By: Trevor Hughes
Marijuana users across the country are setting down their bongs, putting away their joints and moving away from smoking pot.
It’s not that people are giving up on cannabis – far from it. But retailers across the country report that consumers are increasingly switching from smokable marijuana to other forms, including pot-infused foods known as edibles and vaporizer cartridges.
“The actual old-school smoking of cannabis is pretty much out the door,” said Jered DeCamp, co-owner of the Herbal Remedies marijuana store in Salem, Oregon. DeCamp said only about half of his sales are now traditional smoked marijuana.
Marijuana enthusiasts say the trend reflects a desire by consumers for stronger, healthier or more discreet ways to consume cannabis. It’s a pattern seen from Colorado to California to Oregon. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use.
In Colorado, for instance, smokable marijuana known as “flower” made up 67 percent of all sales at pot shops in 2014, when legal sales began. Today, it’s down to 44 percent, while sales of potent concentrates known as “honey” or “butter” have doubled to 31 percent.
After a decade of smoking pot to manage the pain from nearly 10 hip and spine surgeries, U.S. Navy veteran Adrian Cromwell, 45, was told by a doctor to lay off the smoking – but not the cannabis. Now, Cromwell uses marijuana tablets made by Colorado-based Stratos.
Cromwell said the pills are more discreet, consistent and longer-lasting, saving him from him having to sneak away after 90 minutes or so for another few puffs on a joint or a hit on a bong or pipe. They even feel healthier, the Pueblo, Colorado, resident said.
“For like five weeks I was coughing up black wads so bad, it was horrible. It really woke me up to what was happening with my lungs,” he said of the days after giving up smoking and switching to marijuana pills. “Medicine has been presented to me since birth in a tablet. I have my wife put it into the medicine cup with the other medicines I get from the VA.”
A new study of Colorado marijuana consumers reflects the trend illustrated by Cromwell: Among adult marijuana consumers, the number of people eating or drinking cannabis products increased from 35.2 percent in 2016 to 40.4 percent in 2017, the state’s newly released Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey showed.
In addition to consumer demand for different products, increased competition among marijuana growers is pushing down flower prices and removing much of the profit. In some states, agricultural experts from the hyper-competitive worlds of lettuce, herbs and other veggies are squeezing margins through their knowledge of fertilizer and expertise in managing energy consumption.
In Oregon, for example, the average price of a gram of flower marijuana dropped more than 41 percent in 15 months, hitting just $5.77 a gram in February, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis analytics firm.
At the same time that competition has driven down prices for marijuana flower, consumers are willingly paying higher prices for branded and quality-tested “value-added” products made by companies such as Wana, Blue Kudu, Stillwater, Willie Nelson’s “Willie’s Reserve” and Whoopi Goldberg’s “Whoopi & Maya.”
Experts say the trend away from smoked pot probably will accelerate as more Americans get comfortable with the idea of consuming cannabis in different ways than when they were first introduced to it via a shared joint.
“Just growing flower is basically a knife fight to the bottom on price,” said Ryan Smith, CEO of LeafLink, which provides inventory and ordering software for marijuana stores. “The brands have the power. That’s what consumers expect in every industry, and this is no different.”