Does Cannabis Have a Future as a Luxury Product?

My new paper in the business journal Luxury makes an assessment.

In my new paper, “Cannabis: The uncertain path from agricultural commodity to luxury consumable,” I compare cannabis to established luxury consumables such as perfume, wine, and whiskey.

The production high-quality sinsemilla cannabis may not have the long history and established heritage of perfume, but California winemakers have shown how quickly determined producers can achieve luxury status. The rapidly expanding cannabis industry is currently on a commodity trajectory despite attempts to create distinctive, artisanal, high-end products.

In my view, there are several ways for the industry to create luxury products, but they require us to discard traditional ways of thinking about cannabis, and adopt a more flexible and consumer-friendly attitude.

In particular, I believe the fixation on named cultivars, what I call “the fetishization of strains,” limits weed’s appeal to new consumers and inhibits a wider discussion of sensory aesthetics. As we know from wine and perfume, connoisseurship enables a deeper relationship between creators and consumers that sustains a luxury market, and this feature is absent in today’s cannabis space.

The hippie-era insistence on single-strain designations is smothering another critical element of luxury consumables: blending. Wine and perfume, like cannabis, are not far removed from their agricultural origins, yet the blending creativity of the vintner and perfumer lets them soar to levels of sensory delight that justify a luxury price tag. Until blending of different cultivars—and even flavoring!—become acceptable practices, there is little room for creativity and the development of luxury brands.

The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of science, technology, and know-how in the cannabis space. Just as California wine-making came into its own with the adoption of new technology in the 1960s (cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks), today’s sophistication in cultivation and breeding could set the stage for tomorrow’s high-end market.

All that’s missing is a larger-than-life creator to speak for the industry, much as Estée Lauder and Robert Mondavi did for theirs.

The paper discussed here is “Cannabis: The uncertain path from agricultural commodity to luxury consumable,” by Avery N. Gilbert, published online in Luxury on October 16, 2021. DOI: 10.1080/20511817.2021.1946285