In the spirit of 4/20, envision an imaginary (or real) cannabis-related business. What does its logo look like? Since the symbol that represents the marijuana is so iconic, you're likely picturing the emblematic pot plant.

Now that 24 states have legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational use, people have started to recognize the huge potential money-making potential of this industry. So more and more companies are entering the market with business models built around marijuana sales. But their approach to branding and marketing is severely outdated.

This archaic approach to selling any product could have serious affects to the longevity and success of any business. It's time for the marijuana industry to catch up with the times and get some half-way decent branding and logo design.

Growing up the marijuana industry's branding

James I. Bowie PhD is a sociologist at Northern Arizona University who reports on trends in logo design. On his site Emblemetric, Bowie reports on quantitative analysis of data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Drawing from a database of 1.2 million logos that dates back to 1884, Bowie examines patterns in design over time and across industries.

Bowie recently analyzed the logos of marijuana brands. "A quick glance at the current practice of marijuana branding reveals that it is clearly still in its infancy," Bowie wrote in a post on Emblemetric. In his analysis of registered trademarks of  marijuana-related businesses, he found that 44 percent of the logos featured cannabis leaves.

The problem with the cannabis leaf logos isn't entirely the negative connotation some consumers might associate with the business. Bowie points out the cannabis leaf symbol represents the entirely wrong thing. It speaks to the entire category, not the brand or in most cases, even the specific product. When all these companies essentially have some version of the same logo, no one has their own clear identity. 

If marijuana companies continue to use the same cliché design to identify themselves, they will fail to distinguish their brand from competitors -- or even from marijuana businesses that sell products entirely different from their own.

On the same level as dentists, barbers and veterinarians

In Bowie's analysis, he compared marijuana to other industries that commonly use cliché design elements in their logos. Marijuana companies (with cannabis leaf logos) are third behind only veterinarians (animal logos) and basketball teams (unsurprisingly, basketball logos.) Not far behind were barber shops (striped poles) and dentists (teeth.)

"The use of cannabis leaves in marijuana logos has reached a particularly heightened level of cliché," Bowie reported.

When compared with these industries, it's clear that marijuana logos are more closely aligned with companies that offer a different sort of service -- not exactly in the same vein as say, recreational pot or THC-infused edibles.

Startups invest massive budgets to create unique, recognizable logos and brands. Love it or hate it, AirBnB's Bêlo (yes they even named their logo) is certainly recognizable. Most consumers who use ride sharing apps would never mistake the difference between the bright pink Lyft mustache and sleek Uber logo. To stand out in the marketplace, marijuana companies need to take a bigger step to distinguish themselves from each other.