High times: from joints to a lifestyle movement
Until recently, any mention of cannabis would conjure up images of college dorm rooms; hippy baby boomers with oversized Willie Nelson record collections; and hand-rolled joints. Not anymore. Cannabis is shedding its taboo reputation with rising legalisation for both recreational and medical use, and being repackaged for an upscale, millennial, urban, and increasingly female audience.
In June 2017, marijuana delivery startup Eaze conducted a study of its customers to gain insight into this expanding audience. The brand found that, in stark contrast to traditional stereotypes, the majority of consumers were well-educated and well-paid. Just over half of respondents held a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 49% made $75,000 or more per year. And, while 58% reported that they smoked every day, 91% had jobs. In both new markets and the popular imagination, stoner tropes such as 'lazy', 'unmotivated' and 'antisocial' are fading away.
In sync with this shift is a tidal wave of creativity, with cannabis forming the basis for new products, experiences, and networking groups. In fact, it’s helpful not to think of cannabis as a single vertical at all anymore. It is increasingly becoming an entire lifestyle industry, offering a slew of different uses from, yes, getting high, smoking artisanal marijuana with friends, to using CBD oil to treat anxiety or lighting a cannabis-scented candle - for its wonderful fragrance alone.
It’s also being positioned for different audiences, replacing a glass of chardonnay at the end of a long day or champagne at hip celebrity launches, and used at entrepreneur networking evenings. Key brand examples include Highly Devoted, a dating agency for cannabis lovers, and Mother & Clone, the microdosing cannabis nanosprays that guarantee instant effects but will fade in time for you to pick up the kids.
Entrepreneurs are incorporating cannabis concepts into hospitality, restaurants, hip new cocktail menus, wellbeing products, fashion lines, fragrance and beauty, finding ever more inventive uses for the products. And the trend is sure to continue - recreational cannabis use is currently legal in nine US states with more set to follow suit. According to research from the Arcview Group, the marijuana market could reach $22bn by 2020. The industry can be divided into areas including psychoactive varieties, CBD-oriented products, and hemp. It’s also diversifying into vaping products, edibles, sprays and other delivery systems that sit outside the traditional smoked varieties.
Wellbeing is a key area of activity and products are harnessing the medicinal properties of cannabis for everyday use. Elise, produced by Mineral Health, blends hemp stalks into a powder that can be consumed for 'peace of mind and body'. Aceso mixes CBD extracts with natural ingredients to make a powder that relaxes and calms the brain. It’s a parallel to the supplement industry, where edible and restorative dusts, made of superfoods, have taken hold among Goop acolytes.
Cannabis is also being positioned as the next beauty super ingredient. New York-based Herb Essntls is a line of 'high-performing skincare products' created from hemp seed oil, with clean, modern branding. Then there’s Crave, which uses hemp-derived CBD in high-end skincare products such as Alchemy Oil Lux Body Serum ($48 for 120ml) and Radical-C Serum ($60 for 30ml).
Travel and experience culture is another significant space. Here we’re seeing cannabis weddings, tea parties, Coachella pop-ups and themed cocktails. In August 2017, marijuana-focused consultancy American Green purchased the town of Nipton in California. The company intends to turn Nipton into a 'first-of-its-kind eco-tourism experience for conscious cannabis consumers,' according to chairman David Gwyther. Visitors will be able to shop dispensaries, tour a marijuana farm and visit pot-friendly coffee shops. In West Hollywood, plant-based Mexican restaurant Gracias Madre serves CBD-infused cocktails at $20 a pop.
Such is the buzz around the cannabis industry, in line with wider mainstream acceptance, that big name and traditional brands are no longer steering clear. In November 2017, The Standard hotel in Hollywood launched a partnership with cannabis brand Lord Jones. Guests at the high-end hipster favourite can shop an exclusive line of THC-infused candies. Long-established companies, including The Body Shop and Malin &amp; Goetz, are also now rolling out products that feature hemp oils.
What’s driving this renaissance? The answer to this lies in several key trends. There has been a significant rise in wellbeing as a consumer movement. This, in turn, has led to an expanded idea of what wellbeing includes, with the focus increasingly centred around diet, mindfulness, sleep and calm. Amid this, cannabis use - and CBD oil, in particular - is being presented as a tool for anxiety management, relaxation and spiritual support. Many millennials are consuming less alcohol or becoming teetotal, and cannabis is now seen as a replacement social recreational device as well as a way to unwind.
Cannabis has also been rapidly normalised by exposure in mainstream culture. Recent years have seen the rise of pro-pot media, from Broad City’s characters smoking bongs to HBO’s High Maintenance to Kathy Bates’s star turn as the owner of a Los Angeles dispensary in the Netflix series Disjointed.
The execution of retail and hospitality concepts by new-wave brands is also driving wider acceptance and adoption. Retail environments springing up in Los Angeles, Colorado and New York are sophisticated, sleek, and a world away from grungy associations, as showcased by the MedMen chain of Apple store-esque dispensaries opening in premium locations.
Watch this space: the cannabis lifestyle economy is only just beginning.
Lucie Greene is worldwide director of the Innovation Group and JWTIntelligence.com. The group recently published 'High Times: From Joints to a Lifestyle Movement - The Rise of the Cannabis Economy.'
See Contagious issue 55 for more on how the emerging cannabis sector is shedding its ‘stoner’ image by championing values that are vital to today’s customers: provenance, sustainability, transparency and gender equality.