The Evolution of Cannabis Activities and the Emergence of Cannabis Communities
People use cannabis with the intention of achieving a specific experience, be it reducing pain, relaxing with friends, or feeling high. There are two separate components to experiencing cannabis (see Figure 1).
First, how does the product taste or smell? Is it fun to consume? Are people consuming the product discretely, or are they sharing the experience openly with friends? More generally, the first aspect of the cannabis experience involves the nature of the act or process of ingesting the cannabis product.
And second, did the product end up relieving the pain or enable the consumer to relax with friends or to get high as hoped? That is, the other aspect of the cannabis experience involves the actual effects achieved.
Figure 1: Cannabis Use Experiences
As to the second component of the experience, the effects actually achieved, there are two sets of factors that determine how well a particular cannabis product will enable the consumer to actually achieve the set of experiences she hoped to by using that product (see Figure 2).
The first set of factors is the nature of the cannabis product ingested, including the profile of compounds in the product (e.g., cannabinoids and terpenes) and the form of use (e.g., joint, vape, edible, etc.).
The second set of factors is the nature of the consumer herself, that is, her history with and tolerance to cannabis, her mindset, her surroundings, and other such factors, collectively known as set and setting.
Figure 2: Factors Determining Cannabis Experiences Achieved
As states have legalized cannabis activity, whole industries have emerged, under the direction of regulators, surrounding the licensed production, sale, and use of cannabis (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Cannabis State Regulatory Environment
(As an aside, the very simplistic-looking structure of the regulated industry in Figure 3 is quite misleading. What has actually emerged is a chaotic, semi-licensed, semi-legal industry comprised of licensed, grey, and illicit areas of activity. For more information on these submarkets, see my earlier blog, Cannabis Grey and Black Submarket Dynamics.)
As the industry continues to mature, activities surrounding the production, sale, and use of cannabis are shifting. Increasingly, the focus is moving away from the basics of simply growing product, getting it to store shelves, and selling it to customers. Instead, the focus is moving toward enhancing and extending the types of experiences consumers achieve from cannabis.
Generally speaking, most (if not all) industries involve businesses selling some product or service to customers. In healthy markets, successful businesses will tend to be those that figure out how to sell customers the products or services that are best suited for providing the consumption experiences customers seek.
Along these same lines, I believe that in cannabis, most (if not all) activity will eventually revolve around:
1. Understanding the specific experiences cannabis customers seek (given set and setting).
2. Understanding the specific cannabis products (compositions and forms of use) that will generate those experiences.
3. Understanding how to manufacture the cannabis products that will generate the specific experiences for cannabis customers (given set and setting).
4. Understanding how to match specific customers with the specific products that will generate their desired experiences.
Indeed, the activities emerging in the cannabis industry increasingly revolve around these areas.
At the same time, an additional set of independent new entities is emerging – quite organically – to serve yet more needs of cannabis industry participants: cannabis communities.
Communities are both feelings and sets of relationships among people in a society that have emerged to meet common needs. Researchers at Community Science describe communities as entities in which members share “a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other.” Digging a bit deeper, pioneering researchers on the subject, David McMillan and David Chavis, propose four main elements of communities: membership, shared emotional connection, influence, and integration. Membership is the feeling of acceptance, belonging, and emotional safety. Shared emotional connection is the sense of members’ shared histories and/or experiences. Influence is the sense that individuals matter and make a difference to the group, and Integration is the sense that individuals’ needs will be met by the group (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Elements of Communities
Of course, cannabis communities are nothing new – they’ve existed since people first started using cannabis. What is new is the ability of such communities to emerge into mainstream society, rather than being relegated to marginalized sectors of the nation. Amazingly, cannabis communities are popping up to serve specific needs of vastly different members of the industry. Figure 5 provides some examples of different segments in which cannabis communities have emerged.
For years now, so much has been written about how American communities have been disappearing and how so many people seem to be searching for a sense of connection and belonging. I think the ongoing emergence of new and varied cannabis communities is providing desperately needed places of belong for a lot of people. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Thanks for reading Emergent Order! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.