People all over the country are puffing on hemp joints and lighting up CBD nugs as the era of smokable hemp gets into full swing. While the CBD flower trend is causing its share of regulatory confusion and generating other pressing issues, the rise of smokable hemp is simultaneously providing countless opportunities for entrepreneurs, farmers, and other key players in the domestic hemp industry.
According to a recent report from Nielsen Research and Hemp Industry Daily, the challenges and opportunities in the smokable hemp space will evolve dramatically over the next five years. In this list, we’ll summarize the latest research to provide you with the tools you’ll need to prepare for the wild ride that awaits the smokable hemp industry between now and 2025.
1. The line between hemp and marijuana will continue to blur
CBD-rich hemp flower looks and smells just like THC-rich marijuana flower. It’s only possible to tell the difference between these Cannabis sativa products by using them or testing them in a lab. This attribute is simultaneously one of the most desirable and problematic aspects of smokable hemp.
Since it’s similar to THC-rich marijuana, smokable hemp attracts the interest of people who currently use marijuana or who would use marijuana if their state laws allowed it. At the same time, this similarity to a drug that remains illegal in many areas makes smokable hemp into a headache for state and local governments that not even the strongest chronic could cure.
Already, courts across the nation have been forced to throw out cases of marijuana possession when the substance that led to the arrest was proven to be CBD-rich hemp instead of THC-rich cannabis. Law enforcement officers are understandably frustrated with this state of affairs, and in many jurisdictions, marijuana arrests are decreasing significantly due to the growing annoyance of having to test each sample of seized cannabis to determine whether its THC concentration is above or below 0.3%.
In other areas, the authorities are taking the opposite approach. In June, for instance, Louisiana banned smokable hemp, and other states have followed suit or signalled their intent to put similar laws in place.
By 2025, it’s probable that this blurring line between hemp and marijuana will have incentivized major changes. At this point, the FDA will likely have ruled on the status of smokable hemp products, and some form of federal cannabis legalization or decriminalization may also have been passed into law.
2. Smokable hemp may trigger widespread cannabis legalization
States across the nation are falling down on one side or the other of the smokable hemp argument, which is usually a sign that a nationwide policy debate is about to ensue. States like Washington, Colorado, and Oregon, which have legalized recreational marijuana, appear to have little interest in banning CBD-rich smokable hemp. In areas where marijuana is still entirely illegal or only permissible within the context of strictly regulated medical cannabis programs, however, smokable hemp is seen as a slippery slope toward total marijuana normalization.
Over the next five years, we will see the smokable hemp debate enter full swing, and it’s possible that this issue will serve as the lynchpin in the federal marijuana conversation. Long overdue, the United States will eventually be forced to contend with the burgeoning pro-cannabis domestic sentiment and reconcile the mainstreaming of marijuana with entrenched conservative viewpoints.
It’s entirely possible that the push to normalize smokable hemp commerce could swing the needle more fully in favor of federal marijuana reform by 2025. Legislators may conclude that decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level is the only way to reconcile the problem of mistaken identity that is plaguing contemporary cannabis arrests. This isn’t the only way things could go, however, and we’ll explore other possibilities as we continue.
3. Hemp farmers will continue relying on smokable hemp for profits
Late 2017 through early 2019 was the golden age of industrial hemp industry optimism. Boosted by the early rumors and the subsequent reality of the 2018 Farm Bill, agricultural entrepreneurs around the nation invested heavily in what every analyst assured would be the nation’s new cash crop.
These hearty prognostications weren’t exactly wrong, but the hemp boom they predicted would prove to be short-lived. In January of 2020, reports emerged that hemp biomass prices had floored from $40 per pound in July of 2019 down to just $10 due to massive oversupply. It turned out that everyone and their mother had decided to grow low-THC pot in massive scales the previous season, utterly overtaking the demand of domestic CBD producers.
There’s simply no money in producing hemp biomass anymore, and disappointed (or sometimes bankrupt) farmers have largely returned to growing other crops. Amidst this riveting rags-to-riches-to-rags story, however, a quieter tale has emerged that will prove to profoundly impact the smokable hemp industry of 2025.
