Sowing the seeds: the burning issue of legal cannabis for marketers

Please keep off the grassI am currently teaching marketing research at the college level, and the legalization of cannabis and the opportunities for jobs in this sector comes up almost every class. I don’t think it will impact them much in terms of when and where they consume it with friends, but I asked them if they thought they would be smoking a bong with their parents at their next family get-together or bring edibles to Christmas dinner, and their jaws just dropped. Getting over the taboo of being open about cannabis use may be a shock even to millennials.

I asked a marketing colleague of mine who works in the cannabis  marketing industry who the target markets are for legal marijuana, and she told me that the target is virtually everyone. The licensed providers want to own as much of the market as they can, so they are creating brand portfolios based on their segmentation approach. Right now there is no real different products,  to brand awareness and messaging are the sole differentiators. Statistics Canada’s ‘Cannabis Stats Hub‘ has some interesting interactive charts based on past consumption by geography, age, purpose of use, etc. but as you can see from the charts below that cannabis use by Canadians aged 25-44 and 45 to 64 has steadily increased over the past 40 years.

Cannabis household consumption ages 25 to 44


Cannabis household consumption ages 45 to 64 outlines a significant number of emerging markets for the legalization of marijuana. Medicinal marijuana can assist cancer patients, athletes, children with epilepsy, and those with a range of health issues including chronic pain, gastro-intestinal issues, neurological diseases and mental health illness. Recreational use target markets on this website include entertainers, grandparents, government officials and company executives – talk about a mixed bag of potential markets.

It seems like the possibilities across geography, demography, gender and age are limitless. According to, the average recreational marijuana user is 37 years old and spends an average $33 at each dispensary trip and an estimated twice as many male users than female. (Check out this fascinating infographic for more information.)

According to my brief research, Canadian cannabis companies see that females are the hot target market for the new legislation. A Canadian Press article from August 22, 2018 stated, “[a] scan of Canada’s burgeoning cannabis sector suggests women are a major focus for licensed producers eager to tap into the market, with edibles and health-and-wellness products such as topicals — expected to be legal by July 2019 — seen as especially lucrative avenues.” 

Mary Beth Williamson, incoming Chief Marketing Officer of the women-focused Fleurish Cannabis, says there are gender differences when it comes to cannabis use — her research suggests women are especially interested in edibles and self-care products for issues including insomnia, anxiety, joint pain/arthritis, migraines and menstrual cramps.

‘They’re more likely to use it with a partner or friends, whereas men may use it more often alone,’ says Williamson, whose company has commissioned various studies into female pot users.” (Source:

In addition to a lack of clarity for me as to the top 2 or 3 target markets for the highest growth potential, trying to understand the marketing restrictions as someone not working in the industry is tricky. Quebec has new legislation banning retailers of selling anything that depicts the pot leaf symbol or likeness as of October 17, 2018. Health Canada listed just some activities considered inappropriate for cannabis companies to be using as marketing tactics including: sponsoring events such as music festivals; engaging in promotional activities at events, booths and pop-up venues; and publishing advertisements about cannabis on company websites and social media platforms. (Source:

The market is already getting crowded, and there is no doubt new products and brands created for niche segments will continue to pop up. So what is a college-aged marketing student to do? According to Brightfield Group, they have some recommendations for how to succeed in this crowded cannabis market:

  1. Identify a high growth market with minimal competition.
  2. Know your target consumer.
  3. Know your competition.
  4. Invest in quality branding and advertising, including package design and labeling.

The above recommendations point back to the basics of marketing research that include specifying the information you need to address the relevant marketing issue, designing research to collecting the correct information, managing data collection, detailed analysis, transforming the results into usable marketing information and creating strategic recommendations based on the results.

Regardless of your age, gender or willingness to puff up yourself, this is a great time to be a marketer in Canada. I will report back after our next holiday gathering to see who consumed what at the dinner table and just hope the whole meal doesn’t go up in smoke.



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