It’s Just Marijuana
I was conflicted about the title of this piece. I still am, to be honest. I don’t want to say that marijuana isn’t cool because it’s so cool. It’s cool in the way that “cool” is synonymous with “awesome” or “amazing” or at this point, even “in vogue,” because it’s all of those things; the latter currently, the two former invariably, always and forever.
But at the same time, it’s just not cool anymore.
[Pauses to roll joint. Lights. Inhales. HOLDS. Exhales. Coughs.]
Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah—my favorite plant isn’t cool anymore. A lot of you are probably already cluing into my point. You can feel it too. For the rest of you, let me paint you a picture.
The simple explanation: It’s not cool because it’s not hip. It’s not hip because it’s not dangerous, or at least, not perceived to be dangerous. It’s not dangerous because it’s been normalized; fully legalized in a third of the country. And why did this happen? Because all the cool people of the past 50 years have been fighting like hell to make it happen. Thus, we come full circle, arguably the architects of our own demise—the demise of our coolness, anyway.
Marijuana is no longer huddled in the basement with its buddies, muffling coughs while dousing the room in potpourri spray. It’s upstairs in the recliner, yelling at the TV about entitlement spending and asking you where you plan to go to college. Nor is it hiding behind the dumpster in the back of the school. It’s in the front, picking up the kids and carting them off to soccer practice.
Why does this matter?
That’s the wrong question. The question you should be asking is how does this matter as in, how will this affect my livelihood—and trust me, if it hasn’t already, it will. Commerce and culture are inextricably connected. When one shifts, the other shifts with it.
To understand more fully, we need to reverse engineer the nature of cool. Cool is simply the latest social construct based on the primeval concept of tribalism—specifically, the human need to find acceptance among one’s peers, essential for survival among our earliest ancestors and thus engrained in our DNA.
But unlike its primordial ancestor, cool isn’t just about inclusion into a familial tribe or society. It’s about inclusion into a higher level of the social order to the exclusion of others. It’s always been cool to like a band that one one’s ever heard of, but when that band hits #1 on Bilboard, the cool guys don’t find it so cool anymore. Cool is a paradox of social evolution that can only exist in the post-scarcity world.
Since cool stakes its value in exclusivity, it finds ways to be contrarian, which makes it subversive. As such, it remains locked in an entanglement with the forbidden, which, according to accepted Western lore, is so enticing that it’s the very thing that drove us from paradise. And that’s the allure of cool.
But also, it’s just cool.
[Shrugs. Lights. Inhales. HOLDS. Exhales. Coughs. Shrugs again.]
Now, let’s apply that to cannabis. For more than half a century, it was illegal, marginalized and considered public enemy #1 by the ruling class. To access it, you had to know someone, and to know someone put you in a subversive circle of acceptance, which made you cool. At the top of that social hierarchy was the provider of the product as well as that of the medium of consumption—often the same person. He was your access point to the world of cool.
At one point, the question, “Are you cool?” was a coded message to find out if someone was a toker. The code worked because only the cool people knew about it, because only cool people smoked weed. That is, until Dazed and Confused came out and f—-d it all up. Thanks for nothing, McConaughey.
The forbidden nature of the plant fostered a communal aspect of its consumption. It was shared in groups, in hushed tones—in back rooms, basements and alleyways. There was an implicit trust among those who shared in the experience because there had to be. You were sharing risk, a dirty secret, and therefore an immediate bond. You were part of the cool crowd.
Thus, for more than half a century, the products of this industry catered to that experience. Marijuana consumption was a group activity. Some would even dub it a sacrament, though I’m not a fan of the term.
But then came the wave of legalization. Within ten years, the pot culture of the previous 70 (give or take) was rendered nearly unrecognizable. It wasn’t just that we achieved legalization. It’s also how we did it. Rather than fight the establishment, we appealed to it. Cannabis is harmless, we told them. It’s medicinal. Maybe even healthy? We had every reason to say this. It’s all true. Society is arguably better off with open access to and unencumbered use of the plant. But the fact is, we honed our message for Middle America, and they bought in. The thing is, Middle America is anything but cool.
The effects of this shift are only now beginning to manifest, but they’re already plenty visible. Instead of buying our weed from the cool guy down the street who’s sticking it to the Man, most of us are buying it from the Man.
The exclusive nature of the consumption ritual is fading away. As a result, the methods of consumption are quickly changing. Novelty and “wow” factor are no longer the needs that drive innovation. In their place: efficiency and practicality. The average consumer is beginning to care less about giant bongs and the million different brands of paper you carry and more about the battery you can sell them for the cart they grabbed at the dispensary.
I’m not saying that accessories are going away completely. Not only do I not believe that; it’s the last thing I would want to see happen. My livelihood is tied up in accessories. What I am saying is that for a lot of stores, as well as manufacturers, a pivot will soon be necessary. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. This industry is in a constant state of reinvention; new innovation, adaptive language, shifting laws, an ever-revolving slate of consumables, etc. Everything is new, but nothing is, because redefinition is also business as usual.
Keep your ear to the ground, stay nimble and you’ll be fine.
Marijuana is still awesome. It’s just not cool anymore.
About the Author
You may not know Bruce Reith, but Bruce Reith knows the cannabis industry. Currently the CEO of H.W. Logic, a consulting firm behind the success of multiple brands in the space, Bruce is a seasoned veteran of the industry with a proven track record of success. Though he is discreet about the significance of his role, Bruce’s invaluable contributions have played a key role in elevating numerous brands to industry benchmarks. When Bruce isn’t quietly dominating the world of cannabis accessories, he’s likely cooking up a delicious Midwestern meal, formulating new flavors for his hot sauce side hustle, or viciously trolling the trolls on the FaceSpace.