industry.

Santiago: I’d like to have a very candid and honest conversation with you; we both are cannabis lovers and both are fascinated by good taste in design. We get along even though we’ve never met. So I’ll ask you straight up, as a friend: Did you hate the corporate world?

David: I’ve got lots of chapters in my background and cannabis has always been connected to them. My two loves are skateboarding and art—that’s how I got started. From the age of 12, I was a professional skateboarder and represented by companies like Vans. I would do demonstrations in shopping malls and rode for board makers. Later on, I went to Parsons School of Design, and, out of the blue, I was throwing great parties in nightclubs across New York City. In junior year of college, I decided to open up an art gallery in the East Village, which was kind of crazy and dangerous back then.

Santiago: It’s interesting how there’s this inevitable connection between cannabis, the creative class, and freedom of expression. It’s a whole lifestyle, a movement, a feeling. 

David: I agree. From a very young age, I was drawn to it and the people who consumed it. They all came to the art gallery until we closed. It was the nineties and nobody was buying art. I decided to do an MBA and then joined the corporate world, knowing all along that quite frankly I just didn’t fit in.

Santiago: How were your colleagues different from you?

David:  While these guys were playing golf over the weekends, I was going to Amsterdam or Costa Rica. 

Santiago: That’s a great way to spend a weekend. 

A page from High On Design, the world of weed through a rose-colored lens: Ladies of Paradise cultivate female-centric cannabis content. Photo by Harlee Case

David: Yes, but eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. Luckily, legalization passed, and many high-ranking people at Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Boeing—you know, all the big companies—left to join this new wave. I wasn’t sure how to get started, so I started to consult. My background sort of just led me to understand all these things that many people didn’t understand. I started with designing dispensaries and the customer experience. 

Santiago: I can always appreciate a cool dispensary. I remember the first time I walked into a good one in Los Angeles. It’s more than just a space; it’s a landmark. 

David: It was great having that opportunity. It is almost as great as being published in Dope Magazine, where I frequently wrote what today has turned into an actual book. 

Santiago: I can’t wait to read it—I wonder if the thought process behind our books was the same. To me, the design was critical, but branding was the real key. 

David: Whenever I’ve had to name a product, we went through nomenclature, architecture, hierarchy, and history. We go through all these different things to make them meaningful. It’s important to understand the customer and speak their language.

Santiago: Yes, but people are smart. It’s not like you can just stand by the sidelines to watch a community and think you’ll understand it. One must embed within it; we must become it. 

David: Right. When I skateboarded as a kid, and even in the art world, we had our language. And quite frankly, even in the credit card world or business world, we too had one. So I just knew that we had to speak a language understood by the cannabis consumers.

Santiago: Please tell me you don’t use big data. 

David: I spent so much time in the corporate world to know that data only goes so far. Unless you’re within the community, you don’t feel it. I’ve been part of the cannabis circle since the early days.

A page from High on Design, photographer Joseph Saraceno teams up with creative Wilson Wong to create potent images epitomizing the cultural shift in cannabis use in recent years. Photo by Joseph Saraceno

Santiago: Part of the reason behind High on Design was normalizing cannabis by showing the world how rad it is. To do so, we selected the most incredible brands we could find out there and interviewed the people behind them.

If you wanted the readers to remember one thing about your book, Branding Bud, what would it be?

David: The brand archetypes. In all the studies I’ve done and all the States I’ve gone to, I have found these repeat types of brands. So what I did was I started to put them into buckets and group them.

Santiago: I’ve noticed that too. It’s exciting that there’s such a wide variety of options, but it’s starting to feel like brands overlap a bit much, and some lack spirit. Not just metaphorically, but I think there isn’t a brand exploring the sacredness of the plant. 

There are very few people growing it that way; I can only think of Swami Select, who are doing everything in a very organic, down-to-earth manner, very connected to the plant and its cycles. As consumers, we’re lacking the ritualistic aspect of partaking in cannabis.

David: Drinking does that very well; it’s almost always the result of a social gathering, celebration, or religious ceremony. I think those types of events will start happening in cannabis too. I feel like you and I could grab a cappuccino and talk about branding for the next five years.

Santiago: I like the idea of a future where we can all enjoy cannabis socially and publicly, where the stigma is fully lifted. I want to be part of that new wave in Miami Beach—that’s why I moved back after years in Europe and the West Coast. One day we’ll get that at a beachside cannabis café. 

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