by Rick Thompson/originally published in The Rolling Paper – February 2020 issue
Prior to the passage of the bill package which created the Michigan Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) in 2016, one of the community’s main concerns about the commercial cannabis market for medicinal users was the lack of diversity in product selection. If licensed retailers in the regulated market want to recruit consumers into their stores, they need to keep niche medicinal cannabis products on the shelf.
Specific strains are needed by patients to resolve specific ailments, and pediatric cannabis use is especially dependent upon a continuous supply of high quality cannabis, from which concentrates are created. Those strains are not always popular in cultivation facilities, as they produce less flower per plant than others grown in the same facility.
In a commercial setting, where cultivators never interact with the consumers on a regular basis, productivity and profitability is often what drives the selection of cannabis strains grown. Patient needs are not directly seen, heard and felt by the persons making the strain selections in large agribusiness. The pathway for messaging from consumer to cultivator is no longer direct, it flows through the provisioning center.
Patients in most cases already have a supply of these unique strains through the medical marijuana program and associated individuals. Although patients are diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions every day in Michigan, the bulk of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients are registered already and have treatment options established.
The regulated cannabis industry survives by drawing cannabis users out of their old purchasing habits and into the new marketplace. This is true of both medical and adult-use cannabis programs. The regulated market’s share of the total amount of cannabis purchased in Michigan will grow if they provide what the people need and at the price point the people want.
Recreational cannabis sales have begun but currently, most cannabis sales at provisioning centers are to patients. Increasing the regulated market’s share of cannabis purchases means recruiting patients, and many patients are just not interested in trying out the hottest strain from Colorado or California.
That’s where proactive budtending comes in. In addition to offering the consumer the provisioning center’s current variety, staff should be asking the consumer what they would like to see on the shelves. In monthly newsletters each provisioning center should be seeking feedback on strains, selection and pricing. In-store surveys, filled out by patients while waiting their turn, can be valuable guides to determine what areas of patient needs are going unfulfilled.
But collecting data is not enough. Transmitting that information to cultivation licensees and cannabis processors is important. Maintaining good relations with representatives of these industries should be high on the priorities list for any provisioning center manager. Being unafraid to make a small test purchase is important, too.
Although patients can get analysis paralysis just like any other consumer group, having medicinally-oriented selection of specialty items is one way to establish a unique appeal for any provisioning center. And establishing a unique identity, in the sea of ever-growing cannabis purchase options, is one way to keep patients happy and keep profits in line, too.