For many people, smoking weed is not just a thing you do, it’s a lifestyle; and one that we take great pride in. I, for one, am always eager to share my knowledge and passion for all things cannabis. This attitude is rooted in a longstanding ‘stoner’ culture that is very intimate to the cannabis community and has been created and finetuned over the last few decades. But almost as soon as legalization started sweeping through the US, we started to see a shift.
Old pot culture gave way to a trendy, standardized, multi-billion-dollar industry. Today we see sleek, modern dispensaries that resemble apple stores, farm-to-table cannabis restaurants and caterers, some of the most potent weed products your heart could desire, and an overall change in how the world views all these products, and the plant itself.
It’s exciting to see how far we have come. But at what point does our homegrown, laid-back stoner counterculture that felt so down-to-earth and made this plant as popular as it is in the first place, become completely unrecognizable? Will it turn into just another ‘big business’ industry like alcohol, tobacco, wellness, pharma, and so many others. We’re already beginning to see a clash between business interests and grassroots activists, but the industry has room for both sides, and actually NEEDS as much diversity as possible.
The cannabis industry has changed a lot over the last few years, but fundamentally, we all want the same thing: progress, although that could have varying meanings for different people. For more articles like this one, and for exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and other products, remember to subscribe to The THC Weekly Newsletter. Also save big on Delta 8, Delta 9 THC, Delta-10 THC, THCO, THCV, THCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!
What is stoner culture?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just a few attributes or social behaviors, but there are some are pretty characteristic of “stoners”, and we’ve seen it time and time again portrayed in the media. From Animal House or Cheech and Chong in the 1970s – an iconic time that many describe as the “golden era” of cannabis, psychedelics, and activism – to the 1990s which I personally remember as comedic haze of stoner movies and music that spilled over well into the next decade.
Although the image was tweaked a bit over time, a few constants remained – the portrayal of a “stoner” was upbeat yet unmotivated, quirky, below average intelligence, friendly, aaaaand usually sweet and personable in their own goofy type of way (think Travis from Clueless).
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s there was also a bit of a badass side to weed as well. If you smoked weed, you were considered more “down”, less “square” than others. It was basically the tipping point between the conformists and the nonconformists – the freethinkers who did what they wanted, on their own terms, and didn’t care what society thought about them.
Over time, both that harmless, loveable image and the criminal elements (be it that they were major misconceptions anyway) morphed in a few different types of personalities. For example, the lady-next-door ‘momtrepreneur’ that’s making a quick buck off a growing industry and broken system, like Nancy from Weeds. Or the casual modern-day smokers that do what they do and just mix pot use into their day-to-day lives, like Abbi and Ilana from Broad City.
It’s uncommon now to see that oblivious and totally unaware stoner from years prior. One of the few shows I can think of that plays into those tired old clichés is Disjointed on Netflix, which was met with overwhelming criticism from people are just no longer interested in seeing potheads depicted as idiots anymore. Today’s cannabis users encompass many different personalities, from the 30-year-old underachiever smoking weed and playing video games in their parent’s basement, to the 20-something-year-old researcher and CEO who just developed a state-of-the-art form of nano emulsion technology to bring cannabis medicine to thousands of patients… and literally everything in between.
State of the industry today
Despite federal prohibition and regulatory uncertainties, bottlenecked supply chains, an ongoing fight against the still-thriving black market, and let’s not forget, a global pandemic that has impacted so many different industries throughout the world – cannabis is still flourishing, in the United States and globally.
According to data collected by Marijuana Business Daily and shared at this year’s MJBizCon in Las Vegas, legal cannabis sales in America hit $20 billion in 2020 and are expected to surpass $26 billion by the end of this year. Their projections for the future are that the US industry will explode to about $46 billion by 2025. Just a few years ago, multimillion-dollar deals were few and far in between but now they’re a regular occurrence.
“The nearly $46 billion in sales would make the cannabis industry larger than the craft beer industry, said Chris Walsh, chief executive officer and president of MJBizDaily. “And these are potentially conservative numbers with what we see playing out. Sales continued to accelerate at a record pace in markets across the US — notably in established states, such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon. You’re seeing the next phase of a maturing industry take hold here.”
