San Luis Obispo businesses may have found the holy grail of consumer markets: “stoners.”
Marijuana-users have long used “420” as a code for cannabis and celebrate the date as a high holiday every April 20. This year when the “holiday” came around, many San Luis Obispo businesses geared up to capitalize on the buzz.
“I’d argue that the pot smoker market is far from untapped,” said Bruce Watson, expert on the economics of marijuana and author of “Pot Economics: Who Stands to Profit if Marijuana is Legalized?” “In fact, companies from Nabisco to Phillie Blunts have had a winking relationship with the market for years.”
But many companies are making the relationship more explicit — “a move that is, in itself, pretty interesting,” Watson said.
This surge in “420-friendly” advertising comes at a crossroads. Marijuana-users are a growing market — approximately 17.4 million Americans used marijuana in 2010, up from 14.4 million in 2007, according to government data. Although medical marijuana is legalized in California, along with 15 other states and the District of Columbia, the federal government still considers marijuana use a crime.
San Luis Obispo County, in particular, has a polarizing past with pot. A Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary opened in 2006 but quickly closed in 2007 after sheriff’s and federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s officials said they found law violations. Over the past three years, three proposals for new medical marijuana facilities have been rejected.
Still, it is undeniable that both medical and recreational marijuana use happens in San Luis Obispo County, and businesses are tuning in to the trend.
Domino’s on East Foothill Boulevard had high expectations for April 20.
“We figured if people are stoned, they don’t want to leave the house, they can’t leave the house perhaps — depending on how high they are — and they want something to eat,” district manager Ken Butler said.
Management prepared for a busier day by having more food on hand and increasing the number of delivery drivers. Domino’s also unleashed a deal on Facebook for four medium pizzas for $20 on April 20, and pizza sales increased upwards of 20 percent for the day.
“A roomful of smokers suffering from the munchies probably wouldn’t think twice about laying down $20 for four pizzas,” Watson said. “And the fact that Domino’s is sending them a coded message will make them very attracted to the deal.”
Companies explicitly target college-aged pot smokers for three reasons: they tend to have disposable income, they are attracted to the mystique surrounding marijuana and they often buy on impulse, Watson said.
There’s no other day that the local Domino’s intentionally targets marijuana-using consumers, according to management.
“But it is a better day (sales-wise) than normal because of it,” Butler said, “Still, it’s not like we have stoner specials every week.”
High Street Deli, on the other hand, has a daily special intended to make money off the munchies. The deli features a 4/20 deal, where every sandwich is $4.20 from 4:20 to 5 p.m.
“I don’t really know what 420 means or where it came from, but it’s the time when you’re supposed to toke up, so we figure they’re gonna be hungry,” assistant manager Alicia Freeman said.
The daily 420 special has been around for years now, but High Street recently enacted a 520 special. Stemming from the adage “5:28, the stoner’s always late,” from 5:20 p.m. to 6, all sandwiches are $5.20.
Freeman emphasized that, while the deli capitalizes on its kitschy street name, a business “can’t survive in a college-town just off of stoners alone.”
“During summer, finals and holidays, college students are away from the deli, so we can’t stay in business without locals,” Freeman said. “We’re really family-oriented.”
High Street Deli doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, but they aren’t shy about cashing in on cannabis-lovers. On April 20, High Street Deli sandwiches were $4.20 all day long.
“When I was working reggie (on 4/20), the place was straight mobbed,” High Street Deli sandwich-architect Max Lowy said. ”I saw a lot of ‘em come through here with red, blood-shot eyes, and I was like, ‘Yeah, you look ready for a 420 sando.’”
Not only did San Luis Obispo eateries target marijuana-users, but other businesses tried to tap into the market as well.
Campus Special, an online food ordering service, emailed members who attend Cal Poly on April 20. The email advertised a sale at Big Daddy’s Pizza in Los Osos: “Munchies? Check out this 4/20 deal we rolled up for you!” Campus Special could not be reached for comment.
Pozo Saloon also hosted Higher Groundz Music Festival on April 21. Higher Groundz featured many performers who glorify recreational marijuana use including Afroman, famous for the song “Because I Got High.” Pozo Saloon insists there is no correlation.
“We were not targeting any specific demographic, maybe music lovers who wanted to see an amazing lineup and that is what Levi Beanway and I provide every year,” talent buyer and coordinator Damien Montoya said. “4/20 is just a date, you know,” he said.
Cloud 9, smoke shop and hookah lounge, on California Boulevard held their “8th Super Annual 420 sale” on April 20. Cloud 9 declined to comment.
Deals aimed at marijuana-smoking consumers may have hit a high note on 420, but businesses capitalize on the pothead niche year-round.
Advertising to a “self-aware stoner audience,” according to Watson, has been happening for decades.
“Taking a step back, one could argue that a staggering number of snack foods were, if not designed for smokers, at least aware of their consumption tendencies,” Watson said. “It’s hard to find any other explanation for chocolate-covered Oreo cookies.”
Written by Aryn Sanderson.