While hemp biomass is low-quality and destined for extraction, artisan, indoor-grown hemp is high-quality, free of agricultural contaminants, and often designed for smoking rather than extracting. Albeit at a much smaller scale, certain indoor hemp cultivators continue to profit massively from the hemp boom, and a select number of outdoor farmers have switched from producing biomass to carefully cultivating high-quality smokable buds.
Since it’s so easy to produce, hemp biomass will continue to bottom in price until it’s cheaper than dirt. Farmers seeking reliable profits, however, will lean more heavily toward artisan or indoor hemp production as we get nearer to 2025.
4. The smokable hemp market will grow to $300M-$400M
Right now, Hemp Industry Daily and Nielsen Research peg the smokable hemp market at around $80 million total. According to their analysis, the market is currently divided evenly between loose hemp buds and CBD pre-rolls.
By 2025, however, the smokable hemp market is expected to swell to upwards of $300 million. This growth will mainly stay in line with the overall growth of the CBD market. Smokable hemp sales currently make up around 5% of the wider CBD market, and this ratio is projected to remain steady over the next five years.
As the CBD industry grows from $1.85 billion in 2020 to around $7 billion in 2025, growing consumer awareness of the overall benefits of CBD and the impressive bioavailability and activation time of smokable hemp may afford the CBD-rich hemp flower industry with unexpected popularity. What’s certain is that the smokable hemp market will grow between 375-500% by 2025.
5. Nothing will stop consumer demand for CBD
As the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent economic slowdown have shown, consumers are highly unlikely to lose interest in CBD regardless of the severity of negative extenuating factors. Regardless of soaring unemployment and massive social unrest, CBD sales have continued unabated.
The only major change to CBD consumption that has occurred in recent months is an unprecedented shift toward online CBD purchases. As CBD specialty shops and convenience stores have closed temporarily or permanently nationwide, smokable hemp and general CBD consumers have decided to purchase their favorite non-intoxicating cannabinoid from online CBD shops or directly from their favorite brands.
6. Consumer awareness of the benefits of smokable hemp will rise
Smokable hemp products remain controversial due to their association with marijuana. Older CBD users and CBD users with no experience smoking are relatively unlikely to try smokable hemp, but this stigma will gradually dissipate between now and 2025 due to two primary benefits of CBD flower and CBD pre-rolls.
First, CBD flower is the most natural or authentic way to experience CBD. Instead of consisting of a CBD-rich extract combined with various other ingredients, smokable hemp only contains natural parts of the Cannabis sativa plant, and some hemp flower manufacturers place emphasis on organic and sustainable cultivation methods.
Even more importantly, CBD-rich hemp flower is more effective and exerts its effects more quickly than any other CBD products. The effects of smokable hemp are usually felt within 1-5 minutes, and according to scientific research, smoking CBD may provide more than five times the bioavailability of ingesting this cannabinoid orally. Hemp consumers are steadily gaining awareness of the unique benefits of smokable hemp, and the popularity of CBD flower will accelerate over the next five years.
7. Smokable hemp will continue to outpace tobacco products
Nielsen Research and Hemp Industry Daily indicate that average annual spend on smokable hemp products already exceeds average spend on pipe tobacco and loose cigarette tobacco. In short order, smokers will also spend more on smokable hemp than they do on cigars, and it’s possible that annual smokable hemp spend will rival the amount that smokers spend on cigarettes by 2025.
The most enthusiastic hemp smokers spend around $300 on smokable hemp per year compared to the average of $546 that smokers spend on tobacco cigarettes. Smokable hemp wouldn’t have to gain that much popularity to give tobacco cigarettes a run for their money.
8. The smokable hemp market will continue leaning toward young males
According to Nielsen Research and Hemp Industry Daily, 54% of hemp smokers are male, and 38% of hemp smokers are between 21-34. For comparison, 35-44-year-olds only make up 22% of the smokable hemp market, and 20% of smokable hemp users are between 45-54.
