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The Emergence of Cannabis as Luxury

Consumers are seeking a sophisticated experience more than the high.

This story originally appeared on Benzinga

As public perception of cannabis as a taboo illicit drug melts away, it’s turning into a lifestyle. Mainstream businesses and entrepreneurs have entered the market specifically to cater to new cannabis consumers seeking a sophisticated experience more than the high.

There was once a time when cannabis was banned from polite conversations and avoided by mainstream media. Fast forward to today and cannabis seems to be all anyone is talking about. Nearly one in three Americans now live in a state where cannabis is legal for recreational use. The pandemic has advanced the dissolution of old stigmas with many states legitimizing cannabis use both as a true therapy for patients and as a revenue builder for depleted coffers. 

Related: This Is What a Luxury Cannabis Dispensary Looks Like in Toronto

Women driving sales

The evolving cannabis landscape is joined by shifts in consumer demographics, demands and purchasing behavior. Cannabis consumers are spending roughly 25-30% more per purchase today than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, opening doors to introduce higher-priced, premium products. Women, who generally desire such products and control trillions in spending power, are the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis consumers. Alcohol is being replaced with cannabis as people increasingly focus on health and wellness. High-end cannabis services like marijuana sommeliers are now a real thing.

More and more women are launching female-focused brands to better serve the growing base of female customers. New and existing cannabis consumers are increasingly seeking better-quality products. The movement has spurred the development of innovative products and brands taking cues from luxury fashion, hospitality and food groups – from Louis Vuitton to Ladurée – and elevating the entire industry.

Mainstream participation

Unlike in fashion where luxury is conspicuous, luxury cannabis is rooted in self-care and wellness but with the added touch of indulgence and self-expression that sets it apart from the rest of the industry. This makes it all the more appealing to Millenials and Gen Z consumers who have a more nuanced relationship with the luxury sector. The pandemic has put health and well-being at the forefront and luxury cannabis is becoming a recognized place for affluent consumers to turn to.

In March 2019, high-end retailer Barneys New York became the first major American department store to introduce a cannabis lifestyle shop with the launch of The High End at its Beverly Hills flagship location. The retail behemoth partnered with upscale cannabis vaporizer and edible pastilles brand, Beboe, to bring the luxury wellness retail concept to life.

Jonathan Adler, iconic designer of modern home decor, teamed up with luxury retailer and cannabis lifestyle brand Higher Standards to design a capsule collection of cannabis-inspired accessories that includes glossy trays, catchalls and coasters.

Others still are creating sister brands that meld cannabis with the extravagant lifestyle. Edie Parker, a high-end collection of vintage-inspired acrylic handbags and home decor, brought their unique aesthetic to cannabis with the launch of Flower by Edie Parker. Fully merging the worlds of fashion and cannabis, Flower by Edie Parker offers upscale, colorful smoking accessories and fun cannabis products to the luxury female consumer.

Given the lack of cannabis products designed specifically with women in mind, Edie Parker isn’t the only female-forward cannabis brand that has emerged. Her Highness is another such premium purveyor of cannabis couture that’s bringing to market luxury cannabis and THC-infused self-care products inspired by and engineered by women.

Celebrities are coming out of the woodwork with their own cannabis brands, elevating the cannabis game with famous personalities. Jay-Z partnered with California-based cannabis company Caliva to create MONOGRAM, yet another premium cannabis brand. Launched in December 2020, the high-end line includes five different strains of craft, indoor-grown cannabis flower and joints, retailing for nearly twice the average at $40 for two grams. 

Earlier this year, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg launched Houseplant, a purveyor of custom cannabis strains and artisan home goods and smoking accessories. Products in the latter collection, some handmade by Rogan himself, range in price from $250-$350.

Related: The New Buzzword in Cannabis Branding? 'Affordable Luxury'

New concepts draw in premium consumers

Beyond physical products, we’re also seeing a rise in novel experiences designed for the premium consumer. From cannabis hotels and lounges to art galleries and spas, there’s a multitude of cannabis hospitality concepts either under way or already in operation.

Humboldt Social and Papa & Barkley unveiled Papa & Barkley Social, a first-of-its-kind cannabis lounge, day spa, restaurant and boutique, this past 4/20. The concept introduces a new kind of cannabis indulgence, creating a space where locals and tourists alike can browse local swag, smoke high-quality cannabis, grab lunch and relax with a CBD facial. 

Meanwhile, Palm Springs awaits the opening of The Grape House, a luxury cannabis-centric boutique hotel development that includes a dispensary-shop featuring a curated mix of upscale cannabis, accessories and apparel, accompanied by a restaurant and smoking parlor.

Root’d is rethinking the cannabis consumption lounge by combining high-quality cannabis with elite customer service and live events like comedy, music, yoga and sports viewing parties in a luxe-designed space.

Premium hotel chains from the fashionable and stylish Soho House to the more traditional Accor Hotel Group are actively looking to integrate CBD products into their in-room amenities, a trend that will undoubtedly continue to propagate throughout the hospitality industry.

These innovative, high-end cannabis concepts will bolster the luxury cannabis sector as premium consumers seek cannabis-infused experiences and get-aways.

Touring for luxe

After a year on pause, travel is finally resuming with popular tourist destinations opening back up. The revival of cannabis tourism mixed with the prohibition of cannabis trade across state lines will spawn travel for luxury cannabis shopping. Similar to how affluent consumers will fly to Milan for haute couture fashion, others may visit Las Vegas or California to indulge in high-end cannabis products.

Las Vegas experienced one of the sharpest declines in cannabis sales at the onset of COVID-19, caused in part by a 97% drop in tourism. But people are eager to see the bright lights and Blackjack tables once again. Casinos and cannabis aren’t the only attractions on Las Vegas’ infamous Strip – they share the fame with one of the highest concentrations of luxury retail in the U.S. that reels in a high volume of national and international tourists. With dispensaries now neighboring high-end retail like Hermès, Chanel and Gucci, the return of Las Vegas’ tourism is bound to generate greater interest in cannabis as a luxury lifestyle product. 

On the East Coast, New York’s recreational cannabis market is expected to open early next year. We’ll see cannabis side-by-side with the typical high-end 5th Avenue storefronts – and don’t expect these dispensaries to be bleak. Everything on 5th Avenue is extravagant, and cannabis stores will be no different. With a record-high 66.6 million tourists in 2019, New York City’s luxury cannabis market has a chance to take off once visitors return in full force.

Luxury cannabis has arrived

Strong momentum from businesses and consumers alike are propelling the luxury cannabis market’s growth. We can expect more brands and industries to capitalize on the growing public acceptance of weed and extend an arm into luxury cannabis, following the likes of Alexander Wang and Viktor&Rolf.

Cannabis has an updated reputation and the market will respond accordingly. Every category of retail has a spectrum of products from value to luxury, cannabis included. What we’re seeing today is only the beginning of what the high-end cannabis lifestyle can ultimately become.

Sebastien Centner is co-founder of Hervé, a luxury French-inspired edibles company.