Legal Cannabis Preferences: Not Your Grandpa's Grass

On Jan. 1, 2018, California became the sixth state to allow recreational marijuana sales, though the transition was less than earth-shattering: only a few cities have issued licenses to deal legal dope, and the old, medical-only regime was not known for its strict scrutiny.

Even so, the introduction of recreational weed to the nation's most populous state marks a milestone, and it's worth taking a closer look at a market that's expected to triple in size to nearly $22 billion in 2021 (not including illegal sales).

Headset has analyzed point-of-sale data from Washington state dispensaries in September 2017 to break down who legal marijuana consumers are and what they're buying. The company found that marijuana consumers span the generations, with under-35 millennials making up a slight majority (51%), followed by Generation X (aged 35-53) at 34% and Baby Boomers (54-75) at 15%. The Silent Generation, those aged over 76, are a rounding error, but Headset has tracked them too; we've included the data below, but keep in mind that they make up a tiny share of total consumers.

Oils and Gummies and Vapes (Oh My!)

Headset found that each generation of cannabis consumers displays a different pattern of intake preferences. Consumers of all ages favor flowers: the plain-old bud that, in the black markets of yesteryear, was all most customers could find. But today dope shop shelves are stocked with a range of offerings: beverages (which have yet to catch on); capsules (ditto); concentrates (the oils, powders, shatters, hash that range from the ruthlessly face-melting to the THC-free); edibles like brownies and gummies; pre-rolled joints; tinctures; topical creams; and vapor pens. 

Millennials are the most willing to branch out from traditional flowers, while Baby Boomers – a number of whom experienced the 60s and a few of whom remember the time – are the most conservative. Millennials are relatively partial to concentrates and pre-rolls; they're apparently cool on edibles, which Baby Boomers enjoy more often. The Silent Generation goes in for tinctures and sublinguals more than their younger peers, but the data on that cohort is thin and should be taken with a grain of salt.


Headset also breaks down preferences within the broader category of flowers. Cannabis is a genus that contains two main species: C. sativa and C. indica. Sativa contains more of the high-inducing THC relative to CBD, the relaxing other main ingredient in marijuana. Sativa therefore has a reputation for being more "heady," stimulating and inspiring – side effects include giggling and paranoia. Indica, by contrast, is more liable to fasten users to the couch. Its "body high" is favored by those hoping to aid sleep and alleviate pain. Both varieties stimulate the appetite.

The under-75 set prefer hybrid strains combining sativa and indica by a wide margin. Those who plump for pure strains are relatively evenly split between indica and sativa. The interesting contrast is in the Silent Generation's preferences: while sales of pure CBD – which relaxes and relieves pain without the familiar "high" – are still a fraction of the total, the 76-and-over crowd buys it at by far the highest rate. CBD-heavy sativas are also more popular in this cohort, with hybrids claiming a much smaller share of the total. (Again, the small sample size prevents us from reading too much into these patterns.)

A state of 40 million has just entered the recreational market, with Massachusetts and Maine (and their 8 million combined residents) soon to follow. As cannabis' legal status is changing, so is its market, with a wide range of relatively new products becoming more popular and consumers who might have hesitated to toke up before opting to, you know, chill. 

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