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New User Profiles

Jul 14, 2017 07:50AM ● Published by Leland Rucker

As American attitudes toward cannabis use continue to evolve, one enduring question remains unanswered: who are the people buying and consuming it? Are they young partiers looking for kicks? Middle- aged moms and dads reliving glory days? Old hippies coming in from the black market? All of the above? None of the above? A combined total of eight billion dollars will be spent on cannabis this year, but we know very little about who’s doing the spending.

Despite its dubious legality and legitimacy, millions of Americans have been using cannabis for years, of course. But since black-market dealers don’t conduct demographic studies of their customers, there was no way to collect that kind of info. In Colorado, where adult-use has been legal for about three-and-a-half years, legal sales have generated over $200 million in tax revenue. The state collects the money without knowing much about who the typical cannabis user is or why they use it.

We are beginning to get glimpses, though. BDS Analytics, a Boulder-based firm focused on cannabis market data and consumer insights, is in the midst of a survey of American attitudes toward marijuana in all 50 states, designed to help cannabis companies better understand their customers. Two states have just been completed: California and Colorado. BDS spoke to a thousand people in each who fell into one of three categories: “Users” who have consumed cannabis in the past six months; “Acceptors” who don’t consume themselves but are open to its use; and “Rejectors” who don’t use cannabis under any circumstances. Of the 1,000 surveyed, 600 were Users or Acceptors; 400 were Rejectors. The self-identified cannabis Users were asked lots of questions—how much they use, when they use, what they use it for, and where they buy it—along with the typical demographic inquiries about age, income, family, lifestyle, and other such things.

While I’m naturally skeptical of studies, this particular one has no particular bias. Rather, BDS has a credible interest in gathering reliable information that can help cannabis companies find out who their customers are and what they want.

“When I look at all this data, one thing that comes out at me as a branding person is that there is no cannabis consumer,” says BDS’s Linda Gilbert, who coordinated the study. “There are very many people doing it for very different reasons for very different benefits—and using many ways to consume it.”

That was a big takeaway for me, too. In general, the survey found that Users in both states are slightly more male than female, and though ages skew to the younger side, more than half are over 35 and many are college grads with higher-end incomes. Users also seem generally happier than both Acceptors and Rejecters. Most are comfortable with their lives and don’t mind that their friends, colleagues, and doctors know about their use. They don’t necessarily want their bosses to know though, which is understandable given that many companies still drug test for pot. Most feel that marijuana is less impairing than alcohol, and one in three Users and Acceptors say they have had negative experiences with cannabis.

Anyone who has hiked a mountain trail or ridden a bike while elevated knows that marijuana can be part of an active lifestyle. One out of every four Users in California said it’s part of their fitness routines, whether yoga, Pilates, or gym workouts. In Colorado, almost half use it while doing outdoor recreation or exercise, and more than 30 percent said they use it for yoga or Pilates. Perhaps that helps explain the current rise of elevated yoga classes and consumption-friendly gyms, and it might help further dispel the notion that pot turns people into couch potatoes.

Along with barbells and treadmills, Users incorporate cannabis into entertaining activities such as watching television, going to the movies, or fine dining. They like pairing it with chocolate and carbonated drinks, as well as beer, wine, and spirits. Thirty-five percent of Californians say they use it with craft beer, while a quarter say they use it when they go to clubs and bars.

The tired concept of “getting high,” popularized during the Richard Nixon/Cheech and Chong era and still a popular meme, continues to lose its caché (and I say good riddance). The biggest reasons given for cannabis use are for pain, stress relief, and relaxation. More Californians say they use it for medical purposes, which makes sense since the state hasn’t opened recreational stores yet. There are disagreements among Users and Rejecters about whether cannabis has medical properties, but about half of all respondents said they consider it medicine.

What this suggests is that there is a blurring of the concept of medical and recreational marijuana, perhaps due to nomenclature. Even people who buy from recreational stores are using it for medical reasons: to manage pain, as a sleeping aid, or to relax after a long day at work.

One statistic that stuck out is that the most frequent consumers are parents and Gen-Xers, the post-baby-boom generation aged 33-52. I wasn’t particularly surprised that, in both states, more than 60 percent of Users were parents, and it brings up an interesting scenario in the new normal: Mom and dad get home from work. Mom heads out to the garage for a few minutes while dad watches the kids. Mom comes back in smiling, and it’s dad’s turn. Dinner and the evening rituals commence.

And, as it turns out, parents who use cannabis worry about the same things that parents who don’t worry about: underage access to the products, how to determine whether a driver is impaired, and more safety and diligence in packaging and dosage of edibles.

Though the most common way to imbibe is still flower marijuana rolled into joints or smoked from bongs and water pipes, even that is changing. Many people now get their cannabis through edibles, vaporizers, creams, salves, lotions, patches, and even suppositories for various conditions.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the findings is the acceptance of cannabis use by other people—even Rejectors. Part of this is likely because cannabis has been legal in both states longer than most. In California, 93 percent of all those surveyed, including Rejecters, agree there should be some form of legal marijuana. Three-fourths believe it has medical benefits, especially for relieving pain, and even more than half of Rejecters would want a family member who’s ill to be able to use it if it eased suffering. Those acceptance numbers are even higher in Colorado, where even 80 percent of Rejecters feel it should be legal, and half believe it has some medical value.

Perhaps this is the real takeaway: The new normal doesn’t look much different from the old one. As more people notice the sky isn’t falling in states where cannabis is legal, the madness over marijuana’s perceived dangers continues to fade. It’s been a long road. Cannabis has been demonized since at least 1937. Given all the years of fake news, I’m encouraged that even Rejecters are embracing the idea that adults should have the right to choose to use a plant that seems to offer so much to so many.
Features, Cannabis News
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