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Medical Cannabis Finds an Eager Market In Florida Retirees

Sunshine State boomers suffering the aches of age discover rolling a joint, like riding a bike, is another one of those things you don't forget.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Florida voters last November passed a constitutional amendment to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This amendment revises an earlier ruling that permitted low-THC prescriptions for a tightly limited group of patients.

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Over 70 percent of voters approved access to marijuana treatments for debilitating health conditions based on a physician's certification and a current ID card. The law took effect as we entered the New Year, but Florida is still working on the process and distribution.

Marijuana advocates see this as breakthrough towards legalization of recreational use. But, focusing on the here and now, you might wonder how to market medical cannabis to eager Floridian retirees.

Related: Cannabis Stock Index Grew 236% In 2016

Covered conditions

The referendum permits treatment of named health conditions, including:

  • AIDS
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cancer
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Positive Status For Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • "Other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as those mentioned above, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

Related: 10 Cannabis Startups You Need to Watch

The market

According to Marketing-to-Seniors, "seniors save more than younger segments and have more discretionary income." The website also indicates that seniors "control 60 percent of US assets" and that "People age 65+ have larger retirement accounts and investment portfolios larger than younger people." As well, they state that, "Retirees have more time to engage with direct marketing messages."

The New Frontier Data and ArcView Market Research estimate "Florida's market will grow to $1.6 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 140 percent. That would make it half the size of California's projected $2.6 billion market and top the projected $1.5 billion medical marijuana market for Colorado."

Related: How Do We Measure the Statistical Significance of Legal Cannabis?

The process

Marketing Segment: Successful marketing starts with the identification of the specific market segment. There are age parameters, ethnic differences, gender preferences and socio-economic distinctions. The narrower you can identify the segment, the more targeted the marketing. With Florida's retirees, you're dealing with golfers, sunbathers, shuffleboard players, crafters and more.

You're also talking about boomers who may have used weed in the past. Pamela Johnston, SVP of Electrum Partners, an advisory firm solely focused on cannabis business and policy says, "More interesting is the mindset of the Florida retiree who has lived through the Nixon-created war on drugs -- and may already be comfortably familiar with modalities like smoking joints -- who is now fueled by curiosity in the new modalities that innovation has inspired. Florida will likely produce some of the best market testing for the older age groups."

Because the law limits access to and possession by those with medical problems, so they are your primary market. A recent Cannabis Consumers Coalition study discovered there's a large market for edibles that are 10 milligrams or less. According to the 2017 Report on Cannabis Consumer Demographics and Consumption Habits, 30 percent of cannabis consumers prefer edibles that are up to 10 milligrams, followed by 25 milligrams at around 18 percent.

The report also shows a growing trend of preference for microdosing cannabis edibles. Microdoses are also a safe and effective way of introducing cannabis edibles to new cannabis consumers. Collectively, the data paints a story of a cannabis consumer as regular "everyday" people who are habitual consumers and use cannabis for both medical and adult recreational purposes.

Target Budget: Retirees tend to live within their budgets. Those with plush pensions still watch their spending as inflation eats away at their nest eggs. Those living on Social Security-based fixed and limited incomes can't splurge beyond necessities.

The first group will think of medical marijuana cost as a sunk cost, and those in the second group will stretch dollars to relieve their pain.

Identify Spenders: Not all seniors control their income and spending. Where they do, the man or woman in a couple may do all the shopping. Some retirees support partners suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or from a condition leaving them unable to decide for themselves. Where they don't make their own spending decisions, the choices are left to children and caregivers. That can make targeted marketing difficult without some access to mailing lists or survey results.

Locate Market: The first market for sales in Florida consists of the cities, counties and communities known to harbor large numbers of retirees. Despite the image, Florida doesn't house retirees throughout the state. Floridians make big distinctions between west coasts and east coasts, and the Panhandle and South Florida.

Population demographics will key marketers to those geographical regions. But, don't forget that residents in Canada, New York and other northern climates are home to snowbirds and future Florida residents. Medical marijuana may be a very real attraction to people planning retirement.

Related: Congressional Cannabis Caucus Unites to Protect Marijuana Industry

Reach the market: Seniors respond to some approaches more than others. They're used to large type direct mail approaches. They watch more television and listen to more radio than other market segments. And, they're increasingly involved with web browsing.

According to WeGrow, "Interest in home growing cannabis (medicinally) continues to increase in the senior market. However, this market segment is more easily frustrated by exhaustive online searches and sifting through hundreds of conflicting opinions to learn how to home grow. The data collected from our users indicate how important it is to simplify the learning process." WeGrow's platform provides coordinated educational modules and friendly chatbot conversations teaching adults about cannabis home cultivation and empowers users to cultivate their own wellness.

Seniors also respond well to in-person events, like demonstrations, social events and group education. They're open to workshops and presentations. They can hide their own interest in the group's interest and listen carefully while shying in the back.

"Bright colors and education-driven labeling go a long way in helping seniors understand specific strain effects, medical uses and terpene interactions," said Mike Garganese Sr., co-founder of medical cannabis producer Lola Lola. "Education and guidance are particularly important for seniors, and mainstream packaging of cartridges and pre-rolls creates a comfortable and familiar purchase experience compared to the overwhelming process of buying flower (buds) in bulk."

Related: 6 New Social Apps to Help Cannabis Lovers Find Each Other

Professional Opinion: Eager Floridians still need approval by a licensed physician. And, they can be ordered to defend their right to purchase and possess. So, medical professionals are the key players here.

It won't take long for word of mouth to promote doctors who are known to give permission. There are already websites with lists of "preferred" physicians. Even they have some obligation to the state to honor ethical and compliant behaviors. So, they shouldn't be doling out medical marijuana cards without true cause.

Marketing to those in pain in Florida.

It's also important to remember the law was amended to help those who truly suffer from debilitating and chronically painful conditions. Keeping that focus opens legitimate marketing paths forward like those pursued by pharmaceutical companies.

Providers can visit doctor's offices, retirement home directors, support groups and clinics to promote products, administration, effects and side effects. They can make their presence felt in communities through Chambers of Commerce and Better Business Bureaus. Prospective customers need a non-threatening way to locate the dispensaries.

Providers must clarify what they offer. After all, retirees accustomed to smoking weed may be disappointed in being limited to oils, edibles, extracts, tinctures and the like. For instance, there is little or no high in low-THC products.

As reported by Fox 13 News, "There are two types of cannabis products that may be ordered by qualified physicians who have completed an eight-hour training course regarding medical marijuana. Patients with cancer or a condition that causes chronic seizures or muscle spasms may qualify to receive low-THC cannabis, which has very low amounts of the psychoactive ingredient THC and does not usually produce the "high' commonly associated with cannabis."

The report went on to state that, a patient determined by two physicians to be suffering from a terminal condition "may qualify for medical cannabis, which can contain significant levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC and may produce the "high' commonly associated with the drug."

Related: Cannabis Medicinals Sales Expected to Reach $2 Billion by 2020

So, Florida presents a bit of a marketing challenge. There's a sizable known potential customer base in the state. Most are of an age receptive to marijuana rights, and many can afford it.

But, the legislation is so fresh, it will take time for distribution to hit the road running. Doctors need training, licensing procedures must be worked out, the compliance apparatus must shape itself and education must reach the community. This all means time is needed to define a market and marketing approach to meet the core needs of ailing Floridians with some promise of eager citizens waiting for additional liberalization.