The Impact of More Savvy Consumers on the Cannabis Marketplace

By Chris Kudialis on June 2, 2019

X-Games medalist Torey Pudwill wowed a crowd of more than 200 spectators on hand as he performed one skateboard trick after another on a halfpipe outside a tribal cannabis dispensary. Less than 200 yards away, rapper Petey Pablo stepped up to a makeshift stage and banged off a setlist that included former Billboard chart-toppers “Freek-A-Leek” and “Goodies.”

The 4/20 festivities at NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, located less than one mile from downtown Las Vegas, were as extravagant as any event put on by the 18-month-old cannabis store in its brief history. But missing at NuWu’s 4/20 celebration this year were the long lines of customers, lengthy consultations and logistical hiccups that contributed to occasional angst and delays at last year’s 4/20 celebration.

“People pretty much know what they want by now, so there’s a lot less explaining and education of the products required from our side,” said Chris Spotted Eagle, chairman of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, which owns the 15,800 square-foot dispensary. “We’re also better prepared to get customers in and out the door, and we’re seeing lesser waiting times as a result.”

Spotted Eagle was one of hundreds of dispensary owners in cannabis-legal states celebrating their second to fifth 4/20 holidays last month. Interviewees in Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Washington D.C. all claimed a similar efficiency on the ends of both buyers and consumers, with some store owners reported customer growth of as much as 30 percent from last year.

A January report from Arcview Market Research estimated global cannabis sales would reach $16.9 billion in 2019, up from an estimated $12.2 billion in 2018, $9.5 billion in 2017, and $6.9 billion in 2016. Among the reasons for the increase in projected sales, besides the expanding number of legal recreational markets in the U.S. and Canada, was “public familiarity” with the plant. Previous experience buying the plant legally has naturally led to consumers becoming more aware of what’s for sale, how to purchase it and where to find the best deals in cannabis-legal states and Canada, the report added.

Helena Martinez, a 29-year-old Las Vegas resident, was among the spectators in the crowd cheering as Pudwill put on a skateboarding show last Saturday. A legal recreational cannabis buyer since Nevada launched recreational sales on July 1, 2017, Martinez said she stopped by NuWu for her 4/20 shopping so she could also see the renowned skateboarder perform. Had NuWu not had the entertainment, Martinez said she would have instead shopped at Essence, another local dispensary with lower prices.

“I guess in a way I am paying to see this,” she said of the free skateboarding show, "because I spent more on the same flower I could have bought for $10 cheaper somewhere else.”

The competition for customers in Las Vegas was felt by David Murphy, who attended The Source dispensary for pre-rolls that cost a penny for customers who bought more than $25 worth of product. Murphy was also among the 1,500-plus buyers that day who were entered into a raffle for two ounces of free cannabis, though he didn’t win. After buying a discounted tube of edible pucks and some flower at The Source, he drove 10 minutes to Exhale Nevada for a buy-one-get-one-for-a-penny deal on vape cartridges.

Consumer awareness of legal cannabis has required marijuana stores to step their game up as well. Besides the deals and entertainment, dispensary owners reported going to extra lengths to reduce the size of their lines and discounting popular products. The most commonly marked down items included vapes and flower, though about half of the interviewed dispensaries also marked down select edibles products. Most stores offered deals for customers who spent a specified quantity at the store, regardless of the products purchased.

For NuWu, that efficiency extended to its 24-hour drive-thru. When it opened in late 2017, and through last year’s 4/20 celebration, Spotted Eagle said the average customer waiting time was five to seven minutes. By this year’s 4/20, customers had an average waiting time of 45 seconds. The tribal chairman credited both consumers and workers at his store for “knowing the drill by now.”

“I think both our buyers and our staff are more efficient,” he explained. “Everyone is a little more versed in cannabis, and we feel more confident that we know how to make buying it a more smooth and simple process.”

Management at Wild West Emporium in southeast Portland said that despite a record 1,300 transactions made at the dispensary last month, lines of customers waiting outside the door did so for no more than 15 minutes before entering the purchasing area. A Wild West representative credited improved efficiency for the dispensary’s third 4/20 sales to the store’s successful day.

In Denver, Native Roots Wellness celebrated its fifth 4/20 as a recreational legal state. Since 2014, customer count has increased each year, said dispensary manager Jordan Wagner. While the increase from 2018 to 2019 was only 2 percent, Wagner said each year feels less crowded because most people are in-and-out in less than 10 minutes.

The Mile High City was one of a small number of major metropolitan areas with years of legal recreational cannabis, and these cities have become so comfortable with the end of prohibition that they’re becoming a 4/20 destination for cannabis-friendly events even away from the dispensaries.

By 4:30 p.m. on 4/20, a Carl’s Jr. location at 4050 Colorado Blvd. in Denver sold out of 1,000 CBD-infused hamburgers that it debuted for the cannabis holiday, said regional representative Alex McConnell. The burger, named the CheeseBurger Delight, featured two beef patties with the fast-food chain’s Santa Fe sauce, pepper jack cheese and jalapeños infused with hemp-based CBD-oil. It cost $4.20.

Seattle debuted the first-annual SPLIFF Film Fest, an amateur film festival dubbed “for stoners, by stoners.” The more than 250 video entries in the festival could be no longer than four minutes and 20 seconds and was encouraged to exhibit the positive effects of using the plant. Winning entries included Munchie Massacre, which explored various methods for treating the post-cannabis munchies, and Good Game Bud, a clip about two friends trying to smoke an entire joint on a couch together without ashing it.

In Washington D.C., nearly 20,000 attendees at the National Cannabis Festival listened to live music sets by Ludacris and Action Bronson under clear, 70-degree skies. Cannabis advocates from across the U.S. used the occasion to promote awareness of the political and social issues plaguing the nascent industry, most notably the fact that cannabis is still federally illegal.

Photo credit: Elena Kulikova.

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