I’m finally off work, sufficiently exhausted and ready to enjoy a nice, relaxing night at home. I stop at the local grocery store to pick up a well-earned six pack that’s sure to help me unwind after a particularly stressful day. There isn’t a bartender there to help me. I don’t experience an awkward, almost illegal feeling as I skim the aisle. It’s a boring, relatively mundane experience. Thoughtless even, which is perfect considering I’ve spent the last eight hours thinking. I’m all thought out. I notice some well known, popular brands, but there are plenty of smaller brands I’ve never heard of so I take out my phone and look them up. They all have easy to read packaging, legitimate and pleasing websites and, with little continued consideration or additional hesitation, I select a beverage, pay, and make my way out the door.
if only buying cannabis was like that.
I consider myself a relatively new cannabis user. Other than the small number of times I was exposed to marijuana in college or high school, I’m a “newbie”; less than informed about strains and THC levels and everything in between. I’m a married, middle class professional mother of three, rediscovering this new world of cannabis as both a patient and a consumer. And I am not alone. My demographic represents more than half of one of the fastest growing segments of the cannabis consumer market today. I’m part of a large group of people that are now supplementing their glass of wine or bottle of beer at the end of the day, with something more. We’re either looking to cannabis to accompany our end-of-day rituals, or relieve lingering aches and pains we’ve earned over the years. And we don’t want our purchasing experience to be anything more than a trip to the store for a reliable product.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found that in the cannabis space. Yet. With the legalization of medical cannabis use now in 23 states, and recreational adult use in Washington, Colorado and Oregon, there has been an explosion of cannabis infused products. The comely joint, glass pipe or beer can bong have all been supplanted by a plethora of plant products and accessories, specifically targeting the discerning consumer. Consumers and patients can now access gourmet cannabis infused edibles, drinkables, salves, extracts and more, to be applied inside and outside of the body. Which is all well and good and very exciting, except it makes for an unpredictable consumer experience. For the most part, a trip to the local dispensary or recreational store is an adventure in discovery. No two dispensaries are likely to carry the same assortment of products. There is rarely any information about the product that you’re buying, often the print on the packaging is tiny, and for my “over-the-hill” eyes, illegible.
If you’re buying flower or an extract, the packaging may provide a strain name, a cannabinoid breakdown by percentage, a laboratory label if tested, and some unverifiable claims about product purity or how the product may make you feel. Budtenders are usually more than happy to provide guidance when asked, but for the most part I – and others I’ve spoken with before writing this piece – have found that while very knowledgeable about cannabis, the average budtender won’t typically possess any information, beyond the anecdotal, about specific products they sell. Additionally, their experience with a specific product may vary from yours, making any information they give you biased and completely based on their own body’s reaction to the product. In other words, you’re rolling the dice each and every time you try something new.
Before buying and consuming, you have no way to really predict what “it” will be like. Will you feel mellow or excited? Will you feel high or not and, if so, for how long? Your experience lies with the budtender recommending the product to you, not with the manufacturer or brand of the product. This trial-and-error approach is nothing short of an inconvenience; a bit like “business as it used to be”, where the budtender effectively replaces the dealer. For example, in my case, it has taken several truly unpleasant experiences with edibles to determine that a) I am a light weight where THC is concerned and b) I should try a different delivery mechanism for my medicine. I am still working to calibrate and it has been all self-experimentation combined with a lot of research. And for new cannabis consumers, this “self-experimentation” is in sharp contrast with what they’re looking for, used to, and expect. When they go to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer at the grocery store, they know what they are getting. They know that a glass of wine will feel a certain way and which brand will pair nicely with their evening meal. Honestly, not knowing what to expect is turning a lot of consumers off.
One bad experience might be enough to turn a possible consumer away from cannabis altogether, in fact, potentially turning them into a detractor of legalization, and that is not what the cannabis community wants to see happen. To preserve our fragile edge and not provide additional weapons to the legalization opposition, we need to put in extra effort to keep public opinion on our side. One way to do that is to ensure that the new consumers have a positive, mundane, boring experience with cannabis and the cannabis businesses they encounter.
to ensure a better consumer experience:
- For plant products, provide clear labeling about cannabinoid and terpene content, strain potency, verified by a reputable testing lab (a whole other aspect of this worth discussing)
- For accessories, provide clear labeling and “how to” information
- Don’t make unsubstantiated claims
- Make consumer product information available at dispensaries and recreational stores
- Develop a website with information about the product
- Create guidelines for dosing based on data (because… science)
- Design responsible packaging for edibles to make dosing easier and safe (e.g. don’t pack 1000 mg of THC into an indivisible 1 inch square piece of chocolate without a word of warning to the uninitiated)
If we are to successfully legitimize cannabis and solidify our hard gains legalizing cannabis, we need to work as businesses to make the cannabis consumer buying experience mundane, ho-hum, and as boring as running to the corner store to grab a six pack of beer.
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