Dear Cannabis, Take A Page From Tobacco (Part I)
Leafly recently published a list of the top cannabis trending strains of 2019 and the top ten strains in California. In no particular order, they include names like Original Glue, Gelato, GMO Cookies, Watermelon, Purple Punch, Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, Banana Split, Sherbert, Wedding Cake, Mimosa and Granddaddy Purple.While I think these names are catchy, it also shows a lack of creativity and projects immaturity for an industry touting the benefits of cannabis and trying to be taken seriously. My reaction was that this will bring unwanted attention from multiple stakeholders; from political parties to governmental organizations to activist groups to Pharma. Many of the names stood out to me for their potential appeal to youth. As we’ve learned from the tobacco space, as pressure mounts, this tends to lead to government intervention resulting in unfavorable treatment in the form or regulation, excessive taxing or even outright ban.
Youth-appealing marijuana strain names and CBD brand names are just one contributing factor setting this up for government intervention leading to increased hurdles to federal legalization. Other factors include rampant industry-wide quality control issues, poor age verification protocols, irresponsible retailing and social media practices.
On the way to legalizing non-medical marijuana, states are facing regulation challenges quite different from the early days of alcohol and tobacco marketing: Social media allows cannabis brands to reach a new level of engagement and interaction with youth. A study co-authored by Boston University’s School of Public Health researchers finds that one in three youth in states with legal recreational cannabis engages with cannabis brands on social media. The study also shows that this engagement goes hand-in-hand with use: Adolescents who liked or followed marijuana marketing on social media were five times more likely to have used marijuana over the past year compared to those who did not, and adolescents who reported a favorite brand were eight times more likely.
From research conducted by High Yield Insights, underage usage has been identified as a key hurdle for the industry to tackle. Slightly more than 40% of current cannabis consumers and 33% of cannabis industry employees believe that underage usage could derail future legalization efforts, cited as frequently as public usage and the current political climate. Every indication from local, state and federal agencies is that they are actively trying to curb underage usage of tobacco, while also starting to understand underage usage of cannabis.
In time, pressure will mount, regulation will come, bad players will be weeded out (pun intended). The question is: what proactive steps should the industry take to endure short-term pain for long-term gains. I will tackle some of them in Dear Cannabis Part II.
After a successful 20-year career in the tobacco industry, I founded Lypper LLC, a provider of rigorously age verified tobacco user demographic and brand preference information for marketing and marketing research. Lypper helps brands accelerate awareness and trial among adult tobacco and cannabis consumers online and in convenience stores. Feel free to contact me with questions at Fernando.Pascual@Lypper.com