The Secret of the Traditional Market
I’m just going to come right out and say it: the traditional market isn’t going anywhere. Ever. And the recreational market isn’t harmed by it, in fact, its whole existence, at least since rec, and in the future when full legalization drops, is in spite of it.
There’s a multitude of reasons why the traditional market is here forever, like over regulation and taxes, but the long and short of it boils down to this: the rec market simply doesn’t cater to its consumer the way the traditional market does. Until the quality of the product, or concern for the end user, matches that of the ‘lifers’, we’re simply talking about two different ball games, despite the fact that they’re playing with the same equipment.
Stoking the Fear
Now sure, there are going to be a bunch of newjack corporate types who pop out of the ether to warn us about all the pesticides and ‘poisons’ that are seemingly rampant on the traditional market, but here’s the truth: I’ve been smoking that weed since the early 2000’s, and it’s still better than what you’ve got in your shop 90% of the time, despite your best efforts. Now, that’s coming from someone who used to buy ‘exos’ off a guy we later found out was spraying the nugs with Raid, so trust me when I tell you there are consumers who have no problem risking life and limb to get high. It’s true that one of my friends went blind briefly, but we all survived. And we kept smoking.
The anti-traditional cannabis mall cops have been trying hard to get that danger fear to stick for years. We had reefer madness, we had vapegate, we even have people believing that stoners were actively and in-your-town giving out drugs to kids intentionally on Halloween year after year. (I say intentionally bc I’m absolutely positive it’s happened accidentally before, but it’s not some conspiracy. Consumers want to consume, not force others to.) And the sheep eat it up, and even believe that this plant is not only a danger to them, but their kids. Since laws started passing in our favor the institutions that be now warn kids everywhere about the dangers of the ‘traditional market’, and encourage that you buy your cannabis in a legal store, like a good little capitalist. Well let me tell you something folks, sure some of the stuff you’ll find in the traditional market is molded, or didn’t pass testing, but it’s also where you’ll find the best of the best. I don’t know anyone who got into this game because people were telling us it was a great idea… we came out of love for the plant.
So why, in all of the propagandists’ expertise, would I ever want to buy from someone WITHOUT that type of love for the plant? That type of sacrifice? I get that not everyone is at my level of obsession, but doesn’t it seem to make sense that those would be the type of people you’d want to buy from? Those who dedicated their life to it, not just jumped on the new money train? My policy has always been to try and buy drugs from the guy who looks like he thinks he’s an actual wizard. He’s got that good. If it’s not clear why yet, keep reading – it will be.
Vulture Capitalism (or Why You’re Not Getting High On Your Supply)
A normal person is probably asking themselves: if the legal players don’t care about the game they’re playing, why are they in it? The answer, my friends, is simple. Greed.
Over the past few years we’ve seen countless articles highlighting the ‘opportunity’ of the cannabis market. You know, the one they used to lock our OG’s up for. Well NOW it’s a multi-billion dollar opportunity – and people are celebrating the ‘new’ industry as if there wasn’t decades of effort that got us to this point. I digress, but the point is now that the Wall Street Journal is touting how many B’s there are to be made, all the suits ears perked up, and they started playing the game they know.
Now, here’s the big difference between the game we love and the one they’re playing: playing for margin is almost never about maximizing value for the end user. So for all those caregivers who cared about providing you with the best quality medicine for your ailments, there’s now a gang of mostly washed-out corporate types who think you’re the new prey for their cheap CPG bullshit. So they’ve built the size and scale facilities the operators who have been around can’t possibly compete with, hoping they could wash them out in favor of cheaper, flashier branded low end.
The catch is, cannabis isn’t some easily repeatable plastic good. It’s produce. So while all the new players are racing to automate and produce a gazillion pounds for less than you’d pay for an ounce on the street, it’s surprising no one has looked toward other fruit based industries for guidance. I know machine trimming sounds cost effective, but ask yourself, why does Tropicana still have fruit pickers?
