Stepping out of the Shadows: Identity Exposure as a Remedy for Stigma Transfer Concerns in the Medical Marijuana Market*

Olga M. Khessina, Samira Reis, J. Cameron Verhaal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many legalized markets bear categorical stigma—a vilifying label attached to an industry and its participants—that threatens their performance and survival chances. This happens because audiences avoid engagement with stigmatized organizations to minimize the probability of stigma transfer. Although scholars have explored what strategies stigmatized companies undertake to mitigate their stigma, we know very little about whether and how audiences’ acceptance of stigmatized organizations actually happens and if industry-level processes play a role in this acceptance. We develop a theory of identity exposure predicting that customers will become less concerned about stigma transfer when stigmatized organizations unambiguously reveal their identities by publicly advocating and celebrating their business and when vanguard customers openly discuss stigmatized organizations and their products in public forums. We find support for our theorizing in the analyses of customers’ concerns about stigma in—a marijuana-based community—from its inception in 2008 through 2014. Ultimately, our findings and extensive robustness checks suggest that identity exposure within stigmatized industries can alleviate customers’ concerns about stigma transfer and in this way accelerate the market destigmatization process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)569-611
Number of pages43
JournalAdministrative Science Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • cannabis
  • identity exposure
  • legitimacy
  • liberalism
  • marijuana
  • market destigmatization
  • organizational ecology
  • organizational identity
  • organizational name
  • stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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