By Tony C. Dreibus
With 2014 being the first year of legal medical marijuana in several states and recreational cannabis in others, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that products containing small amounts of THC ranked as some of the biggest sellers at dispensaries and retail shops this year.
Lower-potency edibles were particularly popular in recreational markets as the industry drew many first-timers and those who hadn’t consumed cannabis in years, while products with high levels of CBD were also in demand nationwide, according to owners and managers of dispensaries and retail shops.
“A lot of these are people who haven’t smoked since college or not at all, and now that it’s legal” they’re trying cannabis again, said Jessa Lewis, a general manager at Dockside Cannabis in Shoreline, Washington State.
What else was popular in 2014? Edibles in general – including those aimed at niche areas of the market – as well as strains and infused products with high-CBD content, one-hitters and vaporizers, and even cannabis-infused treats for pets.
Here’s a closer look at some top sellers in 2014.
Edibles in Smaller Doses
Marijuana-infused products with smaller serving sizes and clearly defined individual doses that allow users to regulate how much marijuana they ingest also flew off the shelves in both recreational and medical cannabis markets.
Ten-serving brownies and perforated chocolate bars that can all be easily broken into individual treats have been popular at the Breckenridge Cannabis Club in Colorado, said Richela Neet, the store’s compliance manager.
Auntie Dolores, a San Francisco-based edibles producer that’s been in business for six years, said demand for these types of edibles is so strong that most of the company’s new products in the future will be individually packaged, because “they tend to sell very well.”
“Patients are able to dial in their dosage a bit” with packages that contain several smaller edibles, said Julianna Carella, co-owner of Auntie Dolores.
While marijuana consumption is becoming more mainstream and increasingly accepted by the public, many people – including patients – still don’t tell their friends or family that they use cannabis. A sizable segment of the market base is therefore gravitating towards less-conspicuous ways to consume, leading to a huge boost in demand for edibles in general.
“That’s the draw to edibles – they’re the most discreet way of” consuming cannabis, Carella said.
With that increase in demand has come growth in the types of edibles on the market – from low-calorie goodies to those made with premium ingredients.
Working in the industry for many years, Carella heard a constant refrain that there were no healthy infused edibles, so she decided to make some.
Now, her company’s gluten-free and vegan products have found solid footing in the industry.
“People were saying ‘there are too many sugary edibles, how about something vegan or gluten free,'” she said. “So we started to develop products other companies hadn’t started creating yet. We somehow carved out a niche as a healthy gourmet edibles company.”
In some of the nation’s newest medical marijuana markets, patients are looking for cannabis that doesn’t pack a huge psychotropic punch.
At Thames Valley Relief, a dispensary in Uncasville, Connecticut, strains with high CBD content have been popular, said Laurie Zrenda, a pharmacist and owner of the dispensary.
The dispensary doesn’t yet sell edibles, as they’re not available from any of the four growers in the state. So Thames Valley Relief has thus far only provided some tinctures that can go under the tongue or be mixed into a hot liquid – that’s so far been the preferred option – and some waxes.
“There’s definitely a market for the high-CBD strains,” Zrenda said.
In Washington State, popular strains among rec customers include those with higher concentrations of CBD, including Cantaloupe Haze, Lavender and Blueberry. “Those are really approachable strains that newer people are gravitating toward,” Lewis of Dockside Cannabis said.
Customers are also interested in smaller delivery devices. Small one-hitters are popular as many of the people who are finding their way into recreational shops and dispensaries want to remain discreet, said Neet of Breckenridge Cannabis Club.
Vape pens have also been “pretty popular” but classics such as small bowls with carbs have topped customer lists, said Neet, whose customers tend to be older, from 40 to 65 years old, and mostly tourists.
“The older people who aren’t skiing are coming by to see us,” she said. “It’s a lot of old-school closet smokers who haven’t been able to have a public conversation” about marijuana.
Bongs were a less-popular seller than the smaller items because people may not want to be seen walking home with a giant piece of glass.
At Dockside in Washington, easy-to-use, smaller pipes also have been popular, general manager Lewis said. Elixirs have also become a go-to product for many people because they taste good and it’s easy to control cannabis intake, she said.
“We have a lot of those flower vape pens and we’re really starting to move those,” Lewis said. “Especially a lot of first-time smokers are looking for those because it’s small, portable and discreet.”
Auntie Dolores’ Carella said an item that’s been selling well, and will likely “be really big” in 2015, is a dog treat that contains CBD only and isn’t psychoactive.
She admits “a lot of people raise their eyebrows” when she mentions cannabis-infused dog food, but pet owners seem to understand after she explains how they’re made.
“The goal is not to intoxicate the pet, but to treat the diseases such as separation anxiety and hip dysplasia and arthritis – all the things a human would use it for,” she said. “It’s not going to get your pet high.”
Tony Dreibus can be reached at Tonyd@mjbizmedia.com