Interestingly, 58% of overall CBD users are female while only 42% are male. The gender split present in the smokable hemp market is, therefore, even more compelling.
Young men have a greater tendency to take risks and embrace new trends. While the demographics of smokable hemp use could shift slightly over the next five years as this product category becomes more mainstream, young males will continue to lead the pack.
9. Smokable hemp sales in the Western and Southern United States will remain high
Currently, 41% of CBD smokers are in the South while 27% are in the West. The Central and Eastern portions of the United States are home to approximately 15% of the country’s hemp smokers each, and it’s unlikely that consumers in these regions will gravitate considerably toward smokable hemp over the next few years.
In the South, smokable hemp consumption is fueled by restrictive marijuana policies, and in the West, consumers are already familiar with cannabis. Consumption of smokable hemp may become more evenly distributed throughout the country as we approach 2025.
10. Blue-collar high school graduates will lead smokable hemp consumption
High-school graduates and blue-collar workers are currently the most likely to use smokable hemp. Members of the professional or management class and individuals who have completed some amount of college education are also relatively likely to use CBD flower or CBD pre-rolls.
Income does not seem to significantly impact an individual’s likelihood to consume smokable hemp, so decreasing CBD flower prices are unlikely to incentivize smokable hemp consumption for lower-earning individuals. Therefore, it’s likely that these demographic breakdowns will remain largely the same between now and 2025.
11. Smokable hemp crossover will accelerate as tobacco use declines
Public opinion of tobacco smoking is increasingly negative, incentivizing smokers to seek alternatives. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently noted that tobacco smoking has reached an all-time low of 13.7% among the adult population. Since CBD-rich hemp is seen as being a healthier alternative to tobacco, it’s likely that the observed crossover between tobacco smoking and smokable hemp use will significantly increase between now and 2025.
12. Tobacco smokers will remain more likely to smoke hemp
According to Nielsen Research and Hemp Industry Daily, tobacco smokers are 191% more likely to use hemp pre-rolls and 155% more likely to use hemp flower than the general population. Approximately 29% of cigarette smokers have indicated that they’re willing to try hemp smokables. Even as an increasing number of tobacco users stop smoking cigars or cigarettes in favor of hemp, current or former tobacco smokers will continue to be the primary targets of the smokable hemp market over the next five years.
13. CBD specialty stores and vape shops will remain the primary brick-and-mortar smokable hemp retail outlets
Consumers across the country have come to rely on CBD specialty shops as their sources of high-quality CBD products and useful hemp information. Vape and smoke shops are the next most-frequented CBD retailers with other retail outlets being significantly less popular. Even with the increased prevalence of CBD products on the shelves of grocery stores, pharmacies, and other major retailers, it’s unlikely that specialty stores and tobacco shops will lose their dominance within the smokable hemp market due to the association of CBD-rich hemp with marijuana.
14. An increasing number of consumers will seek smokable hemp online
Hemp consumers have indicated that they would be most likely to purchase CBD flower products from specialty stores and tobacco shops if these products were available. An increasing number of consumers have also indicated, however, that they’d rather purchase CBD flower online, and this trend will only accelerate in the post-COVID world. The COVID-19 crisis has incentivized CBD consumers who were previously averse to online purchasing to alter their consumption habits, and this trend will persist for the foreseeable future.
15. Smokable hemp may appear on the shelves of unlikely retailers
Despite the stigma it has received due to its similarity to marijuana, unconventional retailers may begin selling smokable hemp products before 2025 upon receiving favorable guidance from the FDA. Convenience stores, drug stores, and other places where tobacco cigarettes are sold will be more than willing to jump on the smokable hemp bandwagon as soon as they confirm they will not face any potential legal liability.
16. Pre-packaged products will dominate the retail scene
While small, independent stores might continue to offer loose hemp flower by the gram, this marijuana-associated retail model will gradually give way to prepackaged smokable hemp sales. Hemp pre-rolls are less associated with marijuana and more associated with cigarettes, which is in line with the “mirroring” approach to CBD adopted by big box retailers that promotes hemp products with resemblances to familiar product types.
