Chart: Is marijuana already becoming a mainstream industry?

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Broader consumer acceptance of marijuana across North America signals that the nascent industry may soon take a place among mainstream industries ranging from cosmetics to nonalcoholic beverages.

A majority of respondents to a recent survey by Chicago-based consulting firm A.T. Kearney noted that their perception of mainstream companies would not change if the businesses became associated with cannabis.

And in most consumer product categories, more than a quarter of respondents said their perception of those companies would actually improve.

“This really speaks to the mainstreaming of cannabis, which, for the overall industry, I think is a positive thing,” said Nancy Whiteman, CEO of Boulder, Colorado-based edibles maker Wana Brands.

Ironically, one “sin” industry would take more of a hit to its reputation than other mainstream sectors that diversify into cannabis.

Alcohol companies – one of the most active sectors with regard to cannabis investment – had the highest negative response among consumers, with 18% saying association with marijuana would worsen their perception of the firms.

But the case of alcohol was more the exception than the rule.

“The survey clearly demonstrates the viability of the market for cannabis across multiple consumer segments,” said Randy Burt, a partner in A.T. Kearney’s consumer and retail practice.

Looking ahead, the survey results could spell change among long-established cannabis companies that helped pioneer the legal industry.

The reason: Innovation and new product development will be critical to the survival of cannabis brands.

Wana Brands, for example, launched a disposable vape line last month, a departure from its signature edibles. The disposable vaporizers could address a unique need in popular tourist markets where visitors might want to sample a product but not stock up on accessories to drag back in their suitcase.

“Innovation is the key in any industry,” Whiteman said. “Innovate or die, and I think companies in this industry understand innovation at a different level. They know what’s effective and what’s not effective.”

Alternately, as mainstream brands look to enter the cannabis industry, leading companies may seek to acquire expertise that already exists in marijuana companies – either through the recruitment of employees or acquisition of a business.