How the Cannabis Industry, Plant, and Consumer have become essential to society and the advertising world.
By: Jim Baudino
Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has been impacting every major industry globally over the past few months, and only the essential services are allowed to operate during this time. This is to minimize exposure to slow the spread of infections and to keep as much of the economy as possible still running. Essential services like energy, healthcare, transportation, banking and the food supply chain are needed to keep the economy moving.
The one industry that has been deemed essential, has turned a few heads due to its polarizing nature…cannabis. Whether legal, or not, the cannabis industry has been an integral part of many societies, employing hundreds of thousands of people through the vast infrastructure and supply chain. During the start of the pandemic, along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, there was a significant increase in cannabis sales, with consumers stocking up on edibles and other cannabis products as the stay at home orders across the nation were put in place.
The cannabis industry is essential because the cannabis plant is essential. With 12% of US adults claiming they smoke (Gallup 2019), a growing number of the population uses cannabis for medicine and healing, with many using it as an alternative to drugs and alcohol. The cannabis consumer is also an essential part of the economy, and one that brands across many industries should be taking note of as they determine innovative ways to reach new audiences.
The Cannabis Industry Is Essential
Across the US, the cannabis industry has been deemed an essential business. Considering there were over 663,000 people in the US arrested for cannabis in 2018, the industry has come a long way for this to even be considered an appropriate topic. The US cannabis industry, with over $12B in legal sales in 2019, is expected to become a $30B+ industry by 2024 (Arcview Market Research).
More than a dozen states have decided that cannabis is an important staple in people’s lives during the pandemic, however, there are a few restrictions around this depending on the state. Some recreational retail outlets are deemed non-essential, while medical retail shops are exempt. For those cannabis retail businesses still open, many must limit themselves to delivery or takeout to maintain social distancing.
Denver mayor listed recreational retail outlets as nonessential, but quickly reversed the ruling after a major outcry. Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, made the decision to make recreational cannabis non-essential fearing that people from other states will be crossing the border and potentially infecting the state, further spreading the coronavirus.
Having the conversation about the cannabis industry being an essential business comes at a critical time in the legalization movement. Taking COVID-19 out of the picture, with the 2020 elections so close, anything that can support cannabis legalization will aid in overall federal legalization or a loosening in the many federal restrictions, like banking and taxation.
The Cannabis Plant Is Essential
Cannabis has been an important part of history for thousands of years. From its use in China as medicine in 2700 BC to its use in Chile for fiber in the 1500s, there have been a variety of roles that the cannabis plant has played. Even in North America, cannabis, in the form of hemp, was grown on plantations and used in rope, paper and clothing. President George Washington actually grew hemp on his plantation.
It has only been over the last 100 years that the cannabis plant has been demonized, having been placed on the US Schedule 1 Substance list. Politics and media created significant stigmas, however, within the last 25 years, since California first legalized cannabis medically in 1996, there have been significant strides made to better understand the plant and its benefits to society. Hemp, which is defined as cannabis having less than 0.3% THC, which is the psychoactive compound in the plant, has thousands of industrial uses, and has always been classified alongside it’s THC heavy counterpart, thus stunting the beneficial use of the plant and significant research around it.
Especially over the last five years, cannabis has been shedding its stereotypes and has continued to become legal across the globe. With medical cannabis legal in 33 states and recreational cannabis legal in 11 states, it’s only a matter of time before cannabis is legalized on a federal level. 66% of Americans support the federal legalization of recreational cannabis, which is up from 12% in 1970 (Gallup). Cannabis is being used by a significant number of people for help improving the qualities of life by reducing anxiety, improving sleep or reducing stress. While there has been significant anecdotal evidence of the benefits of cannabis, continued legalization and acceptance has allowed for the further research into the plant.
Hemp, which was removed from the Schedule 1 Substance list via the 2018 Farm Bill, allows for more liberal research and legal use of the hemp plant. CBD and other cannabinoids found in hemp, can now be legally extracted from hemp and distributed nationwide (pending any specific state laws against the use of CBD or other cannabinoids).
Patients such as Charlotte Figi, who recently passed away, used cannabis to significantly reduce her childhood seizures, being the inspiration for the cannabis brand, Charlotte’s Web.
Whether a daily toker or are new to cannabis, this should be a time for those who use cannabis to become more intimate with the plant. This is the perfect time of year to grow cannabis, with the typical season running from March to November. If you are in a legal state and can grow your own cannabis plants, now is the time. Whether the end product is dank enough to smoke, you will have gained a greater appreciation for the decades of blood, sweat and tears that farmers and industry pioneers have dedicated to provide you with legal, kind bud in whatever form you can imagine.
There are two main options when it comes to growing your own cannabis. You can use seeds or clones. Clones are clippings taken from a mother cannabis plant, and then grown into a new plant. There are pros and cons to each depending on your level of gardening prowess that you want to endure and how picky you are with the end product.
Seeds offer a much wider variety of strains and are more easily obtainable through seedbanks or your local dispensary. If you have time, as many of us do right now, then this would be the best way to go to fully understand the entire growing process. However, if you are strapped for time and can find quality clones that are healthy and have good genetics, the startup process can be much smoother than growing from seeds.
The Cannabis Consumer Is Essential
Not only is the cannabis plant and the larger industry essential, but so is the cannabis consumer. Cannabis is still a very stigmatized topic and a major social justice issue that those fighting for continued legalization can fully get behind. When users of cannabis see each other, there is an immediate bond created. Whether old or young, man or woman, cannabis users are together in the fight for full legalization.
Brands have a significant opportunity to leverage this consumer by supporting and speaking to this group. Not only your stereotypical types of brands like QSRs (ie, Jack in the Box) or snack foods (ie, Popchips), but also brands that use hemp in the production of clothing and industrial material. Brands need to be doing the research on how they can either integrate cannabis into their portfolio of products or services, or identify ways to connect with the cannabis consumer.
Brands and their agencies need to be thinking about how they can educate themselves and their teams about cannabis, and identify ways that they can reach this powerful demographic. Once cannabis is fully legalized in the United States will be too late. The time to strategize and build relationships with the cannabis consumer is now.
Want to learn even more about this essential industry? Enroll in our Cannabis Marketing Course today!