17. Packaging will gravitate away from associations with marijuana
Between now and 2025, smokable hemp producers will most likely shy away from packaging and brand imagery that elicits associations with marijuana. Cannabis leaves, psychedelic print, and other dog whistles to stoner culture will give way to more mainstream vibes inspired by the tobacco and natural foods industries. Doing so will make it easier for consumers to accept smokable hemp as a normal component of everyday life that’s dramatically different from marijuana.
18. Labeling guidelines will become stricter
Already, certain states have enacted labeling requirements for smokable hemp and other CBD products. Upon the advent of FDA guidance on smokable hemp, clear labeling and testing will likely become mandatory at the federal level. Expect improperly labeled smokable hemp products to be illegal by 2025.
19. Smokable hemp products might be locked up
Currently, there’s considerable debate regarding whether smokable hemp products should be locked up behind the counter. Proponents of this approach contend that doing so would keep smokable hemp out of the hands of children, prevent tampering, and avoid raising the concern of law enforcement.
Others say, however, that locking hemp up would give the impression that hemp products are dangerous enough to merit strict control. It’s hard to say which side of this argument will prevail, but there’s a high likelihood that smokable hemp products might end up under lock and key come 2025.
20. Smokable hemp bans may expand or meet with rejection
Smokable hemp bans in certain states, such as Louisiana and Kentucky, have been enacted without much public outcry. North Carolina, however, proposed bans on smokable hemp that were ultimately rejected due to the state’s considerably powerful coalition of high-dollar hemp farmers. Over the next five years, more states will be forced to choose between ongoing confusion over the differences between hemp and marijuana and the potential tax revenue generated from smokable hemp production.
21. California and Texas will become critical smokable hemp battlegrounds
Hemp farmers have sued the state of Texas over its recent ban of smokable hemp products. In California, legislators are currently debating a bill that would ban smokable hemp throughout the state. These two states, which serve as epicenters of both population and American cultural trends, will likely serve as the decisive battlegrounds as the nation determines how to deal with the problem of smokable hemp. If the Texas hemp farming lawsuit is successful, it could set the stage for similar legal action in other states that have enacted smokable hemp bans.
22. The FDA may provide rulings on smokable hemp
While industrial hemp is the purview of the USDA, the FDA regulates products intended for human consumption. This federal agency hasn’t provided any guidance on smokable hemp so far, citing the need for further evidence regarding the relative safety of vaping and smoking CBD. The FDA has recently directed its focus toward the e-cigarette and vaping industries, but it’s possible that this agency might tackle the smokable hemp problem before 2025.
23. CBD vapes could meet the chopping block
It’s highly likely that the FDA will take action regarding the CBD vaping industry within the next few years. In March, this federal agency expressed concerns that CBD vapes could have toxic attributes “both inherent to the substance and due to potential contaminants” and that vape products with CBD “could attract children and adolescents, which are vulnerable populations.” If sales of CBD vape products decrease due to FDA regulations, smokable hemp could receive a boost.
24. Smokable hemp may become a popular smoking cessation aid
While smokable hemp brands should remain cautious of presenting their products as smoking cessation aids, Nielsen Research indicates that 28% of consumers likely to use smokable hemp would do so to quit smoking tobacco. Out of existing smokable hemp users, 10% indicate that they are smoking hemp as a method to stop smoking cigarettes. As the potential tobacco cessation benefits of smokable hemp become more well known, this use of CBD flower and CBD pre-rolls will become more common.
25. Smokable hemp will give marijuana a run for its money
The current success of the smokable hemp industry is largely built atop ongoing marijuana prohibition throughout the country. Consumers who would otherwise smoke marijuana smoke hemp instead, and as marijuana products become more widely available, interest in smokable hemp could decrease.
At the same time, CBD flower has unique benefits that marijuana does not provide, and the non-intoxicating and non-addictive attributes of smokable hemp are attractive to many consumers. As we near 2025, expect competition between marijuana and smokable hemp to become fiercer as a prelude to the inevitable union of these distinct segments of the overall cannabis market.