Cannabis: Growth Engine Or Sideshow?

NEW YORK, NY, APRIL 20 -- Is cannabis the growth engine that thousands of brands have been dreaming of – or an enormous distraction that will suck up marketing dollars and attention, yielding little return? CBD seems to be the answer to every marketer’s dream – a true consumer sensation that can add ka-ching to everything from craft beer to gummy bears. But even this benign, THC-free cannabis product gives some brands the jitters.

How can brands know if cannabis is something they can safely monetize, and not just a mirage in the shape of a distant pile of gold?

First, let’s size the opportunity. According to MRI’s National Cannabis Study, 16% of Americans over 18 years of age are cannabis consumers -- that is 38 million adults nationwide. And 60% of current cannabis consumers say they will buy more cannabis products as legalization spreads.

Fifty-five percent of current cannabis consumers report using it for recreational purposes, 15% for medical reasons only, and 29% for both purposes. The most important cannabis-related benefits reported by consumers include relaxation, stress and anxiety reduction, calming and sleep inducing, pain relief, and creative inspiration.



But Americans still have significant hesitations about cannabis. One in three US consumers feels that communities will be less safe if cannabis is legalized, and concern exists around understanding the right doses and strains to use for different ailments.

To make smart decisions about today’s cannabis opportunities – and pitfalls – brands need to understand cannabis consumers and abstainers alike. After all, 35% of the US population are advocates for cannabis normalization but still do not consume it themselves. These Cannabis Cheerleaders, as we call them, could represent a powerful new cannabis market waiting to be opened.   

Here are just seven of the surprising insights that illuminate the connections between cannabis, consumers, and everyday brand categories – essential keys to understanding where the next cannabis goldmine may lie.  

Half (46%) of cannabis consumers say they have cut down on their alcohol use in favor of cannabis.

Many of those who actively support cannabis see it as less risky than alcohol, and would even prefer that their children consume cannabis rather than drink.  This has important implications for beverage brands thinking of entering the cannabis space.

Consumers who are highly supportive of cannabis normalization often have very different buying styles and attitudes from those who resist mainstreaming.

Cannabis Campaigners are more likely to buy natural items and brands that support a cause; but Weed Worriers – people who do not consume or favor legalization – tend to say that technology has little impact on their lives and that they would rather make something than buy it.

Cannabis consumers are avid movie-goers.  

Compared to average adults, cannabis consumers are 22% more likely to see a movie on its opening weekend, and 31% more likely to go to the movies once a week or more.

People who consume cannabis for medical reasons have a distinct demographic profile and different attitudes from general cannabis consumers.

Six million US adults currently qualify themselves as ”medical–only” cannabis consumers – a group that skews male, with a median age of 45 and lower household income than the average American. Four in 10 medical users (42%) say their use of cannabis depends on whether it’s legal – showing growth opportunity as laws evolve.

More than 35% of Cannabis Connoisseurs – the heaviest and most knowledgeable cannabis consumers – say they are likely to choose a vacation destination based on whether cannabis is legally available in that region.

Many cannabis consumers see it as part of a larger lifestyle – one that their friends are likely to share in. In fact one in 4 Americans is interested in some form of cannabis leisure & travel options.

Cannabis consumers are more likely to invest in self-care and embrace alternative medicine.

Among cannabis consumers, 10% have practiced yoga in the past 6 months (23% more likely than average US consumers), and 8% have taken part in an aerobics class (10% above average). In addition, almost half (46%) say they prefer alternative medical treatments over traditional medical practices.

Almost four in 10 cannabis consumers are parents – a fact that correlates with strong feelings about cannabis.

Just about three-quarters (72%) of cannabis consumers with children say they are open to talking to their kids about it. Nine out ten (91%) say they believe cannabis can be good for the mind and body – but 63% still have some reservations, saying that consuming cannabis improperly can be harmful.

To make the most of the cannabis opportunity, brands need to target their products and marketing with care – grounded in a clear understanding of the many different types of cannabis consumers.

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