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A framework for understanding the NYC weed consumer, Narc of the week
The uninformed consumer
Yesterday, my plug texted me a menu. It contained strain names and their prices, by the ounce. Today, I am typing this as I wait for his delivery.1
I was introduced to him back in 2018. Back then, this transaction would have gone a lot differently. I was past my Washington Square Park deals — moving up in weight and quality — but I was still a relative newbie and an NYU student; an uninformed consumer.
I didn’t need a menu. I already knew what I wanted — the national brand. Weed.
That’s it. In 2018, I would have texted him an amount (cop a zip) and he’d travel to a nearby corner (eventually). I didn’t know anything about different strains, didn’t even need as much as he was going to give me, and still only had a rudimentary idea of quality and how to distinguish it.
If I was an NYU kid in Manhattan today, I would buy my weed from a bodega. I’d walk in, ask for a pre-roll (1 x $10, 3 x $25), and walk out. I would have no need for the local dispensaries; they are going to take longer and cost more, and if there are two things a college student does not have, they are time and money.
Some people see this as a problem. I won’t get into the selling weed to minors discussion, because my example customer is a college student and college students aren’t allowed to buy beer either. The problem, from a financial perspective, is that sales are being diverted from ‘legal’ shops to ‘illegal’ shops. And the ‘legal’ shops claim they aren’t making as much money as they could be as a result.
But, in this newsletter’s opinion, legal weed shops are just missing the point (and squandering a massive opportunity). If there is one thing that the success of the weed bodega shows, it is that NYC customers want to buy weed from a local business. There was always weed available to those who really wanted it. If sales are now happening at bodegas that means there is a new and burgeoning market.
The fact that the bodegas are operating illegally is beside the point (and the opinion of a narc).
The point is: New York weed consumers are uninformed! They don’t know (or care) what the hell they’re buying. They just want weed!
How can the legal shops capitalize on this? The illegal weed bodegas have already written the playbook. Supply generic weed on every corner. Put a sign out front with, like, the Statue of Liberty smoking a joint. Let people get in and out of the store in 30 seconds. Take credit cards.
Now, I’m being unfair here. It is not the legal weed shops that have much control over any of that. Pretty much everything I just said is currently restricted by law. So, yeah, legal weed shops can’t compete with your local weed bodega.
But then that’s where the anger (and public resources) should be directed — at the unfair laws that restrict weed shops from running a successful business. Industry advocates should be shouting at the unjust regime on Twitter, and not celebrating misplaced law enforcement actions that will achieve next to nothing…
Narc of the week
It may seem unfair to make Kaelan the narc of the week. He runs a business, has formed a coalition of cannabis businesses, and knows and advocates for policies that will help cannabis companies operate successfully. Here’s a podcast where he has some good, well-informed ideas for New York’s market.
But, in that same podcast, he advocates for increased police enforcement of ‘illegal’ weed shops. That position is inexcusable — the war on drugs has caused irreparable harm for BIPOC communities, and there is no good industry advocacy that can include it continuing.
I also don’t care for the opinion that these operators are just looking to make a quick buck (as if that’s somehow a bad thing). That’s the whole point! An industry advocate should understand that — though, of course, Kaelan represents a different side of the industry. But then the focus should be on how to compete — differentiated products, branding, pricing, etc.
Of course, that will require consumer education. Speaking of…
Is New York’s legal weed dank enough?
That is the title of this podcast episode brought to you by Katie Way at Hell Gate.2 She convened a panel of stoners to smoke legally- and illegally-sourced weed, to educate and inform New York consumers.
As the market matures, this will be the type of discussion that will eventually dictate the winners and losers in the industry. Although, even a negative review from a discerning stoner is not a death knell for any brand or store — a lot of people just want weed, and they’re fine with ‘mids.’ It’s up to the business to best position themselves with their own unique value proposition to the end consumer.
That does not include advocating for the shutdown of your competitor.
If you really want to get informed about the weed you’re smoking, Ben Gilbert is putting on a cool event in New York:
If you attend, prepare to hear a lot of big words like ‘phenotype’ and ‘terpenes’ that likely mean nothing to the average person. That’s the point — but this newsletter wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to stick with bodega weed.
It was supposed to be yesterday, but my guy is also an up-and-coming producer, and he was “stuck in the stool.” That’s part of the reason I continue doing business with him — hustle respects hustle.
Shoutout to my good friend — and radical comms PR wizard — Kelsey, who directed me to this independent, worker-owned news outlet.