Annie Lowrey has a smart piece in the NYT Magazine about how the cannabis business is likely to look after legalization. She gets one key point – much lower prices – though she doesn’t develop its implications for the size of the cannabis market and the prevalence cannabis abuse disorder; that’s not what her story is about.
The focus of the article is on consistency, and how the industry is stumbling toward being able to deliver a reproducible product, to the point where two joints with the same brand name will be alike as two beers with the same brand name. If that happens – and I think Lowrey is right that it will – that might make cannabis a much safer product. But there’s a subtlety here.
Bud Light is reliable, but it’s also pretty bad (or so my beer-drinking friends tell me). So’s a McDonald’s burger. On the other hand, there are also products that are both reliable and of high quality.
Other than quality, there’s the question of diversity. The beer market is overwhelmingly dominated by four more-or-less-identical brands. It’s not just that every can of Bud is the same as every other can of Bud; they’re pretty much the same as cans of Miller or Coors. So other than the choice between regular lager and light, there’s not much actual consumer choice among mass-market beers, which account for upwards of 70% of the beer sold in the U.S.
It’s possible that the pot market will wind up like the beer market. But it could instead end up like the wine market, with greater variety and higher quality along with reliability. That would matter both to the consumer experience and also to the distribution of political power.
So standardization is good. Bud-Lightification, not so much. And they’re different phenomena.
[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]
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