All hail the “Weedtail” Revolution – “Reefer Madness,” “Budtails” and MedMen. Drayton’s Rob Seery examines the highs and possible lows of OTC marijuana.
Manslaughter, suicide, and eventual descent into madness. These, according to the 1936 American propaganda film Reefer Madness – a movie whose plot revolves around high school students lured by ‘pushers’ to try marijuana – are just some of the unexpected ‘side-effects’ which might soon be readily available to UK customers, OTC, courtesy of their local chemist.
And that’s because Uruguay and Canada’s legislative decision to legalise the drug for recreational use has been followed by state after state in the USA doing exactly the same thing. Although in the UK, cannabis is currently a controlled drug as classified by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, many experts now believe we might soon follow suit.
Nowadays, it is generally accepted in academic circles that the director of Reefer Madness, Louis J. Gasnier, was exaggerating to make a point. Indeed, one of the key arguments made by the 21st-century lobby groups, which were in the vanguard of those fighting for OTC sales of cannabis, is that legalised distribution allows for tight dosage control – providing a reassuring safeguard for end-users. And so, presumably, seriously curtailing possible negative social effects.
But, if we are about to see cannabis stockists spread across the UK, in the same way as – the now ubiquitous – vaping outlets, what will they look like? If the American experience is anything to go by, they might surprise you. Being less like the famously grungy coffee shops of Amsterdam’s Red Light District and more like the latest Apple store.
As Gwen Morrison – CEO of retail marketing experts The Store WPP – is quoted in a recent Forbes article as saying: “In the future, some stores may look like bakeries, others may take on the look of fine jewellery. As the BBC recently speculated, ‘seedy headshops’ could be a thing of the past.”
One company at the forefront of OTC cannabis sales in the US is West Hollywood-based MedMen, and their stores very much have this Apple-boutique feel. As MedMen’s website says, “MedMen’s mission is to provide an unparalleled experience that invites the world to discover the remarkable benefits of cannabis because a world where cannabis is legal and regulated is a safer, healthier and happier world.”
The Forbes article continues: “The stores are open, clean, modern, with iPads on central tables providing more information, upscale-looking branded product on the wall...and purchases placed in “iconic” fire-red shopping bags.”
Step into any of MedMen’s 19 US outlets and you’ll instantly understand Forbes is right. If Steve Jobs had sold cannabis this is exactly how he would have done it.
Equally interesting to me, as someone whose expertise lies in the field of retail recruitment, is the emphasis these OTC pioneers place on the quality and training of their staff. Bethany Murphy Gomez of cannabis research and insights organization, the Brightfield Group, again in Forbes, agrees: “You walk into a dispensary and there are a hundred different products…you have no idea what half of them are…no idea what to use, how to dose it, what’s going to work for you…that’s why education is absolutely critical.”
And the people who educate those customers will, of course, be the customer-facing retail personnel. Again, taking a page out of Apple’s and, this time, Starbucks’ playbook, the industry already has a trendy name for them – “budtailer.”
MedMen is the standard bearer in the fast-growing state-sanctioned, legal cannabis industry in the U.S. The company owns and operates “Facilities touching the whole vertical from cultivation to manufacturing to retail in five key states; Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, and New York. With 1,000 plus employees and a fast-growing footprint that includes expansion plans in other key states and Canada.”
But there are many others. One example, Eaze, which specialises in the home delivery of CBD (a cannabis derivative), has adopted, what is essentially, a Deliveroo-style business model. Which, somewhat intriguingly, suggests the future of OTC marijuana might not actually be over the counter, at all.
One thing is for certain, as The Independent recently pointed out, cannabis is “the most commonly used illegal drug in the UK. According to the Home Office, around 6.5 per cent of adults aged between 16 to 59 used cannabis in 2016. This equates to roughly 2.1 million people.” So, whether you are for or against OTC marijuana sales in the UK – should it happen, the market is already there.