.It’s Bud, American Style

People still prefer plain old weed 

If you wanted to get high in 1979, and you didn’t live near pot farmers in California, you might buy yourself a “a lid of Mexican.” For you young sprigs out there, a “lid” was what people called an “ounce,” and “Mexican” was the green, seedy, headache-inducing weed that sold for $15-$20 a lid and was more likely to have been grown in an Iowa ditch than on a Mexican pot farm. 

Or you might buy a “lid of Columbian,” which was the superior, brown, seedy, crumbly weed that sold for a whopping $30-$40. Its true provenance was equally unclear, but nobody cared much from where it came. 

At least in the Midwest, those were generally the choices, though every so often somebody would snag some “Hawaiian” or “Panama Red,” probably grown in California. It usually wasn’t even as good as the average pot you can buy in a dispensary now, but at the time it seemed like superweed. 

After a severe pot shortage in the mid-’80s (brought on largely by law-enforcement actions at the height of the War on Drugs: Ever heard of paraquat?), everyday weed got way better and way more expensive. California became the nation’s main supplier, and the stuff the expert farmers grew here sold for about four times for which “Columbian” pot had been selling. And while people sometimes experimented with edibles, usually by baking up some pot cookies or hash brownies, smoking was still overwhelmingly the most common method of ingestion. 

It was only after state-level legalization came along that the public at large got access to a dizzying array of “cannabis products”: edibles, vapes, oils, dabs, sublinguals, tinctures, pills, etc. Some of them sell well: in particular, edibles, which are especially attractive to people who can’t, or don’t want to, inhale stuff into their lungs that isn’t air. And yet, smoking bud remains overwhelmingly the most common method of ingestion. That’s true in both the legal and illicit markets. 

This is changing, but slowly. Various estimates put flower at somewhere between 55% and 70% of the market, just a bit under where it was a couple of years into the legalization era. Interestingly, medical patients prefer raw bud by wider margins than adult-use customers do. That’s partly thanks to its quick onset, a problem that makers of other products have been working feverishly to solve via various technological means. 

The irony of all this is that smoking weed is actually an historical anomaly. For millennia, most people ingested pot by chewing leaves, or turned them into unguents and salves.

Edibles, while still markedly less popular than bud, make up the biggest share of the non-flower market. Vapes have a fairly healthy share as well, but other products trail far behind. Topicals, for example, have less than 1% of the market, according to several surveys. 

Cannabis beverages also land toward the bottom of the popularity list. That might come as a surprise to anyone who follows weed news or sees a lot of press releases and product promotions. It seems the cannabis-beverage industry is intent on creating a thriving market for itself. There are many barriers to this happening any time soon: legal restrictions, for one thing. And there’s the fact that the stuff often tastes like a regular drink with a splash of bong water in it.

Headset, a company that monitors the cannabis market, just issued a new report showing that cannabis beverages are growing in popularity, but are still firmly ensconced in the “niche” category. While the market for weed drinks has grown by 40% over the past two years, it still represents less than 3% of the overall legal cannabis market in the U.S. and Canada, and just over 1% of the U.S. market by itself. 

The product category has “significant potential for growth,” according to the report. But also: “Industry excitement may be exceeding customer demand.” Which, come to think of it, is a good description not only of large parts of the cannabis business, but of American-style capitalism in general. 

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