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Rethinking Cannabis as a Commodity

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Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

As the licensed cannabis market continues to make significant strides, as well as progress in earning a more positive public perception, I believe the next step for forward-thinking business operators is to reinforce the concept of cannabis as a commodity.

But what does “cannabis as a commodity” mean and how is this concept different from how we’ve previously approached cannabis?

Cambridge Dictionary defines “commodity” as a “substance or a product that can be traded in large quantities, such as oil, metals, grain, coffee, etc.” But there’s a deeper way of thinking here, especially when we consider the examples provided such as oil and metals. For instance, metals can be utilized for a wide variety of functional products. Head to Williams Sonoma and find metal kitchenware; go to Home Depot for metal hardware; find instruments made with metal in Guitar Center; and much more.

The same can be said of cannabis. Savvy scientists and business operators can transform specific aspects of cannabis (i.e., cannabinoids, strains, etc.) into an array of forms utilizing extraction methods and other production processes for an array of functions: gummies marketed for sleep, post-workout beverages, oils for cosmetics and much more.

From my perspective, the future of the industry is consumers shopping not just for cannabis but for effect-driven consumer lifestyle products that contain cannabinoids, like CBD. Cannabis has the potential to become fully ingrained into our daily lifestyles through a multitude of avenues.

So how can we as a licensed industry achieve this “cannabis as a commodity” future? There are three key initiatives I believe we must continue to follow through on:

Research and Strategy for Functional Product Development

To fully develop improved and functional cannabis-as-a-commodity products, business leaders and researchers should continue to study the plant. I believe that looking further into the “entourage effect” could provide new avenues for product developments in the industry. Being able to both leverage compounds individually, as well as understand how they can be teamed together, enables product makers to create highly targeted functional cannabis products for distinct medical and recreational needs and desires.

In addition to the ever-popular THC and CBD, minor cannabinoids are becoming increasingly more prevalent in consumer lifestyle products. For example, we’re seeing cannabinol (CBN) marketed as a sleep aid, and cannabichromene (CBC) is being advertised for pain management. Researchers are also beginning to find that combining cannabinoids with other natural ingredients — such as CBD with turmeric — could be a viable strategy for functional product development.

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In elevating our collective expertise, we should also prioritize the development of infusion methods. Imagine if we can further diversify products, infusing cannabis into everything from sparkling water to baked goods to shampoo in such a manner that doesn’t disrupt the final products’ intended appearance, texture, flavor and smell. Currently, cannabis beverage and edibles makers are testing the use of nanotechnology to infuse their respective products. 

Marketing in the Mainstream

To truly break into the mainstream, progressive brands may need to focus on the intended functions, aesthetics and demographics of their cannabis-derived products, rather than the cannabis itself.

There are already brands doing just that, setting strong examples and raising the bar for the industry, and this includes cannabis companies founded by and/or backed by musicians, who tend to attract their already well-established audience. Celebrities have been drawn to legal cannabis.

Partnerships can play an important role in launching your cannabis brand and products as a commodity. For instance, perhaps influencer marketing with those in the beauty space is a keen move cosmetic products; if it’s cannabis-infused cooking products (sauces, condiments, etc.), an infused dinner a hosting a well-known chef is smart marketing.

Ask the Audience

However, in order to successfully market cannabis as a commodity, we as an industry need to sponsor more research studies that delve into what products consumers — including current non-cannabis users — are looking for.

Many studies simply focus on people who already consume cannabis, but the industry should continue to monitor those who may be dismissive of, or uninterested in the plant, to find out what offerings might pique their interest. There may be a cannabis-derived solution that appeals to them after all. For instance, perhaps a 50-year-old parent with three kids may not be keen to vape or dive into the world of edibles, but they may be open to experimenting with cannabis-infused shampoo on their next spa day.

Product-makers and brands should leverage industry evidence and tap into consumer insights to ensure they’re “asking their audience.” According to a 2020 Brightfield Group survey, the top interests of cannabis consumers include fashion and beauty; food and travel; and health and sports. A better understanding of consumer sentiment could further guide us to a future where cannabis is a modern commodity.

We as an industry and cannabis community have made great strides in making cannabis more versatile and mainstream than ever before. Cannabis as a commodity is certainly an achievable goal that could lead to greater diversification and opportunity for researchers and entrepreneurs, as well as more product options for consumers.

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