84% of Americans believe that weed should be legal. And yet, some stigma remains even when it is. Culture simply hasn’t normalized cannabis like alcohol or even tobacco.
What can this industry do to eliminate the last lingering qualms with the substance to take it truly mainstream? As the cannabis industry balloons toward $21 billion in revenue by 2021, the design consultancy Frog wanted to figure out how to make legal weed more acceptable to the public–and set out to build a research brief about such a product strategy. “The question I had in my mind was, what would it take for a group of moms and dads organizing a school event to swap a bottle of wine for an edible or cannabis treat?” recounts Tim Morey, VP of Strategy at Frog. “Because right now that’s inconceivable!”
After polling 2,195 people in the U.S. and interviewing several experts across the industry, Morey had his answer–and other new insights into how design could help change cannabis culture in America.
1. Your Opinion On Weed Depends On Who You Know
“The most intriguing finding for me is that cannabis is widely accepted. We cross-tabulated against politics, and how liberal vs conservative you are, and age and sex. It was almost uniform in distribution. I was getting upset with my data set,” he says. “The only thing [that] correlates tightly is, ‘do you know someone who is a consumer of cannabis?’ If you do, your feelings toward the product change.”
In short, if you know someone who consumes cannabis, your views of cannabis will be much more positive than if not.
“That in some ways should comfort the industry. They’re further ahead than they think,” Morey continues. “The flip side is, you sense that it’s not something you talk about. You don’t invite your mates over and show off your vintage cannabis!”
2. Cannabis Is A Stubbornly Solitary Pursuit
Even legalized marijuana sits in the shadow of its criminalized past, and Morey agrees that it’s most often enjoyed behind closed doors.
People don’t believe they can consume cannabis in public, or with colleagues, even when it’s legalized. Meanwhile, medical marijuana has Americans picking up prescriptions to consume quietly as they might any other doctor-prescribed drug. You simply don’t tell your boss or your friends you’re about to take your Lipitor, even if you do take your medication at work. It’s simply a solitary experience. The same goes for medical marijuana.
“For the product to become something that’s a normal part of grown-up society, it has to evolve from a solo consumption occasion, to something that’s shared, talked about, and not considered hidden,” says Morey.
In other words, the weed industry needs to do what the retail industry needs to do in general: focus on experiences over products and encourage the public to consume cannabis in designed settings, together.
3. Pot Needs A UX Revolution–And It Can Learn From Retail
Frog recommends that having people consume cannabis together makes sense if modeled as a “treatment” or a way to “escape and relax.” It could also “enhance” any other experience–some chefs are already cooking cannabis-influenced prix fixe meals. And the wellness market, in particular, seems promising for cannabis. Pot could be billed as downright healthy, Frog believes, especially if more research is funded like that we’ve seen in the wine industry, linking moderate drinking to a few positive health benefits.
As Morey talks about a family-friendly face for cannabis, I can’t help but picture a Massage Envy that offers a hot box sauna. Or maybe fast casual food chains, like Chipotle, selling a THC-laced queso instead of that margarita or beer with your meal–complete with a marketing campaign showing twenty-somethings dipping into spiked nachos together while giggling at the thrill. That’s essentially the new experience-focused ad strategy of GrubHub (minus the weed, of course)!
But unlike my own imagination, Morey actually doesn’t think that a familiar franchise model is necessary to legitimize the cannabis experience. “It could take a yoga studio model, where multiple small players drive the same agenda,” he says. “I’m loathe to make predictions, but I think it will happen even faster than we think.”