Cheechable Future II: Cannabis Futurist
2020 is fast approaching and while it is still just the beginning of the 21st century, this year is going to be a major milestone for humanity. A lot of shit is going down politically, environmentally and culturally all over the world. These factors are further begging for a global economy as traditional business models fold from unattainable trade agreements and ultimately, obsolescence.
Last year we dove into the broad state of cannabis culture and industry by examining the volatile fluctuation of market values against access to quality products and education. We started to see who was actually making money from cannabis, news flash, it’s the same people who are already successful in other sectors. From this exploration, some insights began to emerge, and we identified three major sectors that will thrive over the formative years of legal cannabis; home growing, luxury services and products, and self-guided exploration and educational platforms. We collaborated with design researcher, Tiffany Henschel, to do a deeper dive on how these contexts will drive the consumer product, cannabis, in the near future. (Alicia Navarrette, Editor)
From the upsurge of state legalization and a steadily decreasing stigmatization of cannabis comes a burgeoning of emerging sectors in the industry. (I generally use the term ‘cannabis’ rather than ‘marijuana’, which has negative connotations connected to prohibition and anti-immigration). We’ll briefly touch upon three of those sectors: Self-guided experience/education, Cannabis Luxury, and Home Growing.
Self-Guided Experience and Education
Now more than ever before, cannabis users want to know what’s in their stash. As a teenager in the 90’s I was happy to get anything, and felt especially fortunate if I was aware of the strain. I never knew where it was grown or who grew it, what pesticides the grower used, or its genetic history.
If one were to search “marijuana facts” on Google, the results will likely first inform them of its illicit status, the plant’s lasting effects on the brain, and how to get help with addiction. This alarmist approach to knowledge is still commonplace and reminds us we have a long way to go, and it’s important now more than ever to educate and inform, even on a micro-scale. Case in point, my mother was recently diagnosed with a condition called costochondritis, and let me just say, it’s painful, and she was taking 20 ibuprofen per day. Concerned for her and her liver, we made some 1:1 topical salve and although initially hesitant, she ended up trying it and subsequently “sleeping through the night for the first time in weeks.” She still thinks I’m a pothead (although she calls it grass), but now she’s telling her friends about it, as a more educated pseudo-advocate. And that’s progress. It adds up.
Good information exists but it’s not always easily accessible. That being said, there is no shortage of educational opportunities today in the cannabis world, ranging from chemistry to consulting. Seasoned growers now often find themselves gravitating towards consulting grow operations and the like, a natural step for a person who used to be in the shadows, but can now be in the spotlight.
It’s clear that a spectrum of information from valuable to harmful exists, and the quality of which depends on where you look and whether you want to be educated or the educator. But what about beyond education – what about the cannabis user experience?
The possibilities are endless: Wellness retreats, educational workshops, farm tours, bud and breakfasts; you can even hire someone to walk around your event with a cart full of hand-rolled joints, flowers, and edibles of your choosing (I know this because we’re doing it for our wedding!). Unfortunately, cannatourism has a fundamental currency issue: its federal Schedule 1 status (reserved for drugs which are found to have no medical uses…*insert rolling eyes emoji*) prevents banks from associating with virtually all cannabis-related businesses. Regardless of the complex, there is a paradigm shift at the intersection of cannabis and tourism, proof of which is particularly evident in cities that live and thrive on tourism, such as Las Vegas. Randy Villarba, Marketing & Sales Director of Bohemian Brothers in Las Vegas, gave me insight into how legalization is changing the landscape of the tourism industry. “The overall impact of legal cannabis in Las Vegas is ever changing and we are just getting warmed up. Even though it is legal to purchase and possess up to an ounce, you can still get hit with a $600 misdemeanor for public consumption. Consumption lounges are currently on hold as state and local lawmakers work out the logistics to bring that to the public. Eventually we will figure out a legal and properly regulated approach. Last year in Nevada, cannabis revenue was 25% above projections, pulling in around $70 million for the state.” I also asked whether or not legalization has created a generally more informed consumer. With a continuing lack of regulation, ultimately it’s up to the individual or business to deliver quality. “We are all stewards of the plant. The more we learn, education is paramount. From owner to packager, budtender to master grower, Nevada has one of the most educated cannabis industry in the United States. Most dispensaries are taking the time to not only introduce a new generation to the benefits of THC and CBD, but expanding to long time medical and recreational users’ further education of the entourage effect and terpenes.”