The Lungs of Experience, and the Rise of Expertise
Lifers know the plant is much more than a set it and forget it type business. That’s part of the reason, in my opinion, why so few celebrity plays have been effective thus far. It takes a LOT of effort to produce world class products, and while you may be able to do it once, it’s even harder to maintain the quality your base has come to expect. Sure from the outside it’s easy to think we’re all flocking to flashy mylars and influencers, but the kingmaker in this game is and has always been the flower.
Automation, though cost effective, can remove the human element required to produce truly great cannabis. Even worse, the lack of experience from the new jacks are forcing production for bud size and total weight over the cultivar expressions true heads look for. Sure some of it looks great on Instagram, but we’re talking about something people have to smoke. They’re going to handle it, and if it’s mids it’s not that hard to tell. Sure you can probably make the sale once off of good marketing, but retaining a consumer – especially in a market with this many options – is very difficult.
Comparatively, you’re now competing against people who actually consume the products they’re pushing. And I don’t mean that in a passive when-I’m-in-the-mood sense, I mean religiously. They wake up with it, they eat their meals with it. Without that kind of dedication you simply haven’t tried & tested your products in the way your consumer will.
And not only that, they’re smoking everything else to see how they stack up. While most legal players probably think they produce the best weed in the world, it’s USUALLY because that’s all they’re smoking. Just because it’s coming to you easily, and for free, doesn’t mean that’s all that’s out there. Far from it.
All that said, the most important part of any sales process is the consumer, right? Well these legacy guys actually know theirs. Well, too. Not through a budtender, or through an Instagram page, but through having boots on the ground. By being where they live. By living their life. You look at an operator like Doja Pak – the guy is everywhere. With that comes real, meaningful interaction with your clients. You can truly learn what they like, and what they don’t. You can’t get that from a boardroom. The reason someone like Doja is winning is because he himself can tell what the market will like, rather than wishing on a prayer. He doesn’t even need to grow it.
And trust me, when they don’t, the traditional dealers hear that too. Directly from the consumer. They have to hear all the colorful language that comes from someone who feels like they were ripped off. The ones who want to keep their base adjust accordingly. Imagine that, catering to your consumer.
The Cheat Code of the Future
The one question I always have for the scale guys is, while I totally understand better margins look great to investors, how do you reckon with the fact that the smallest batch stuff always sells for the highest? Nevermind what price you’re hoping to go for, but if it’s clear the market responds to premium products, and exclusivity, how can having a market depleting supply seem like a victory in the eyes of your consumers?
Consumers don’t just want anything, and they certainly don’t want trash. Sure they might fall for it right now, because they’re still excited about the access, and they don’t know any better yet – but it doesn’t take long to learn that mids make you feel lousy, and primo elevates your existence. All of those investors you’re pitching are great, but some of them are potential consumers, too. And even if they’re not, you’re going to need someone to buy this stuff if you want to make any money. The value conversation is coming before long, and it’s not going to go the way the vast majority of the MSO and mega-grow types are hoping. I liken this again to oranges – if Tropicana’s got sour, or just weren’t sweet anymore, do you think people would still buy them?
Fighting for our right is getting old, and we’re at a moment in time when consumers are FINALLY getting access to the thing they’ve loved for decades. Don’t spoil the fun with some bullshit. If you want to get into the game, empower someone who actually knows what they’re doing. I promise it’s a better move for your business anyway. After all, the price for tops is better than ever, despite becoming harder to find in the sea of nonsense. Once this race to the bottom truly bottoms out there’s going to be a rude awakening for most of the legal operators, but you know what? The trap will still be thriving.
Wow Jon, what a passionate and accurate essay you’ve written today comparing the two markets of this weed we love! You are insight will encourage the purists to continue to grow and provide the best herb possible.
