Stoners have long had the reputation for ingenuity. We’ve honed the ability to turn almost any object into a smoking device (see the iconic apple-as-pipe, here in ceramic form), and are well-versed in using common items, like straightened-out bobby pins to clear the bowl in said pipe or a mortar and pestle to break up sticky icky, before grinders became widely available. Rolling joints in Bible pages — although not recommended — became a trope because it became so common. Smoking was illicit, and solutions were homemade. For a long time, marijuana enthusiasts weren’t a desirable market, and we got by.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when cannabis and the people who smoke it became so mainstream. Maybe it was when Colorado and Washington legalized weed in 2016 or maybe it happened even earlier in 2008, when the queen of commercial clean Martha Stewart publicly befriended Snoop Dogg, a rapper and weed business bro considered reefer royalty. By 2018, you could cop artisanal hemp kombucha from your city’s bougiest bodega as well as tincture for CBD (a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found naturally in the plant, credited with aiding everything from body pains to insomnia) from the local 7-11.
Marketers and anyone else looking to cash in on the green rush saw the writing on the wall and by spring 2021, there isn’t an everyday product or service you can think of that doesn’t have a stoner-specific iteration available for purchase — like $58 Herbivore Emerald CBD + Adaptogens Deep Moisture Glow Oil, rolling papers that shake out to ~$7/pop (quite the gamble if you’re not the most prolific roller), a sativa seed hydrating face mask going for $24 each, a spacy-yet-posh $2,000 24-karat gold ashtray, or a $450 Edie Parker Table Top Lighter with its weighty emerald marble base and sterling silver functionalities. You can spend as much or as little as you want on cannabis-related and -tangential products.
As the stoner umbrella continues to cast shade over the entire United States, there has been a proliferation of products aimed specifically at weed-doers. It’s unclear, however, if they’re all really filling pothead needs — do we have to have, say, at-home luxury apparel especially made for us?
For some products and services, of course, the answer is yes. Stoners have a need for specific cannabis and cannabis-related products/services. For example, Eaze, a cannabis product delivery service — UberEats for weed. Not only do they bring strains right to your door, they use confirmation and promo codes never exceeding six characters and typically easy-to-remember words or phrases. (The stereotype has some truth: Regular pot-doers have impacted short-term memories.) Obviously, this service wouldn’t be of use to someone who doesn’t partake, but for the average stoner, it could be essential.
Similarly, no one but stoners would have a reason to shop designer bong company Session Goods, which sells pieces clearly designed by people who take toking seriously. Its flagship design features an ergonomic neck so it’s easy to use (and feels less phallic than many other options out there), and features a rubber base that makes it harder to crack on accident. Shattering a smoking device is a woe potheads know all too well, as pipes and bongs once hawked at music festivals and the back of seedy sex shops were almost always flimsy glass; at some point, the user would inevitably be so mellow or in outerspace that the clumsy conclusion was basically promised.
Crafting niche supplies for niche interests with usability in mind is a logical approach for businesses targeting narrow groups of people. Serious weightlifters would benefit from a power belt that promotes the Valsalva breathing method maneuver; bowed string musicians often prefer to use rosin with a grip for easier application to their instruments. But with cannabis usage at what sure seems like an all-time high, how probable is it to even address such a broad group?
Weed smokers aren’t all alike. There’s the poet with the crystal in their bra who might regularly shop for pink rolling papers. Also, the new dad who hits a pocket vape while his toddler naps and he thumbs through Twitter. As well as the 50-something lounge pianist who steeps her nightly mint tea with a spike of sativa. But don’t forget the ambitious backpackers carefully rolling a blunt while pitching camp in a redwood forest. It can be hard to envision a singular way to reach them all in a way that separates their money from their wallets.
Is there a perceived vs. actual need for a 420-friendly dating site, for example? What about a 4:20 clock app? What is so unique about stoners we need our versions of everyday products and services? Why hasn’t the surge in craft beer popularity over the past decade sparked a scramble to design the perfect briefcase for the IPA connoisseur?
Brittany Olson, longtime grass-smoker and current sales and business development professional at a vape company, says maybe the urgency for stoner-specific product and services isn’t quite there — but the market is. “I mean, you see mascaras that say ‘CBD-infused.’ There’s 4/20 eye makeup that caters to the stoner,” Olson says, admitting products of that ilk do appeal to her. “They got me, they sold me. They’re trying to reach that market, and I don’t blame them.” She notes that, as long as the quality is there, it doesn’t so much matter if there’s a stoner-specific feature to attract customers.
Late last year, Forti Goods rolled out its offerings: solely furniture meant to appeal to folks who toke. The only difference between the Scandinavian-inspired minimalist furniture and its cheaper IKEA equivalent is lockable drawers, presumably to keep your stash safe. (To be fair, the brand also offers a cartridge block akin to cosmetic organizers, presumably for keeping a large collection of ganja accouterments straight.)
I can’t make an argument for such an expenditure. If the product or service in question offers a unique net-positive — like an at-home luxury apparel option fortified with a fireproof coating (I can’t tell you how many burn marks my favorite bathrobe sports) or a bedside table featuring a built-in, easily cleanable ashtray — then there is function. And, therefore, there’s a reason to buy it over the alternative available before this budding industry opened up the promise of cashing in on a new demo with disposable income.
