Marketing and the people in the lineup at my local cannabis dispensary

As any marketing agency strategist will tell you, the target market for the work is one of the key pieces of information required. Without a well-defined target audience, it’s very difficult to create a campaign that you know will resonate and deliver on the business objectives – if you try to talk to everyone, you’re likely to reach no one. Therefore, marketers use segmentation strategies to target particular groups that they believe may be most attracted to the product or service being marketed. There are four traditional types of segmentation:

  1. Demographic – age, gender, marital status, race, children in the home
  2. Psychographic – interests, values, beliefs, lifestyle
  3. Geographic – zip/postal code, neighborhood, city, country
  4. Behavioral – purchasing habits, brand history, historical engagement

Let’s apply these different segmentation options to the people I met in the lineup at my local dispensary and see if we can learn something. Some basic information about the dispensary and a few other factors:

  • It sells recreational cannabis to anyone 19+
  • It’s located in the Entertainment District of downtown Toronto
  • It’s a Friday afternoon on a spectacularly beautiful September day

I spoke to about a dozen people; everyone was really forthcoming and pleasant (side note: I’ve often found that cannabis stores have a disproportionate number of smiling, happy people).


A few more men than women, including three sets of couples. Ages ranged from early twenties to mid-60s. A real mix of ethnicities.


Tough to determine in a short conversation but there was a sense of gratitude that they are able to purchase cannabis so easily (it’s still inside the first year of legalization up here in Canada). Several people indicated a liberal view of cannabis laws; a couple from Michigan were frustrated by the time it’s taking to launch adult-use retail in their home state.


Note that the province of Ontario has issued dispensary licenses in a haphazard way and the province is significantly underdeveloped given the population of the market. A city the size of Toronto, if you apply the 6.5 stores per 100,000 residents metric, should have almost 200 dispensaries inside the city limits. They currently have only five. That number grows to twelve if you add the surrounding towns and cities.

Four of the twelve people I spoke to live within a few miles of the store. Another pair worked nearby but live father away. Of the remaining six, four came from places outside the city where legal recreational cannabis is not available; their trip to Toronto was pre-planned and specifically included a trip to a cannabis store. Not unlike other jurisdictions, there are several cities and towns surrounding Toronto that have, for the time being, boycotted dispensaries. And there was also the aforementioned couple from Michigan who said that the availability of cannabis played a role in their decision to visit Toronto for the weekend…canna-tourism?


Past behavior is an indicator of future behavior. It is the early days in cannabis and the regulations around data research is somewhat restrictive, so a brand’s current ability to influence consumer behavior is limited. This snapshot of twelve people though gave us a hint at some patterns. Eight out of 12 were not new to the category and have purchased from legal dispensaries in the past year (including the one we were lined up at). Convenience was expressed as a reason, in addition to the fact that they get more information about the cannabis they are consuming. They all know that they are paying more than they would pay in the black market. A couple of people expressed that they were new users, both saying that they started to use cannabis for health reasons – sleep and pain management.

Cannabis is emerging as a significant consumer goods category and will attract sophisticated marketing minds. Access to good customer data will come in time. Until then, speaking directly to your consumers is always enlightening.

The people in the lineup at my local dispensary
Article Name
The people in the lineup at my local dispensary
A marketer’s lens on the customers that are buying from a retail cannabis shop.

Opportunities & Challenges for Marketers in the Commerce of Cannabis


379 Adelaide St W Toronto, ON

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