Our world is in the midst of a censorship crisis, one that’s impeding many brands’ ability to operate and reach their target audiences. This Sunday March 13 at SXSW 2022, the panel “Combating the Censorship Crisis” will examine how censorship pervades both mass media and social media, allowing unfair stigmas to thrive. Using cannabis as a case study, speakers Juanjo Feijoo and Javier Hasse and moderator Ronit Pinto explore the challenges that various companies face when confronted by restrictions and limited marketing channels. What will it take for restrictions to be lifted, and what will brand engagement look like when the playing field is leveled?

Juanjo Feijoo (C) Weedmaps

Juanjo Feijoo, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of Weedmaps

Panelists and moderator know this subject intimately. Juanjo Feijoo, the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of Weedmaps, has constantly sought to circumvent the limitations that mainstream media place on cannabis brands, including the company’s educational Super Bowl ad directly targeting this censorship. Though rejected by NBC, the “Brock Ollie” ad was shared widely by Weedmaps on YouTube and social media platforms. The digital ad personifieds cannabis as a character named Brock Ollie, who resembles a head of broccoli, the vegetable emoji commonly used as a visual representation of cannabis. In the ad, viewers follow Brock for a day in his life and see firsthand how he is repeatedly mistaken for cannabis. The intention behind creating the ad was to shine a light on the challenges imposed on the industry, including the marketing hurdles -- like social media censorship and a lack of consistent advertising regulations.

Feijoo says, "Cannabis is here to stay, and at a time when most adults are finally getting past the fear-mongering of the War on Drugs propaganda, it is more important than ever to create spaces where people can learn about cannabis safely. Unfortunately, that's harder than it should be today, and it's important to shine a light on the censorship and limitations that currently exist for cannabis businesses which prevent consumers from getting the objective and reliable information that they oftentimes require to make informed purchasing decisions."

Javier Hasse (C) Benzinga

Javier Hasse, Managing Director and Editor at Benzinga Cannabis and Founder/CEO of El Planteo

Javier Hasse, Managing Director and Editor at Benzinga Cannabis and founder/CEO of El Planteo, has had a diverse award-winning career in music and journalism before revolutionizing the cannabis space for entrepreneurs. He understands the regulations imposed by media gatekeepers like major networks and large record labels, the battlefield of effective brand marketing.

"It's no secret that cannabis, as a topic and as an industry, faces a lot of resistance," says Hasse. "Censorship and stigma are just two of many issues that affect the people who need it, and the people behind the movement and the business. However, as society continues to understand the medicinal value of the plant and the economic impact of legalization, conversations start to become more nuanced, moving past the taboo and into a sphere of careful consideration. While there is still a lot to be done, we've also gone a long way. We'll be talking about all of this in our panel on Sunday."

Courtesy of Ronit Pinto

Ronit Pinto, Founder and Publisher of Honeysuckle Media

Ronit Pinto, founder and publisher of Honeysuckle Media, spearheaded the first campaign to put cannabis and hemp brands on Times Square billboards, a successful project which changed over 80 years of New York advertising policy. She continuously works with a multitude of companies and organizations to create new avenues for media and brand awareness. Some of her most groundbreaking initiatives to date include a salute to diversity in cannabis featuring Lil Wayne’s GKUA Ultra Premium and a lineup of women and BIPOC-owned brands (the first international Indigenous cannabis collaboration in history); the inaugural Healing Through Psychedelics billboard in Times Square; and New York’s first Indigenous Peoples Day billboard campaign with members of the Shinnecock Nation and the Nez Perce tribe.

Pinto says, "Our publications have been rejected from federal and state prisons, we have gotten flack for trying to promote Indigenous Peoples Day messaging, and of course major censorship on plant medicines. I am looking forward to moderating this panel with Javier and Juanjo, two of the industry's most authoritative experts."

On the SXSW panel, the speakers will explore how media censorship impacts cannabis, but also industries like liquor and psychedelics. By necessity, nascent segments are the most adaptive, versatile, and innovative when it comes to marketing and engaging consumers. Still, we have to wonder: What are the next steps for these sectors? What are the larger implications of such censorship? And what does the future hold for both industry innovators and consumers who want to know the truth? “Combating the Censorship Crisis” is a panel not to be missed!

“Combating the Censorship Crisis” will take place at SXSW on Sunday, March 13, 2022 at 2:30PM CT at the JW Marriott’s Salon E, 110 East 2nd Street in Austin, TX.  For more information, visit schedule.sxsw.com or click here.