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From Sack To Shelf – Marijuana’s Third Wave

Spring is here and weed is in the air. Literally and metaphorically speaking, cannabis is everywhere we turn. What was once an illegal and underground business has entered into a new era. While on a national level the conversation remains in the court of Jeff Sessions, on the state level we’re seeing a flex of sovereign rights to overrule the law of the land. Shipments still can’t cross state borders, but the merchandise from producers is no longer hurriedly stuffed into ziplocks, it’s on the shelves in dispensaries all over the country.

This transition from the sack to the shelf has started an entirely new race. The first wave came with the farming of marijuana, and the second was the medical modernization and distribution of the commodity. The third wave, occurring now, is the branding of the products that fuel cannabis consumption. Now that there are retail distribution centers, the territorial networks of drug dealers are no longer as effective. In turn, this encourages more vendors which fosters competition. In 29 states consumers aren’t forced to buy whatever they can get from a smoke filled apartment, they have options. Now the cannabis brands have to vie for their customers attention just like the rest of the corporate world, and they’re rolling out some pretty rad packaging to show off their market savvy.

San Francisco based Bloom Farms is playing to the boutique hipster market. They boast “single origin” oils, a classic value add from the coffee aficionado space. Bloom Farms doesn’t stop there, they employ word play for their pen products as well, calling them “highlighters.” Snoop Dogg, never to be left out of the cannabis conversation, has launched Leafs by Snoop.  The line boasts dazzling packaging and the name is a comedic nod to longtime collaborator Dr. Dre’s “Beats by Dre.” Marley Naturals have a built in brand awareness and a definite head start over many of their competitors. At the very sight of the name on the label they’re able to take advantage of the magnitude of the Marley brand.

This new market is not only for smoking. The edible market is a cresting green wave making up many of the thousands of cannabis brands flooding the nascent market. Prepare also to see tons of cannabis infused dining experiences. With any food products the interaction with the FDA adds an extra layer of regulation to the product, not unlike the alcohol industry’s return from prohibition under the watchful eye of  the ATU, the fromer moniker of the modern ATF. The variety of products is driving a booming legal marijuana industry. What began as a $9B annual business domestically in 2017 is projected to grow more than 400% to in excess of $47B by 2027.

So, what does the market look like at 5X the current size?  Who becomes the 800-pound gorilla in this market? MedMen, a multi-million dollar chain of dispensaries certainly has the potential. They are shaping the future of the cannabis space with their efforts to destigmatize the industry while simultaneously migrating the west coast centric industry to the east coast. They are experts at creating a great customer experience. They recently opened an Apple store-esque medical dispensary right on 5th Avenue in New York, their 4th in the state. It’s companies like this one who push the boundaries of how we will both perceive and interact with the cannabis industry that will win big as the green machine continues to overtake the country and the world.

High Times has long been a brand ubiquitous with weed but the list is growing. Now there are strong brands from flower tycoon Moon Rocks to Kandypens and Pax revolutionizing the vaporizer. There are even brands like Garden Society with a distinct focus on marketing to women, and this is just the beginning. Whether you smoke or not, be prepared for a future where grabbing a case of Bud Light or a bottle of wine at the grocery store is as commonplace as finding your favorite joints at the mall.

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