It’s not at all shocking to hear, considering most Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal in some capacity, be it medical, recreational, or both. In total, 36 states have legalized medical marijuana – 18 of which, plus Washington D.C., have also approved recreational adult-use programs. So, based on this rapid growth, not only do more citizens have access, but the cannabis is also creating tens of thousands of new jobs annually. By the start of 2021, roughly 321,000 Americans held employment in the cannabis industry either directly or through some ancillary company, and that number is growing steadily.
“Take a look around,” said Karson Humiston, CEO and founder of Vangst, which runs a cannabis industry-centric job recruiting site, gesturing to bustling crowds in the exposition hall. “People want to get out of their old-school, dying industry, and they want to move into cannabis. This is it. Now is the moment to get involved, because it’s never going to be this small again.”
Cannabis industry gentrification?
All this is not to say that I’m against legalization. I’m 100 percent pro-progress and vehemently against the War on Drugs that has torn communities apart with racist enforcement, widespread arrests, and mass incarcerations of citizens simply for possession personal amounts of pot. I think everyone can agree that we’re in a much better place now than we were 50 years ago.
The main problem people are having, as I see it, is the rush to corporatization and industrialism that’s slowly chipping away at the casual, unique, and authentic vibe that cannabis culture has always been synonymous with. I mean, even Tommy Chong is having trouble placing his strains in dispensaries because he’s “too stoner” for the modern cannabis connoisseur, or more aptly, cannasseur. “We represent the stoner image of Mexicans,” Chong said. “They don’t want that anymore. They can’t market that to millennials.”
Things certainly are different now from what I, and many of the people I grew up with, are used to seeing. “Someone who has always been in the mindset that (cannabis) is their alternative to a highball at the end of the night might not appreciate how cannabis is being used now on the medical side,” said Danny Mann, general manager at Modern Cannabis, a Logan Square dispensary. “Worrying about the counterculture being replaced by new cannabis culture is on people’s minds now. But it can also reek of nostalgia.”
He’s not wrong. The industry is in an amazing position right now, poised only to succeed even more. The main reason we resist many of these changes is simply because it’s sad to see the classic trends go. To think that the rasta-hippy-grunge-total stoner persona may one day be a thing of the past, is just a tad bit disappointing.
Think back to when our parents were growing up, the rallies they had, and the type of people who were truly advocating for cannabis legalization, promoting the therapeutic potential, pushing for safe access, arguing for the industrial benefits of hemp, and denouncing existing regulations and striving for reform – it was the potheads! Not businesspeople, influencers, celebrities, and so forth; it was your diehard, weed-smoking activists that were the heart and soul of cannabis advancement in the US; and eventually they became a sort of lifestyle-brand in their own rights, a symbol of indepence and rebellion, paving the way for changes in marijuana and psychedelics laws. In my opinion, everything about these past eras will be dearly missed but I welcome positive changes with an open heart and mind.
“Clash of the Titans”
According to five marijuana industry insiders, including CEOs and farms, discussed these issues during a panel at MJBizCon called “Clash of the Titans.” They noted that despite tensions between these two often opposing heads of the industry, when you look at the bigger picture, both sides play their own very important role for the “wider legalization movement”.
“Big business cannot survive without what cannabis culture has brought to the table,” said Wanda James, owner of Denver-based Simply Pure, a vertically integrated cannabis company. James lambasted much of the industry, arguing that women and minorities have had too hard a time getting a toehold in the business. She decried that as a disservice to the legacy of the marijuana plant and its cultural roots.
“Setting up this dichotomy of ‘Big Business versus cannabis culture’ is a false dichotomy,” mentioned another panalist, Ayr Wellness co-Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Drake. “There’s going to be plenty of room for everyone to succeed.”
Overall, the general tone of the discussion was that more direct effort needs to made to encourage alliance and collaboration between entrepreneurs who are focused on various financial interests like tax structures, banking access, business licensing; and advocates who are striving to improve policies regarding home cultivation, medical cannabis patient and caregiver rights, support for female and minority entrepreneurs, and so on.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in going to different cannabis industry trade shows and talking to people from all over the world, it’s that the cannabis industry absolutely has room for everyone. New points of view keep everything fresh and exciting, and that’s one of the wonderful things about the industry that has stayed relatively unchanged over time, cannabis represents inclusivity and that needs to be reflected in business dealings as well as cultural traditions.
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