Until recently, cannabis operated in the margins of culture and was often dismissed as a fringe industry.
While most businesses closed in the name of public safety amid the Covid-19 crises, a select few were deemed essential businesses and allowed to stay open. That list included health care providers, law enforcement agencies, grocery stores, pharmacies and cannabis dispensaries.
After years of stigmatization, this essential designation brings a long-overdue legitimacy to the cannabis industry and its consumers. Today, a vast majority of the U.S. population has access to some form of legal cannabis or CBD. It can be found in thousands of products, from beauty to beverages to pet products. And as local governments look to recoup lost tax revenues created by Covid-19 shutdowns, cannabis legalization and consumption will accelerate across the country.
So, who is the modern cannabis consumer and how can engaging with them benefit your brand?
Cannabis consumers defy stereotypes
The cannabis consumer you might remember from the movies was often portrayed as a couch potato. However, this lazy stoner stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.
Today, people of all lifestyles and life stages consume cannabis and CBD, making up one of the world's largest and fastest-growing consumer groups. According to MRI-Simmons, it’s 55 million people strong, or 22% of the total population. This is a 38% increase from 2018.
The MRI-Simmons research digs deeper into the demographics of the cannabis consumer and reveals a few key details. First, over half of cannabis consumers are female (51%), and 63% are married. Second, the median age for cannabis consumers is 37 and a little under half are parents. This is a financially healthy group—the median household income rings in at $73,000.
And, contrary to popular belief, this is an active group. They over-index on a range of leisure activities like gaming, weightlifting, bowling, basketball, dancing and painting. They are also open-minded and more likely to be risk-takers or change brands for the sake of variety. Perhaps most importantly, they are socially conscious and expect brands to support social causes.
Finding synergies with the cannabis consumer
Common ground already exists between these cannabis consumers and traditional categories. For example, brightfield Group found that cannabis and alcohol are consumed together more often than apart during leisure activities, whether at concerts or just hanging out with friends. Insights like that are important for marketers of craft beer brands who might want to engage with CBD or cannabis-infused beverage drinkers to drive trials of a new beer launch. Other industries are finding similar synergies—and fast. Here are just a few examples:
Beauty: Search for CBD on Sephora.com has increased 1000x since 2018, according to Sephora’s VP of skin-care merchandising.
Grocery: CBD consumers are more likely to buy organic, natural and gluten-free foods, making them a valuable audience for wellness brands and large grocery chains like Whole Foods.
Entertainment: Leading self-reported THC usage occasions—right before bed, relaxing at home, playing video games and listening to music—align with key media moments.
Retail: Consumers who choose THC sativa strains—known for their uplifting and energy-increasing properties—also tend to enjoy the outdoors, making them an attractive audience for camping gear and outdoor outfitters like REI.
Fitness: CBD consumers often use topicals and tinctures to relieve post-workout muscle pain, with more than 30% applying before or after yoga or a workout, according to the Brightfield Group. And given that cannabis consumers over-index active lifestyle interests like weightlifting, gyms and fitness brands like Peloton should consider targeting them in their next marketing campaign.
It’s clear that cannabis is no longer niche. Instead, it’s becoming an essential part of consumers’ daily lives and routines, creating new opportunities for brands in almost every consumer category to breathe new life into ad targeting and messaging strategies.
*Originally authored for Adweek.