Last week, we wrote about how some medical marijuana companies in Colorado decided to target the recreational crowd for the first time on 4/20 in light of cannabis legalization, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to begin tapping a new market.
We got a first-hand look at both the risks and rewards of this strategy over the weekend. Events tied to 4/20 in Denver showed the cannabis business community that:
#1. The market for the recreational use of marijuana is unquestionably massive, as tens of thousands of users converged downtown for a rally and, separately, another 10,000-plus at the first-ever US Cannabis Cup held about two miles away. Related concerts and other events drew thousands more. The companies that can effectively market to this crowd are in line for some major growth in the years to come, in part because…
#2. Recreational users are extremely excited about legalization and, just as importantly, willing to spend money. Cannabis Cup attendees – a recreational-use minded, mostly 20-something crowd with a slight advantage toward males over females – seemed pleased and happy to be there once they got inside, eagerly engaging with each other and with exhibitors. All the vendors appeared to be doing a brisk business, even those at the far reaches of the exhibit hall.
However, cannabis businesses are in for some challenges because…
#3. Competition will be fierce and marketing will be challenging. Exhibitor and vendor tables at the Cannabis Cup were sold out well in advance. Vendors offered a broad range of goods and services, from clothing to home-growing and home-extraction equipment to paraphernalia and edibles. Reaching adult users through traditional channels will be difficult – in part because of expected restrictions on marketing to under-age users, much like cigarette manufacturers have faced in recent years. Vendors were going all-out to jockey for attention (see next point below) and there were many of the same types of exhibitors at the event, particularly head shops, merchandise vendors and hydroponics equipment providers.
Aside from competition, cannabis businesses focusing on the adult-use market could experience setbacks because…
#4. Professionalism and legitimacy will likely prove elusive for some time. For one, there were some noticeable hiccups at the Cannabis Cup. The sheer number of people – and the lack of crowd control – at the event prevented attendees from flowing freely around the venue. Some exhibitors were sold tables that didn’t in fact exist, leaving organizers to scramble for solutions. What’s particularly surprising is that the logjam was entirely predictable. Tickets and exhibitor tables to the Cannabis Cup sold out weeks ago, and there has been much buzz and anticipation about the event in its run-up.
Additionally, the crowd at times lived up to its reputation. The first-aid tent did a brisk business assisting attendees who had over-consumed, and the venue guidelines about where consumption was allowed were unclear, and thus largely ignored. This could reflect poorly on exhibitors that have built a solid, professional reputation in the medical marijuana space and are now attaching their brands to this crowd.
Lastly, one stereotypical marijuana marketing tactic was on full display: Half-naked girls peddling bongs and pipes. Not exactly the best image for a business still trying to gain legitimacy with the masses.
The industry’s reputation will also take a hit because…
#5. A shooting at the 420 rally downtown will give anti-marijuana advocates another reason to bash the industry. Thankfully, the direct injuries inflicted on the three people and one animal hit – as well as the secondary injuries naturally sustained when a large crowd scatters quickly – were not life-threatening. However, the stories hitting the mainstream press about the annual day of celebration and activism to legalize cannabis were dominated by the search for suspects, the aerial video of rally-goers streaming from the park immediately following the incident and the conditions of the victims.
Even though these types of incidents unfortunately occur at all types of events these days – including Denver’s summer jazz festival last year – and are not necessarily reflective of the gathering’s purpose, it will no doubt hurt legalization efforts at a critical time. Everyone should be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the shooting happened at the open-air park with no fencing, rather than at the jam-packed, enclosed and chaotic Cannabis Cup.
In a nutshell, the potential for this market is huge, as we all know. The challenges will be to exude professionalism to help spread legalization and win over the public, market effectively to beat out the competition, and convince those outside of the target market that the downsides associated with legalizing marijuana for adult use will be worth it.
Other top stories in MMJ Business Daily last week:
Photos by Cassandra Farrington