Culture Retail

California’s Top Dispensaries Predict 2019 Cannabis Trends

Four of the state’s most notorious dispensaries weigh in on last year’s consumer habits and trends, as well as what to expect on this next THC trip around the sun.

Today, shopping for cannabis in California offers more options than ever before. As dispensary shelves grow heavy with a myriad of products that range from dog biscuits to bath bombs, knowing what people in the country’s largest recreational pot market are purchasing — and why — may provide vital clues in our efforts to predict the industry’s future.

Following California’s first full year selling recreational cannabis, owners of top dispensaries in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles — Barbary CoastSPARCHarborside, and Medicine of the Angels (MOTA)— kindly agreed to discuss their observations and predictions with MERRY JANE. The conversations offered intriguing insights about what items are growing in popularity, and the shifting demographics of the customers they’re seeing each day.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.


MERRY JANE: What were the most popular products purchased at your dispensaries in 2018? Do you expect those products to continue to be bestsellers in 2019?

Jesse Henry, Executive Director of Barbary Coast (San Francisco):Flower and preroll are the biggest sellers, followed by cartridges, edibles, extracts, and topicals. This has been the trend more or less for a few years now, and I expect it to continue.

Erich Pearson, CEO of SPARC (San Francisco, Sebastopol, & Santa Rosa): Our top three categories for 2018 were flowers, edibles, and cartridges (in that order). We have seen customers lean towards lower THC and higher CBD items in all categories as many new cannabis customers have not used cannabis in many, many years — if ever — and are worried about how high THC items will affect them. We expect this trend to go on for quite some time as the market matures.

Steve DeAngelo, CEO of Harborside (Oakland & San Jose): Flowers still were the bestselling category, but [vaporizer] carts have been moving like crazy and are just about even with flowers (each about 31%). Gummies have pretty much knocked off most other types of edibles into “slow seller” categories.  Even though chocolate had a higher percentage for the year overall — and tinctures were also up there — if you just look at Q4, you can see they are starting to make more and more of an impact.

Luis Bobadilla, President of Medicine of the Angels (Los Angeles): I think with the advent of adult-use, the big transition has been the ever-growing share of the vape portion of the market. That’s the big one we’ve seen. Speaking to a few years ago, when vapes where a blip, they were still a piece of the business, but marginal. Edibles have now grown into a significant portion of the business, too. One reason is that the edibles market fragmented in the sense that high-dosage, medical consumers now buy their stuff from the black market. I think the restrictions on potency, on packaging, and the costs associated with them have driven the old medical consumers away, and they’ve been replaced by adult-use consumers who are interested in micro-dose, lower THC things. Edibles are still there, but it’s now different products that make-up those sales. We’ve lost the medical people, but somewhat replaced them with a micro-dose, adult-use consumer.


Above, a photo of Barbary Coast’s consumption lounge by Nick Wadler

Acknowledging that every person wants something a little different, did you notice any trends in flower sales specifically in 2018?  Are people drawn to “name brand” strains like Willie Nelson’s Willie’s Reserve line?

Jesse Henry / Barbary Coast: At Barbary Coast, we see a lot of tourists because of our downtown location and our consumption lounge. The customer base is still pretty new, so what we’re seeing is a lot of customers that have never tried cannabis or have had very limited experience. So they’re really trying things for the first time. As the market matures, there will definitely be a draw to specific brands.

Erich Pearson / SPARC: We have not noticed customers leaning towards brand names of high-profile individuals, rather than by cultivator. SPARC has been labeling its strains by cultivator for quite some time, as this helps with associating quality and price levels for the customer. By knowing the cultivator, customers can make better purchasing decisions. If there is a strain that they love and we happen to be out of stock, they know they can get the same level of quality and care they have become accustomed to by selecting another strain grown by the same group.

Steve DeAngelo / Harborside: Absolutely. Our flower is generally from our farm (or something we processed in-house), and prepack is branded flower we receive from outside sources. You can see that prepack items make up the large majority of flower sales as a whole, with branded pre-rolls also taking up a big chunk, and items we process in-house (mostly just our farm stuff) that is “white labeled” with Harborside logos is only 15% of the total in the last six months.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Zack Ruskin on Merry Jane

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Published: January 11, 2019

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