In one Colorado city, cannabis sales eclipsed alcohol sales in 2017. Let that sink in. Now think about consumer products targeted towards alcohol consumption. Cannabis marketing personalization is here to stay and will continue to become more prominent, distinguished, and intimately tailored.
Upscale & Luxury Cannabis
Walk into Barney’s in Beverly Hills and you’ll find jewel-encrusted bongs and sterling silver grinders for $1000 and $1500, respectively. While that may sound ridiculous to some, brands have begun to recognize the fact that not all cannabis connoisseurs are skeevy stoners buying grams and $5 glass pipes (no offense to skeevy stoners, grams, or $5 glass pipes), and the demand for luxury products is steadily increasing. And if you have the money and want to spend it on your favorite leisure activity, what’s the harm?
“Consuming cannabis can be luxurious, not just about getting high. It’s about promoting self-care,” says Nomi Terbish, owner and founder of cannabis-friendly nail salon Nomsternailz. “When I first started doing nails most of the CBD products I could get my hands on were low-quality and smelled like stale grass. I got sent home from work one day because I had put some on and it stunk so bad. These days, I collaborate with local businesses to get spa-quality products. It’s important that what I offer my clients is high-quality.”
It’s clear that a design revolution has begun in the marketing world of cannabis. And it’s not just that the well-off are getting their own portion of the market; the landscape is expanding to include a more personalized, distinguishable range of clientele rather than a one-size-fits-all headshop of the 20th century. It’s all about how products are branded, marketed, and distributed. Women for instance are a unique target in the cannabis industry and warrant an entire article, but for now suffice it to say that more female executives exist in the cannabis industry than in any other industry. How will that affect the market moving forward?
Even as a well-informed and experienced user, I never gained such a deep appreciation for cannabis as I did the first time I grew at home (this was less than a year ago and I’ve smoked regularly for 20 years). I’ll never forget the first time I smoked a home-grown bud. The intimate process involved: the time invested, the trials and tribulations throughout the few months, how the leaves looked that one time we forgot to water when it got really hot – those palpable moments were in my mind as I took that first puff, and that felt incredible. I knew it was grown organically with no pesticides or chemicals. I remember what the seed looked like and the day they started to flower – its entire lifecycle. For the first time, instead of being an end user, I instead had an intimate connection with growing what is, regardless of its controversies, a simple plant, which can now give me just the head change I want, when I want it. Just like the best piece of produce you ever tasted you probably grew at home; same, same.
Intimate and smaller-scale grows boomed after medical/rec legalization, which in turn create thriving markets (such as indoor gardening) in states where personal growing is legal. I consider myself fortunate to live in Oregon, and before that California; I’m used to living in liberal, recreational states where growing small amounts is legal. This makes it easy to forget it’s not the norm. As of mid-2019, 33 states allow medical use, 11 allow recreational use. While those numbers are promising, fewer than half of those 33 allow any personal grow operations, and without a medical card, that number drops another half. What that essentially boils down to is while you can buy it, you can’t control how it’s grown, which is problematic. For example one downside of legalization to consider is how power and control can easily be transferred to big business, especially in the agriculture industry (think: Monsanto), who have the means to and tend not to value what goes into growing and how it affects the supply chain and life cycle nearly as much as their bottom line.
When that intersects with a lack of regulation due to illegal federal status, not to mention a spread of misinformation, its complex history, and archaic yet continuing stigma, it’s up to each individual business and person to operate ethically. The fact that there are no standards and a bunch of people accustomed to operating in the black market are now in the mainstream further complicates things. But I digress. To bring it back to home growing, we humans learn by doing. We want to know what’s in our food. We want to have veggie gardens. And we want to grow weed. As Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” And if we can’t involve by growing, knowledge is the next best thing. And it’s clear that knowledge and the future aren’t evenly distributed either, and we are clearly in the midst of a cannabis revolution that can go in either direction.
Cannabis is clearly starting to make its mark as a panacea for a diverse spectrum of ailments, issues, and general stressors of life. 10% of Americans (aka 30+ million people), including plenty of high-functioning, successful adults, prefer to get home after a long and stressful day and enjoy a bong, dab, pipe, edible, or as I prefer, a big ol’ fatty, just like others prefer a cold IPA or glass of rosé (I also enjoy a good bourbon). The fact that those two things aren’t considered equally as choices that any adult should be able to make on their own, bewilders me. Pop quiz: A negative experience is generally an acceptable reason for: a. Getting a drink, b. Taking a toke, c. Exercising furiously, d. Crying uncontrollably, e. All of the above. (Spoiler: The answer is e.) #StayLit (Writer/Researcher, Tiffany Henschel)