When really good weed is widely available, how does a business convince customers to buy theirs? The answer is branding, and for many companies, that means a focus on “wellness”.
Some cannabis companies combine the drug with various nutritional supplements and herbs – and ascribe benefits to the resulting products that aren’t necessarily real. These products target health-conscious consumers who are older and more predominantly female than cannabis’ core customer group: young men who want to get high.
Los Angeles, said to be the world’s largest cannabis market, is also the world capital of dietary restrictions. Various wellness-oriented brands infuse weed into the dietary fads, which arrive with the tides. One can buy gluten-free edibles, paleo edibles and cannabis-infused kombucha. Companies pair cannabis with ginseng to promise “focus” or melatonin to promise sleep.
Some companies offer strains like “kosher kush,” although whether religious Jews can consume cannabis is a complicated question. Other brands appeal to users who like to get high before they exercise. Over the course of the day, companies hope consumers might take various cannabis products as a substitute for both headache medicine and an after-work cocktail. And the drug’s effects are nebulous enough that it can plausibly work as both.
Meanwhile, for a few bucks, a smoothie shop will put in a few drops of the marijuana-derived chemical CBD, which doesn’t get people high, but enables companies to make a whole new set of promises. Whereas THC has discernible effects, CBD is essentially the concept of wellness in chemical form: it may be good for you, but it’s impossible to quantify how.
In his book, The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness, the leading cannabis activist and entrepreneur Steve DeAngelo writes that most cannabis use is for wellness. “Wellness includes sparking creativity, extending patience, promoting self-examination, awakening wonder, catalyzing laughter, facilitating friendship, and enhancing the sound of music or the feel of your lover’s skin.”
For many companies it also includes addressing ailments such as insomnia, anxiety, and pain. Do these companies deliver on their promises? It depends on who you ask, but few, if any, companies have meaningful data to support their claims. What’s clear is that whatever the drug’s benefits, promoting cannabis as a wellness product is a marketing strategy for bringing it into the mainstream.
The end of cannabis prohibition is a business school case study for the ages. Today in the US, well over 1,000 companies are vying to be among the last brand standing. For the winners, the prize is a permanent place in homes across the country, and perhaps much of the world.
It’s still early in the game. There are not yet any marijuana brands with a national US presence. It’s not even clear yet what will be the dominant ingestion method for legal weed.
For now, marijuana is still mostly associated with the not-especially-desirable demographic of young men without enough to do. The industry’s central mission is to reinvent this stigmatized and niche intoxicant as a mass market product.
To opponents, the industry is predatory, repackaging intoxication as wellbeing – and indeed it may all be an elaborate mechanism to help people rationalize their urge to get high.