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BDSA Consumer Insights: Who is the cannabis consumer of tomorrow? How to convince hesitant non-consumers to give cannabis a chance

Attracting dedicated cannabis consumers to your brand is not enough. To succeed in the increasingly competitive cannabis industry, brands and retailers MUST have a strategy to win and retain that elusive creature: the non-consumer who is open to cannabis. 

Many non-consumers are hesitant to consume because they have misconceptions about cannabis. Manufacturers and retailers can address this problem with product labeling, marketing, and education. Retailers can aid in the process by maintaining a staff of educated budtenders who are capable of presenting cannabis in a way that breaks free of traditional consumer stereotypes, while showcasing the immense variety of products available for the vastly different consumer-need states.

Across all legal markets, the share of those who report past 6-month cannabis use (i.e., consumers) has steadily been rising.

BDSA’s Consumer Insights surveys classify Consumers as those who claim to have consumed cannabis in the past 6 months. Consumer Insights identifies Acceptors as those who do not currently consume but are open to using cannabis in the future, and Rejectors as non-consumers who are NOT open to using cannabis in the future. 

According to BDSA’s Consumer Insights, ~45% of adults in fully legal adult-use states are Consumers. Consumption has even begun to creep up to ~50% in mature markets. For example, Colorado is now at 47% Consumer penetration, up from just 35% in spring 2018. California is now at 45%, a rapid rise from just 39% in fall 2020. 

BDSA is also tracking that developing medical-only markets are also seeing a spike in past six-month cannabis use. Maryland has seen a dramatic rise in consumption since the launch of its medical cannabis program, from just 14% in spring 2018 to 35% in spring 2021. Pennsylvania has also seen its consumer penetration more than double over this same period, from 16% in fall 2018 to 33% in spring 2021.

What do non-consumers say about cannabis and how might they be brought into the Consumer pool?

“Cannabis does not fit my lifestyle”:

Among those who have used cannabis in the past, ~55% of Rejecters and ~30% of Acceptors claim that the top reason they stopped using cannabis is that cannabis does not fit their lifestyle. While recognizing that cannabis is not for everyone, there are steps the industry can take to address this concern. By dispelling notions that a cannabis user must fit a certain stereotype, brands and retailers may convince these non-consumers to delve into the cannabis space again and find a product that fits their needs and is appropriate for their lifestyle, such as low dose beverages for social use or topicals to deal with chronic pain. 

“I don’t like how it makes me feel”:

~25% of Acceptors and ~55% of Rejecters claim that the main reason they stopped using cannabis was that they didn’t like the way it made them feel. Much of this hesitation could be a response to consumption of illicit market products that occurred years before. More education about the various new form factors, lesser-known cannabinoids, and proper dosage could convince some of these non-consumers that cannabis may have something to offer them. Someone with this hesitancy may shy away from high-THC products but be prompted to discover that CBD products are helpful for anxiety relief, or that low-THC products with CBN help them sleep better. 

“I might use cannabis if my doctor thought it could help me”:

Though much of the buzz in the cannabis industry focuses on adult-use markets, many Consumers still describe their cannabis use as medical or health-related, and BDSA Consumer data suggest that medical needs could be a big draw to convince non-consumers to try cannabis. ~45% of Acceptors and ~20% of Rejecters say that they would be more likely to use cannabis if their doctor recommended it, while ~35% of Acceptors and ~15% of Rejecters claim they would be more open to using cannabis if they were ill and learned that cannabis might help them. This illustrates the potential for brands to expand their consumer base by offering products catered to medical Consumers, such as topicals and pills aimed at pain relief, the core reason for consumption among medical users.

“I’m not convinced that cannabis is safe”:

Even though legal medical cannabis has been available for decades in some states, many non-consumers remain unsure about the safety of cannabis use. ~10% of Rejecters and ~30% of Acceptors claim that they would be more likely to use cannabis if they were convinced that cannabis is safe. Reassuring those outside of the Consumer pool of the safety of cannabis requires a holistic approach involving many segments of the industry. Manufacturers can set rigorous standards for product testing that exceed regulatory requirements. Brands can label products in a way that provides valuable safety information to potential buyers but does not overwhelm those with little cannabis knowledge. 

Beyond this, every segment of the industry can respond to health crises related to cannabis consumption, ensuring those outside the dedicated Consumer pool are not led astray by media accounts that provide an inaccurate picture of the safety of legal cannabis. This approach would prove helpful in cases such as the E-cigarette and Vaping Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) crisis that cropped up in late 2019. While early reporting of the EVALI crisis linked health risks to ALL cannabis vapes, later investigation found that most cases were the result of illicit market vapes contaminated with Vitamin E Acetate. By accurately conveying this information, brands and manufacturers had the opportunity to correct any reputational damage and ensure the non-consumer public of the safety of legal cannabis.

While the gradual destigmatization of cannabis has already enabled a significant expansion in Consumer participation, the industry still has a role to play in breaking down barriers to cannabis use among non-consumers. By educating non-consumers about cannabis, providing less intimidating products that offer more to the new user, and breaking down outdated stereotypes about cannabis consumption, many of the issues for why Acceptors and Rejectors avoid cannabis can be addressed. Retailers, brands and investors can all work together in these efforts, yielding a larger, more engaged Consumer pool that will foster growth in the legal cannabis industry for years to come.


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