Oh LA, LA. The California green rush shows us new frontiers for a grown-up cannabis industry

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Canada might have been the second country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis, the Netherlands the first to tolerate it, but the state of California takes first place as being the leader in embracing what it truly means to be cannabis-forward. Not only is recreational cannabis legal in California, but it has very quickly matured into a viable and mature consumer market.

Having recently spent some time there, I found the way they have seamlessly integrated cannabis into everyday life incredibly inspiring. In particular, the way in which premium retailers and brands are normalizing a cannabis lifestyle through sophisticated design and experiential culture provides an interesting glimpse into the future for the Canadian industry.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising given California’s long and storied history in cannabis growth and cultivation. Admittedly, they may have had a head start, and Angelinos tend to be leaders in all things cool. From seed to sale, California’s recreational cannabis industry is moving at breakneck speed. Indicators of market maturation like brand and market development, retail dispensaries and lounges, trade shows and events are at a level commensurate with other consumer lifestyle products.

Unlike most Canadian cannabis trade shows where scantily clad women dance on stage or Canadian flags are rendered with pot leaves rather than maple leaves, Hall of Flowers in San Antonio, could easily have been mistaken for a cutting-edge fashion/lifestyle show. The thoughtfully executed experience was located in an outdoor venue comprised of several exhibit halls, outdoor and indoor lounge and café spaces, as well as a dispensary. The juried exhibitors were each provided with the same exhibit structure thereby creating a sense of curation and visual homogeneity.

Whether flower or oil, edibles or topicals — brand is big. Market segmentation is even bigger. Cannabis companies in California are clearly understanding that the key to success in this industry is market differentiation: Highland Pantry targets women 50 plus; Foria, women’s health and wellness; Shrebrinsky’s, the cannabis cannoisseur.

A favourite retail axiom is to simply give the public what they want. We are adults, after all. Product that is locked up behind glass cases and masked branding reminiscent of the Soviet Union, are nowhere to be seen here. Instead, in shops like Medmen, the Apple of cannabis, brands are provided with their own thoughtfully designed space where they can proudly tell their story. In Erba, a cannabis supermarket, brands set up their own shop – in – shops. Micro-dose cannabis pen producer dosist has opened its own experiential wellness boutiques in Abbot Kinney, LA. And last month, cannabis producer and retailer Lowell’s opened the first cannabis consumption lounge in West Hollywood. Apparently, there’s already a 30-day waiting list to get a table.

With an established market of consumers hungry for unique experiences in cannabis, it’s no wonder that LA is also home for the first leg of Weedmaps Museum of Weed. While chalk-full of highly Instagrammable moments, Weedmaps Museum of Weed is not just an immersive experience for your feed, but an educational journey through the complex history of cannabis in the U.S. Increasingly, cannabis consumers are looking for meaningful experiences to explore both the plant and its culture, and those needs are being met in California.

With U.S. federal legalization seemingly only a matter of time, the increasing refinement that the Californian cannabis industry is demonstrating is likely to become a nationwide thing. And if this is a sign of things to come when legislation relaxes and an industry begins to mature, then Canada, look out.

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