When actor and weed advocate Seth Rogen introduced the cannabis shop Houseplant in the US recently, he included a lighter with a leather base big enough that it can park comfortably and cutely on your coffee table. The design and execution of this good help solve a problem, in this case, the constant refrain of losing your lighter.
Other products have a similar raison d’être. Swiss army knife for stoners, the Nuggy, offers an alternative to the straightened-out bobby pin of yesteryear. College dorm residents today will never know the struggle of stuffing a dryer sheet into a paper towel tube and exhaling through that, because now there are devices such as the Smoke Buddy Personal Air Filter to eliminate the need for ingenuity. Skunk Urban has for sale a smell-proof backpack, which can help diffuse super-odiferous gas to divert potential leerers while commuting (plus a lock in case you have kids or snooping housemates).
The unique functionality Rogen captures is what brands need to pinpoint and execute if they hope to stick around past this initial popularity, Olson says. “I think that’s what’s really going to set these brands and these companies apart from the others who are just along for the ride,” she adds. Scores of pothead dating apps exist, aiming to offer symbiotic stony love without the old stigma. However, as this stigma thins, these apps might not offer anything new than more generalist predecessors, in which you can leave a note in your bio hinting at an affinity for herb.
But stoner-specific lifestyle companies are sprouting up, with some aimed at helping the new-to-weed.
Anyone can virtually drop into the Bay area-based Ganja Yoga classes, its vinyasas not explicitly designed to clear lung gunk in smokers so much as a fun excuse to get high before bending. Multi-city Puff, Pass & Paint is a stoned spin on wine-fueled group art outings. Bud and Breakfast is an Airbnb alternative for travelers who prioritize accommodations in which blazing up is at least allowed if not deliberately designed as the center of the experience.
You could encourage guests to bring their own vape or hope someone spikes the cocktail dispenser with THC tincture at your party — or you could hire a bespoke 420-friendly event planning service like Love and Marij to map out features like a wedding reception flower bar (with or without an associated budtender) and table centerpiece bouquets including actual cannabis leaves.
As mainstream as it may now be, cannabis remains a new, unknown experience for many. Your great aunt might know three champagne flutes is her sweet spot, Love and Marij Founder Niki McDonald says, but that doesn’t mean she has the same familiarity of her limits and preferences when approaching the bud bar at the wedding reception. Plus, the company’s services can help conjure a specific atmosphere.
“With alcohol, you don’t really have the ability to control the vibe,” McDonald says, “but ... different strains can bring different feelings and emotions.” She’s talking about the plant’s intricacies; how the tiny crystals called trichomes produce the billions of cannabinoids that write the blueprint for your experience. “If you’re having a dance party, you might want to choose different strains than if you’re going to be watching films versus … doing yoga,” McDonald continues. In this case, the service solves the problem of attendees who aren’t the most seasoned, while also serving the traditional wedding need of handling day-off stresses.
Still, like most of the existing, enormous, and encompassing cannabis industry, largely those who stand to profit — and it’s a very small sliver: is white folks. The ACLU continues to release surveys that find Black people consistently more likely to get arrested on cannabis-related charges (despite basically identical usage among white populations).
Sweeping state legalization is great news for clemency efforts, but many states necessitate cost-prohibitive licensing in order to operate legally, which in turn keeps out lots of people of color. For example, in Portland, Oregon, growers can expect a $10,000 non-refundable classification fee to be considered “legit” and therefore legal. Should we even get into the weeds of what happens when federal legalization sets in place a series of mandates in order to operate? Such bills would push out innumerable smaller family farms — many of which led by brown and Black folks — thus breeding a Mary Jane monopoly akin to Monsanto privatizing seeds in the agricultural space.
Those who can clear the barriers to entry continue to pole-vault into it with fat pockets bloated further with VC capital. And the same mechanisms fund the wealthy white folks entering the weed product space. Of course, this isn’t always the case and — hopefully — continued state and federal efforts to set up some order (via clemency efforts, among others) in the racial injustice synonymous with cannabis’s history in the United States.
“I think more and more people will join the party, I guess you could say,” Olson says about consumers as well as niche companies, “as far as being more comfortable and open with their consumption and expressing their style ... I don’t know, it’s really cool to see ... new things that are coming up.”
Despite all this rush to cash in, though, some stoner needs go unmet: Even though now I use ribbed rubber plugs for my weekly bong cleanings, I have yet to find a long-necked brush with bristles hard enough to remove stubborn resin, soft enough it doesn’t scratch up the clear glass — so I use packaging tape to fix a soft-bristle toothbrush to a wooden spoon and use that to do the job. Pot-doers have deep familiarity with the world around them adjusting. So we keep persisting.
Since I have yet to try any solution specially made to get smoking devices squeaky clean again that actually works, I continue crafting my own bizarre cocktail of isopropyl alcohol, kosher salt, some water, and a couple drops of essential oil to shake through my bongs.
Does it matter if stoners can’t be considered a singular demographic? The needs still come down to just a few commonalities, but mostly individual tastes and desires, even amid all this corporatization. Perhaps, like buying anything else, it’s okay to buy something you just like. A chic blue-sky Zippo-style lighter might go missing just as easily as your trusty Bic, but if you like it more than a tabletop alternative, go forth and shop it. After all, what good is weed or anything weed-adjacent if it can’t be chill? Well, alright alright alright.