PITTSFIELD, Mass. - Much like the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic liquors, new laws enacted state by state legalizing the recreational use of marijuana are creating a booming industry.
To date, cannabis consumption is legal in 19 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam.
A growing majority of Americans believe that recreational marijuana should be legal. A Gallup poll conducted in October 2019 found that 66% of U.S. adults think the drug should be legal. A Pew Research Center survey and the General Social Survey conducted by the nonpartisan and objective research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found similar levels of support for marijuana legalization.
With the change in attitudes, The Herbalist was born.
“The goal was to make some sense of this frantically expanding new industry, offering a look into cannabis culture for old hands and curious newcomers alike,” wrote editor Kimberly Kirchner, in the debut issue. “With the Herbalist, we had two primary objectives: providing a safe place to advertise for dispensaries, which didn't have many choices back in 2019; and to educate readers about the "finer points" of legal cannabis so they felt confident enough to visit a dispensary themselves,” she added in a recent interview.
But the ever-increasing demand for products and information surrounding the new industry made administration at The Herbalist realize that cannabis wasn’t just a niche product, or an interest shared by a limited audience.
“To that end, we focused both the magazine and website contents on basic information that was accessible to casual users, in contrast to the existing hobby magazines that were oriented towards a much savvier audience,” said Kirchner who is also special products editor for New England Newspapers Inc.
“We quickly realized that there’s a much wider scope to this and we decided to give the people what they want,” said Letty Acosta, Regional Director of Digital Strategy & Revenues for New England Newspapers.
That evolution is now Home Grown New England, a news and information platform that uses print, digital, video, social media and electronic outdoor advertising to feed the needs of a growing consumer base.
“In terms of branding, our goal was to draw on retro design (acknowledging that, based on the age demo in the Berkshires, most of our readers would have been young adults in the 60s and 70s) while maintaining a modern, classy look that didn't lean too far towards ‘dark, questionably-smelling head shop.’ The general tone in our promotional material and social media was conversational and just a little irreverent,” Kirchner said.
Without abandoning its core concept, Home Grown New England will be present in a wide variety of media and not limited to a quarterly magazine. Legislative news, lifestyle trends, cannabis tourism, product development and a myriad of other areas of interest will be explored.
“Today’s cannabis offerings are more plentiful, more diverse and more specialized than ever,” said Kirchner. “Instead of settling for whatever your cousin’s boyfriend’s roommate happened to have stashed in his sock drawer, consumers can now pick and choose their perfect marijuana experience from form to flavor to potency. That amount of choice is exciting, but it also can be intimidating.”
Another area that will be a factor is the boundary-less reach.
“Although we’re based in Massachusetts, we’re not limited by geography,” added Acosta. “With so many more states, cities, territories and countries enacting legislation that allows for recreational use of cannabis products, we can reach them all.”
Retail sales from dispensaries are or are in the process of making them allowed in all states where the drug is legal except for Vermont. Retailers there will start receiving licenses in October 2022. The District of Columbia has not yet established a regulatory agency for recreational cannabis, and officials in Guam were still making changes to their policy on ownership of a cannabis business as of June 2021, according to U.S. News and World Report.
“UpCountry Magazine, Vermont News & Media and New England Newspapers are media partners who know their audiences like no one else. With VNM, we know our readers have cannabis questions, and UpCountry and New England Newspapers have the answers, helping to make that key connection between Vermonters and the green they want and need in the Green Mountain state,” said Vermont News Media executive editor Noah Hoffenberg.
In the decade since the first two states – Washington and Colorado – legalized recreational marijuana use, the topic has become prevalent in political, social and ethical conversations.
Although cannabis is still federally illegal, nationwide support for the federal legalization of cannabis has grown every year. The 18- to 34-year-old age group has the biggest advocates with 78% supporting marijuana legalization, according to a 2018 survey by Statista, a national research and marketing company.
Maintaining its previous audience while appealing to new points of view, Home Grown New England has plans to be that much more diverse.
“The erosion of the stigma surrounding cannabis has brought about a lot of change,” said Morgan Fox, Media Relations Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “It’s legal and more socially acceptable than ever before and consumers are involving it in their lifestyles.”
Fox warned that painting all cannabis aficionados with one brush is a mistake.
“You still have the ‘stoner image,’ but that’s just one type of person who enjoys marijuana,” he said.
The evolving market is bringing about experts who judge contests to journalists with a specific cannabis beat.
“It’s more comparable to the craft beer market,” Fox said. “There are growers and product manufactures who appeal to consumers looking for a certain flavor, aroma, potency, etc.”
Fox suggested that a successful publication will treat this burgeoning industry like any other.
“Know your audience and target your demographics,” he said. “Use research to get a sense of preferences and utilize other fields to incorporate those lessons.”
Just like publications focused on food and wine, cannabis has boutique retailers, professionals, connoisseurs, and industry insiders.
"When it comes to market reach, whether considering geography, demographics or consumer attributes the NENI Digital Cannabis Solutions are unrivaled. For example, our recently deployed Herbalist digital widgets deliver 3 to 4 million qualified impressions per quarter to participating advertisers. There's one example of NENI's reach!"