It’s been less than a decade since the cannabis adult-use market opened up in Colorado in 2014. In that time, medical cannabis has been legalized in 37 states and Washington DC, while recreational marijuana has been legalized in 23 states, plus our nation’s capital. And as policy has evolved, so too have the behaviors of cannabis consumers.
Curious as to what these pot proponents have in common and what drives their decision-making? We’ve got you covered: Here are seven things marketers should know about cannabis consumer perceptions, behaviors, and personas in 2023:
The public continues to favor cannabis legalization for medical and recreational purposes. A huge share of US adults—nearly 9 in 10—say that marijuana should be legal in some capacity, either for medical and recreational use by adults (59%) or for medical use only (30%). Just 1 in 10 say marijuana use should not be legal.
This combined governmental and grassroots support is resulting in even more markets opening up as well as cannabis consumer numbers increasing. In fact…
As more states legalize or decriminalize marijuana use, the legal US cannabis market is expected to grow 12% by the end of 2023 to $29.6 billion. By 2027, that number is projected to increase to $45 billion in total legal sales. The biggest drivers of cannabis industry growth will be new adult-use markets like Missouri, New Jersey, and New York, while mature western markets like Colorado and California, despite a post-Covid sales correction, will still account for a large portion of legal sales through 2027.
Dispensaries that advertise in those new markets should focus on building the awareness needed to light up initial business. Pro tip: One channel that more and more cannabis brands are spending on to spread that awareness? Digital out-of-home.
In a survey of more than 5,300 US adults, 42% of respondents said they’ve used cannabis in 2023, up from 39% in 2022. Most consider themselves recreational users (58%), as opposed to medical users (42%), but 53% say they consume for both reasons. Also tracked was their frequency of use: 31% of user respondents reported cannabis use multiple times a day, with another 12% using once a day, 21% a few times a week, 5% once a week, and 11% a couple of times a month.
The forecasted increase in cannabis use will provide a big opportunity for advertisers to gain new customers. Meanwhile, leveraging first-party data to apply tactics like retargeting will help brands to encourage repeat sales.
From Cheech and Chong to Harold and Kumar, the “stoner dude” persona has hung over marijuana users like a dark cloud. But recent data shows that cannabis consumption is truly spread across consumer demographics, behaviors, and life stages.
From those who use cannabis recreationally, to those who rely on it for medical purposes, to users more interested in CBD, there's a variety of personas spanning ages, genders, races, incomes, marital statuses, and education levels. (Want a deeper dive? Check out our piece on cannabis consumer personas.)
Trends in marijuana use vary by demographic, too. According to Gallup trends, 26% of adults ages 18 to 29 indicated they smoked marijuana between 2019 and 2022, up from 17% between 2013 and 2015. Marijuana use has also climbed among adults ages 30 and 64, but has been stable (at a comparatively low level) among senior citizens.
And the “dude” part of “stoner dude” continues to apply less: A Harris Poll survey found that 37% of American women ages 21 and older use cannabis, with more than 1 in 4 women using it at least once a month, primarily for anxiety relief, better sleep, and alleviating pain.
With so many cannabis consumer segments to connect with, leveraging an automated, omnichannel advertising approach can both increase efficiency and effectively find customers where they spend their time. And, targeting prospective consumers who look like these personas is a great way to tap into additional audiences.
With myriad ways to use cannabis both recreationally and medicinally, it’s key to keep track of how consumers are engaging with various product types. In 2022, cannabis tinctures, topicals, capsules, and flower sales declined, while sales spiked for beverages, edibles, vapes, and pre-rolls. This product category shift may reflect the increase in recreational users, who prefer more portable and shareable products.
Given all the ways to consume cannabis and all its stated benefits, what factors are influential in choosing a cannabis product? In a recent study, when asked to rank their two most important considerations, most respondents (60%) said “THC level”—a 9% increase from the year prior—with “price” ranking second at 58%. When it comes to price, 39% of customers are purchasing less expensive alternatives this year to maintain consumption levels while reducing cost. However, when asked, “How much are you spending on cannabis compared to a year ago?” 73% stated that they are actually spending about the same or more.
As of now, cannabis advertisers are cautioned against mentioning potency or price in their ads. Instead, advertisers should focus on their brand values as well as what sets their brand and products apart.
All that shopping around to compare prices comes at a cost to brands’ customer loyalty. In the past, branding and strain type were significantly more important to cannabis consumers. Today, those consumers are showing less brand loyalty, increasingly shopping around to save money.
Since it costs less to keep a customer than to earn one, cannabis companies that collect and activate first-party data from satisfied customers may find success reaching back out via advertising to stay top of mind as those shoppers are price-hunting.
The cannabis industry continues grow like a weed, and ongoing support for its legalization is anything but smoke and mirrors. Cannabis marketers who can capitalize on that growth—finding cannabis users and speaking to their behaviors, preferences, and motivations for using their favored products, in a highly compliant way, of course—could see an increasing amount of another green inside their cash registers.
To learn more about cannabis consumers, how marketers can navigate state-by-state cannabis advertising regulations, and how to set your campaigns up for success, it’s high time you checked out our cannabis advertising guide, Cannabis Marketing in the Roaring 2020’s.