Until recently, the only consumer data available on cannabis came through self-reporting surveys mostly conducted, ironically enough, by anti-drug advocacy groups.
The data painted a discouraging picture for any New Jersey business hoping to sell cannabis to women: For example, a 2016 study by Headset found 68 percent of cannabis customers were men.
But as adult-use marijuana spreads throughout North America — it will become legal sometime this summer throughout Canada and is available legally to some 20 million Americans — so has understanding about consumption. In fact, a May 2017 study by the Cannabis Consumers Coalition found that just 53 percent of North American cannabis consumers were male.
That news comes as vindication to Fleurish, the only company in Canada developing cannabis products exclusively for women.
In an exclusive interview with NJ Cannabis Insider, Fleurish’s chief marketing officer, Mary Beth Williamson, opened up about the importance of marketing to women and how New Jersey cannabusinesses might best reach them.
“For years, the assumption was that women’s needs and wants would be the same as men’s when it came to cannabis,” said Williamson, a former PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble marketing executive.
But Williamson said emerging medical and psychological research on cannabinoids shows females absorb cannabis differently, and think differently about its use, too.
“Women are using (cannabis) products differently than men,” Williamson said, “For instance, fewer women prefer to smoke.”
Instead, women often are more interested in flowering alternatives such as creams, salves and even toiletries, such as cannabis-infused “bath bombs.”
Having cut her teeth launching Procter & Gamble’s Oil of Olay brand in Eastern Europe, Williamson is ready to take Fleurish’s own cannabis-infused line of moisturizers to market. And having spent more time studying the differences between female groups than almost anyone in cannabis marketing, Williamson cautioned against dividing cannabis products into a single “pink” category for women, regardless of age.
“‘Marijuana moms’ are very different from millennial users, who are public about it and think it part of their identity, viewing it as part of female empowerment,” she said. “[The marijuana moms] are more guilt-ridden and discreet about it, so they’re going to use differently.”
Such “marijuana moms” may be more interested in cannabis vaping oils, or edible cannabis-laden chocolates, she said, because “they’re not going to smoke a joint and stink up the whole house.”
Younger women who are more likely to smoke cannabis often express a preference for strains with fruity aromas such as berry and citrus, or a more floral notes like violet, Williamson said.
With that in mind, Fleurish contracted with a “global strain consultant” who is equal parts sommelier and vintner, scouring the world’s cannabis strains for those with femme-favored aromatics, and genetically splicing them to make them even more appealing to female customers.
Williamson notes that older, “sandwich generation” women who may be parenting teens and taking care of their own ailing parents often are more inclined toward CBD-rich strains with anti-inflammatory properties that target chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or insomnia.
“They have laundry to do, so they can’t be smoking something that’s going to give them ‘couch-lock.'”
But more than any other category, it’s medical marijuana products aimed at women that Fleurish hopes show the most potential for the legal cannabis industry.
“The highest amount of cannabinoid receptors in the human body are found in the uterus,” Williamson said. “And our research shows women respond to cannabinoids more effectively than men and build up a tolerance faster than men.”
Fleurish hopes to provide relief to the some 800,000 Canadian women suffering from endometriosis, a painful disorder where tissue normally lining the inside of the uterus grows outside it.
The company also is developing CBD strains that are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, which, Williamson said, have shown “tremendous results” for doctors treating endometriosis.
“It takes time and the effort to truly understand them and give them the products they want and that will improve their lives,” said Williamson.
She sees a massively underserved market. “Nineteen percent of Canadian women use cannabis, averaging 100 grams a year. At $8 dollars (Canadian) a gram, that’s a $2 billion dollar market right now,” she said.
Once recreational cannabis becomes legal later this year in Canada, a 2017 DIG Research report forecasts that number is expected to double or triple.