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On The Brink of a Boom: The Business of Weed

The marijuana industry is expected to outperform the growth of smartphones by 2018. Yes, you heard that right. Weed and its industry is growing large and fast, estimated to hit over $2 billion in sales in 2014 and become a $10 billion market in four years, depending on individual state legalization. With this budding (pun intended) growth, everyone from librarians to rappers to MBAs are getting in on the business. Millennials are in many ways leading the charge in the mainstreaming of weed, and 65% of Millennials ages 18-29 favor the legalization of pot. Our most recent Millennial survey fielded at the end of April found that 31% of Millennials ages 14-32 say they have experimented with marijuana, and that number rises to 35% for Millennials 18 and older. 31% of Millennials also feel that pot is not harmful to their health and well-being—over double the number who feel that fast food is not harmful to them. As weed consumption becomes more widespread in usage and acceptance, businesses will have to re-invent their rules and start making news ones in order to appeal to new consumer segments. Trends in weed have begun to mirror innovations in Millennial marketing, and we’ve identified the sectors of the weed industry on the brink of a boom:

Mary Jane Living in Luxury
We can admit that weed has a bad reputation. The stoner/slacker culture has dominated much of the perception of weed culture for a long time, but as corporate suits come out of the woodwork as both heavy investors and enthusiastic consumers, the market for high-end weed and its ancillary products is becoming more clear. Haute Vape is a 14-karat-gold, diamond-encrusted vaporizer specifically for the “stiletto stoners,” hoping to see distribution in stores like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. Weed’s OG Snoop Lion has released the G Pen Herbal Double G Series of vaporizers, packaged similarly to sophisticated cologne and etched with design details. These products are being created to both elevate smoking’s appearance and encourage cleaner inhalation methods like vaporizing. Meanwhile, the experience of buying weed is no longer a back-alley transaction in a growing number of states and dispensaries are transforming into the “Apple store[s] of pot,” marked by clean, white, modern architecture and interiors. These design touches are important to Millennials, and are helping to change the image of pot smokers and sellers alike.
Innovation in Edibles
The thriving edibles market for marijuana might seem like a given, but conventional food items like cakes and brownies are hardly the only items on the menu. Weed and food pairings are top-of-mind for food industry innovators, whether to aid novice smokers and medicinal patients in achieving a controlled buzz or to curb munchies once the high has kicked in. The food world has served up music inspired menus and vend-o-vations before that appeal to the eclectic and adventurous tastes of Millennials, so the marijuana industry is following suit to apply these tactics to edibles. Appealing to high-end tastes, local sushi joint Hapa Sushi in Colorado created a pairing menu serving strains alongside sashimi and curry dishes, much like a wine pairing. On the other end of the dining spectrum, food delivery service Eat24 (which recently made headlines thanks to the company’s break-up letter to Facebook) introduced a partnership with a San Francisco dispensary to name 10 strains of weed based on favorite food items like “Blackberry Ice Cream Kush,” “Silver Sour Chicken,” and “Pizza OG.” The founder and CEO of popular edibles source Dixie Elixir and Edibles says he is “getting crushed by demand” for infused products, and vending machines built on weed convenience are becoming more popular, like the Medbox which serves savory snacks to prescribed users. Even Girl Scout cookies are getting in on the action: one savvy 13-year-old chose to set-up shop outside a dispensary (with permission from her parents) and sold 117 boxes in just two hours. The pairing and infusing of food products with weed is an area ripe for innovation within the industry, and could be the start of an entirely new food market.

Women Are Toking Up
Millennials are working towards equality on all fronts, and the marijuana industry is no exception. There has been a significant shift in the perception of weed culture since its legalization in certain states, and we know that Millennials don’t consider getting high that big a deal. Yet female smokers have consistently been stereotyped—as Claire Howorth wrote for Elle, “none of the images of recreational cannabis consumers and activists available to women, including the stiletto stoner, the slacker schlubster, or the hot pot babe, speak to most women.” Not all is equal in the land of green either, where women are still trying to find their place in California’s bro-filled weed scene. Following around weed delivery service Dope Girls L.A. revealed that “more guys are still paying for it or ordering it” but also that “girls love the bud.” Their company is working to change the hot girl stoner perception by educating themselves and their consumers on various strains and supporting other female owned businesses that sell edibles and accessories. There is a clear space for women to make their own statement in the weed industry, and to create a culture of products and customer service that addresses what women want from weed, whether as a source of wellness, meditation, or an occasional indulgence like a glass of wine at the end of a long day. Millennial females are already more inclined to talk about their consumption since weed is considered cool, and, as this “supercut of the best pot-smoking ladies on film” indicates, there is room for females to start blowing smoke on long-held stereotypes.