By Jerry Whiting
As legalization unfolds, recreational cannabis will begin to resemble other products in the marketplace. Over time, pot will look and act like wine, beer, coffee, even ice cream.
Yes, cannabis tourism sprouted up as soon as Washington and Colorado legalized personal possession and consumption. And yes, there are cannabis tours like wine tours in California. This is merely a first step.
Like any mature market, a handful of large national brands will dominate. Directed toward the mass market, they’ll be relatively generic, driven by large advertising budgets and positioned to satisfy the majority of consumers. Think E&J Gallo, Anheuser-Busch, Starbucks. The larger players will have a natural price advantage because their sheer size will bring about economies of scale.
This describes the bulge in the middle of the snake, but there’s room at either end of the bell curve for smaller, niche players too. Like booze or cigarettes, there’s a market for truly generic, no-name, lower-end products for consumers who shop based on price alone, as well as premium brands for those who want quality and/or uniqueness, price be damned.
The future growth in cannabis lies not with heavy smokers, a.k.a. stoner potheads. Let’s face it: They’re already consuming as much as they want. The growth comes from casual users who consume more when the market is legal, as well as new users comfortable in a legal world unlike days of old. Image millions of Americans incorporating occasional recreational use into their dinner parties, weekend getaways, Super Bowl parties and other social gatherings.
A typical shopping list might include fish, salad ingredients, a cake or pie for dessert, two bottles of wine (one red and one white, naturally), and an eighth-ounce of cannabis or perhaps a selection of marijuana-infused edibles. Which cannabis to buy? “What’s on sale, which product has the end-cap display, what was it that so-and-so recommended we try, is there a Groupon I can use, ooooh that packaging is pretty…”
While Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes may be years away, what’s to stop a restaurant from allowing — if not encouraging — patrons to bring their own edibles, with or without a corkage fee. If consumption isn’t part of the offerings, suggestions for food, wine and cannabis combinations would be something regular customers might enjoy. “Sativa with your pizza?”
A more nuanced vision includes cannabis cultivation becoming as sophisticated as wine production, including appellations. We all know that where a grape is grown has a huge influence on wine. An Oregon Pinot Noir isn’t the same as the grape grown in Burgundy.
Some will chase strains, others will explore appellations. How does Cinex, Harlequin, or any strain differ from region to region? How do soil, micro-climates, and grower techniques play out in the final product? Cannabis connoisseurs will recognize this as the question of genotype versus phenotype.
If you want to be a megabrand scaled to the size of Coors or Starbucks, there’s a market for that. But there’s plenty of room for smaller players to prosper, as well, just as there are microbreweries, neighborhood coffee roasters and wineries that sell out in the barrel. No matter what turf you stake out, being in the marijuana business is going to look more and more like every other business in town. And that’s a good thing.
Jerry Whiting is the founder of LeBlanc CNE, growers and brokers of medical cannabis and vintage heirloom strains. LeBlanc has an extensive collection of CBD-rich strains, including a seed bank and live plants. LeBlanc sponsors a hemp breeding project, does research into the relationship between cannabis chemistry and genetics, and processes whole plant tinctures and other cannabis preparations.