One thing those of us in the bar business know, it’s that Prohibition was an undeniable failure. The Noble Experiment was certainly a test, but it was far from noble. While the 18th Amendment was popular with voters, the Volstead Act was unexpected, unwanted and uninformed.
Bearing that in mind, you’d think politicians would learn from their predecessors’ blunders. Another thing bar owners, operators and managers know is that mistakes teach us more than victories. The operators who survive (and thrive) in this business don’t repeat their spectacular failures; there’s too much at stake.
So why, despite research that shows two-thirds of Americans (and growing) support cannabis legalization, did Jeff Sessions rescind the Cole memo? This includes There are myriad answers, none of them good enough for the U.S. Attorney General to make choices that fly in the face of what Americans want. Cannabis products, medical and recreational alike, has helped millions of Americans live with countless medical issues. That includes our veterans who have sacrificed so much for all Americans. Cannabis can help our country solve the opioid crisis. So why the misguided, Draconian war on weed?
Read this: The Cannabis Consumption Conundrum
Is this a partisan attack on states that didn’t vote for the current administration? Californians would likely agree with that assessment. Could this move against the Cole memo’s guidelines be an attempt to eradicate the previous administration’s legacy? Is Sessions out of touch with Americans and uninformed, stubbornly and ill-advisedly latching on to the gateway drug myth because he’s a “War on Drugs” dinosaur? Is his hard line simply myopic pandering to a certain voter base? Is this fresh attack on the cannabis industry a smokescreen intended to obscure something more sinister? Again, the answers to these questions lean towards the troubling.
Considering the timing of Sessions’ decision, the legal cannabis industry seemed to erupt in panic, particularly in California. On New Year’s Day of this year, it became legal for adults aged 21 and over to possess, transport, and share up to one ounce of cannabis and eight grams of cannabis concentrate in the Golden State. Headlines certainly made it seem like the industry was on fire, and not in a good way.
The panic seems to have subsided a bit, as is often the case. Some political pundits and legal scholars have indicated that Sessions’ decision is a lonely crusade, one he’ll have trouble imposing on the nation. A handful of state representatives have vowed to fight the U.S.A.G. and there’s no reason to believe that’s just lip service. Those is in the bar business interested in the legal cannabis industry should certainly keep a weather eye on Sessions and the federal government, but they shouldn’t, in my opinion, scrap any plans.
Make Informed Market Decisions
Operators who want to make their entrance to the cannabis industry when doing so a bar, nightclub or restaurant operator is legal and feasibly need a solid plan. That plan needs to be rooted in hard data, and that’s where the informative market research from Ana Hory, CEO of Enlucem, comes in.* After all, the cannabis startup consulting company’s name translates to “to enlighten.”
A third truth successful operators embrace is the need to understand the market and the customers, meet needs, and over-deliver on expectations. The information below will help you accomplish all three of those goals.
Who is Your Consumer?
Hory’s research reveals that one-third of adults in all states aged 21 and over use cannabis. The largest market is California, which boast almost twice the number of users and more than two times the potential market entrants than Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington combined.
Sixty-one percent of users are male, that same percentage is between the ages of 21 and 41, and 43 percent are married. According to Hory’s data, female consumers skew younger than their male counterparts and have lower household income, due in part to a lower percentage working full time. Female consumers have higher rates of anxiety, depression, insomnia and headaches. To reach female consumers, meet their needs: affordable prices, an inviting atmosphere (warm, welcoming venue with friendly staff and security), and knowledgeable budtenders.
Males and females who consume cannabis see it as medicine and a way to relax, unwind and have fun. Cannabis consumers are seeking relaxation (78 percent), pain relief (62 percent), anxiety relief (59 percent), help with insomnia (57 percent), and to enhance their creativity (33 percent). Of course, consumers are looking at prices and want a value.
What do They Want to Buy?
Consumers spend, on average, $59 when they visit a dispensary. (In Oregon, that number drops to $44.) We can assume that Hory doesn’t have numbers regarding THC- or CBD-infused cocktails or food items because we have yet to see licenses issued for public consumption venues. However, her research regarding product types is still valuable.
Sixty-nine percent of consumers prefer bud/flower, while 50 percent seek edible products. A growing category, pre-rolls, is sought by 44 percent of consumers. Thirty percent want vaping cartridges, a number I thought would be higher, while 25 percent of consumers prefer concentrates. Twenty-five percent also favor topicals, and drinks (22 percent) and tinctures (17 percent) are towards the bottom of consumer preferences. Women are more likely than men to purchase edibles (such as butters and candies) and topical products. Consumers of all cannabis products desire fast-acting products with high THC potency. I’d expect edibles, drinks and tinctures to rise in popularity once public consumption in private cannabis clubs, bars and/or restaurants becomes legal. Edible products appeal to men and women equally.
Who are the Future Consumers?
Forward-thinking bar operators are interested in learning about who they’ll be serving in the future. As it turns out, Hory has that information. The CEO’s research indicates that potential consumers are split evenly between male and female. Fifty percent are above the age of 51, and they prefer to purchase items with discreet packaging. Sixty-four percent seek edibles, 46% topical items, 28 percent will want drinks, and 25 percent will prefer tinctures. In general, this future consumer seeks products free of drowsy effects. As we’re discussing an older consumer here, the product mix makes sense; smoking bud/flower more than likely seems harsh, and vaping is probably perceived the same way. The product mix also allows for discreet consumption. Remember that at least for now, this consumer has a difficult time shaking the stigma of cannabis.
*Hory conducted an online survey of adults aged 21 and older in August of 2017. Respondents fell into three categories: consumers who had purchased cannabis legally within 6 months, “heavy” consumers who consume cannabis at least a few times per week, and potential consumers who had not purchased cannabis within the past 6 months but planned to do so in the next 6 months.