Hello, friends. It’s hard to believe we’re almost halfway through 2023 already, and how much we’ve already accomplished as an agency, a community and an industry. The year started with Housing Works throwing open its doors as the first legal dispensary in New York. Five months later, Minnesota is very close to joining the legal states club.
In between, we launched The Weedsmith series and teamed up with clients and friends to co-host some incredible networking events in conjunction with cannabis trade shows—including Psychoactive Rising after SXSW and a Daybreaker before Hall of Flowers. We’ve shared so many wins with our clients already, too.
I for one can’t wait to see where 2023 takes us next. What exactly will appear on that itinerary is a mystery—but we love a good prediction or forecast and have a few ideas about what the next six months might hold.
1. 2023 is still the year of the cannabis journalist. In January, when we were eying the months ahead, we predicted that 2023 would be the year of the cannabis journalist. When I wrote that forecast, I didn’t know just how right I’d be.
Since the New York cannabis market opened in late 2022, both myself and Grasslands’ leadership team—including our Chief Strategy Officer Chloe Steerman and Executive PR Director Pam Lipshitz—have been both floored and outright thrilled by the newfound participation of New York-based journalists in the global cannabis conversation.
It is now absolutely clear that journalists are embracing weed in new ways as major media markets also become legal cannabis markets.
With the success we had pitching clients to national outlets like The New York Times, Bloomberg, Gear Patrol and The Washington Post, we’re excited to see upcoming features on the most engaging new cannabis products of summer 2023. After all, we know the essential role cannabis journalists play in documenting the products and categories that will go on to define the summer season as much as sunscreen, Otterpops and Jaws-style blockbusters.
2. Cannabis is not the tech industry. Economic headlines haven’t exactly inspired confidence over the past six months—especially if you’re biting your nails over hiring trends in tech. But recession or not, many state-by-state cannabis markets have a better grasp on their present and future than they have in years.
After the heights of the early pandemic and more recent industry lows, brands have a better understanding of the vagaries of cannabis. Our point of view from working with more than 40 cannabis brands coast to coast and in Canada is that operators are starting to find their footing.
The challenging—but necessary—right-sizing work that many companies have engaged in this past year has now positioned a lot of the brands we work with for very real success. We are thankful that so many of our partners are feeling bullish about the coming months, especially after what so many have been through in the last year.
3. Consumers can sip their way through summer. Strong sales often come with the summer season, too, offering more relief for cannabis brands. In 2021 Flowhub reported that “40% of the top 10 sales days over the past four years fell between mid-July and early September.” Deals on pre-rolls and other single-serving treats are often popular with tourists and weekend warriors alike. But we will see a boost in the beverage space, too.
Futurists and trend-casters have long waxed eloquently about the rise of the cannabis beverage market—including myself. And while I am not here to say that we’re going to see this market double in size this summer season, I do predict we will see category growth as consumers experiment with healthier beverages for their summertime fun.
I have already started supplementing a mix of infused sippers into the usual array of hard and soft beers, ciders and seltzers in my coolers. And I’m eagerly anticipating camping trips, pool days and backyard hangs with cannabis beverages like Wynk, COUNTDOWN and Lehua Brands on deck.
4. Cannabis’ total addressable market finally comes into focus. As someone who has worked with hundreds of cannabis brands over the last six and a half years of running Grasslands, it’s no secret who a modern cannabis brand’s target audience is. Every cannabis brand in the world right now has many of its marketing dollars working toward a vague demographic known generally as the “cannacurious.” As the amount of data on cannabis consumers increases, we’re finally getting a better sense of who the cannacurious are—and how many of them are out there.
Early in 2023, PEW Research found that 64% of Americans have tried cannabis at least once in their lives. That’s a huge number of people. We spend a lot of time helping our brand partners drill down on exactly who their target audience is and how to speak to them. With that actionable focus, however, it’s easy to forget just how large the total available market is for the cannabis industry.
If that many adults tried cannabis when it was far less legal and available than it is today, think about the possibilities in today’s market. Suppose brands can convert even a small percentage of that total addressable market to the served available market. In that case, it will blow up sales numbers from Oregon and California to Massachusetts and Florida.
This transition will happen. We are already seeing penetration of one of the most challenging age demographics in the industry, as senior citizens continue to discover the real, tangible benefits of cannabis consumption. And as we marketers, operators and entrepreneurs work to normalize weed through education and experience, the more that total addressable market will open up.
The 4/20 retail extravaganza just behind us and summer product promotions are ahead. Indeed, Surfside released data in May of 2023 on summer cannabis sales trends that found cannabis purchases jump 69% on average ahead of Memorial Day weekend, and that June 16th, when Father's Day and Juneteenth sometimes coincide, is the fourth strongest sales day of the summer.
That said, PR teams and print publishers alike are already planning gift guides for the winter holiday season—that head start on marketing and PR is a standard practice lead for decades by print publication timelines. This kind of pre-planning isn’t only integral to a smart earned media strategy. It can also play a meaningful role in unlocking that total addressable market.
After all, PR for individual cannabis brands is PR for the cannabis industry as a whole. What better opportunity to normalize weed than through the uber-familiar lens of family traditions and community celebrations that are central to most Americans’ lives? We’ll find out as 2023—and the cannabis industry—continue to progress.