Passionate yes, accurate no. “Traditional” is a nice way of saying Black Market and while yes, it will always be there, but only because people want to break rules just for the sake of breaking them and right wingers who vow to not pay tax on weed to the government, should stop making purchases altogether then because we pay tax on everything so…I don’t support the black market not out of fear but because I want the %’s and the specific terpine profile breakdowns. Also, did you know most states, like Arizona, have a set number of dispensary lisence that must be given to individuals who have been effected by previous prohibition laws, so regular people, to say there isn’t sacrifice there is ignorant. Dispensaries owned by those people, sacrificed big and bet on themselves and cannabis and risked it when it was a felony and whoops they were right and now they have a lisence to sell what they’ve been selling for decades and put a dba lisence and call it a company. I hate paying taxes too, but there’s a fairness and a certain accountability to a taxed and documented business transaction. Not to mention, nothing illegal and no risk of the weed man also being an illicit substance dealer and other dangerous and illegal things
First, what an amazing read! Second, it is obvious he is passionate and he is indeed accurate. This is beyond taxes. As a consumer, I agree with the writer. Traditional will always be the preference. I moved to Oklahoma from Texas for about three months because of the legal access; which was a bad decision. When you are already used to smoking high potency THC flower, you will transition well to a government regulated, low potent packaged and branded flower. I had dispensary bought garbage sitting on my dresser until I moved back to Texas. It wasn’t worth smoking, especially not in cigars. Headache! The Trap and the plugs who love them will always get my dollar. Not because of taxes, but because of idiotic regulations, which limit my experience with the plant. I understand that’s it’s cool to know the percentages but the consumers excitement dies when the percentage is much lower than what he expects; and if he’s smart his dollar will remain in his pocket, and the legally branded bud on its shelf.
Exactly. As kings as you aren’t buying from junkies who will spray eagle20 to save a crop, you will be ok. Or just grow your own. Corporate weed grown by cops and venture capitalist suits is fng garbage. I don’t buy apples that come in plastic boxes either. My organic fruit and vegetables is hand picked by humans and purchased fresh where I can touch, smell, and see what I’m buying. The way it’s been since the beginning of mankind. But go ahead anyone under 40 who doesn’t know any better and tell me corporate weed grown by ex cops and corporate suits is better.
Supposed to read “As long as you aren’t buying from heroin/meth junkies who grow weed for quick $$$)
I surely hope all the weed in Oklahoma dispensaries isn’t garbage. I was planning on moving there myself next year due to the legal market and low cost of living. Surely good product can be found for a decent price? Really just looking for concentrates if they’re not too expensive.
Why would anyone want to buy weed from cops and venture capitalist suits? Because the noobs don’t know any better, and easy access is convenient.
In the completely illegal days, someone once asked ex-NORML Director Richard Cowan why he traveled all the way to Amsterdam to smoke marijuana. He answered: “I don’t go for the marijuana. I go for the freedom.”
It’s not just new consumers that like the legal stores. ALL ages love them. – The story you have written could have easily been written by illegal moon-shiners before alcohol prohibition was repealed. – But try to find some black-market moonshine now. I’ve never seen it.
You seem untrustworthy anyway when you talk about “vapegate.” Do you not realize hundreds of people were seriously injured and many DIED because of those tainted, black-market vapes? – That was no hoax. Shame on you for painting it as such.
You demonstrate why we need to leave all the black-market behind. You probably are part of the greedy sellers who fought against legalization, too. We had to fight those traitors in every state that has legalized marijuana. They don’t care about the freedom of the “precious” customers. They only care about hanging on to their quasi-monopolies and outrageously high prices.
I hope to NEVER buy from the black-market again. — Again, shame on you for this deception. Get a job in the legal industry.
Lol this is hilarious. Who actually thinks a plug is a good thing and that they CARE about you 🤣 every dealer I ever had was some dog sneeze loser who couldn’t hold down any other job. Not even being a real drug dealer 🤣