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West Coast 4/20 events struggle, as East Coast events boom

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As new events celebrating weed’s unofficial holiday of April 20 continue to spring every year, money troubles have forced some of the country’s oldest gatherings to wind down, even as industry analysts predict one of the biggest cannabis sales days ever this coming Saturday.

Despite a more positive outlook for the U.S. cannabis industry this 4/20, the cancellation of celebrations in legacy markets like California due to a lack of corporate sponsors point to growing fault lines between state markets, with companies in newer strongholds on the East Coast and Midwest better positioned to host events, while those in established regions view 4/20 marketing as a dispensable expense.

Last month, the city of San Francisco said that its annual 4/20 cannabis festival, which typically draws thousands of enthusiasts to Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill, was canceled for 2024.

It was a big blow to the city’s storied history with the plant, as well as the businesses that have come to rely on the event as a crucial marketing opportunity. With roots in the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the festival had evolved into a city-sanctioned celebration with live music, food vendors, and cannabis booths.

“We understand the disappointment and hope to make it up with a great event next year,” organizer Alex Aquino said in a statement.

The event’s scrapping came as California’s cannabis industry continues to grapple with falling sales (with tax revenue) and widespread closures. Officials cited department budget cuts and broader industry headwinds that made it difficult for event organizers to secure the sponsorships necessary to cover the costs of hosting the festival.

“It usually costs about $40,000 and the city’s in a budget crunch,” a park department spokesperson told a local ABC station. “So, we just couldn’t pay to staff it this year.”

Many enthusiasts are still expected to gather at Golden Gate Park on April 20 to celebrate. Some industry insiders and long-time festival goers believe that the cancellation could actually help to revive the original spirit of the event, which began as a grassroots gathering decades before it became a platform for cannabis brands via city dollars.

“4/20 in GG Park has a long, storied history that dates back for decades before the fences, ID checks, and litany of restrictions that came along with a city-sponsored and corporate-backed event,” local San Fransisco dispensary owner William Dolan told the LA Times.

Local residents may find some reprieve in the news, as traffic jams, problematic parking situations, and inadequate facilities have stained the gathering’s reputation. For now, the city’s cannabis community will have to find alternative ways to come together and celebrate the plant using local event listings, or hope they don’t get a phone call from their landlords.

A tree blooms in Brooklyn

Things are a bit different along some of the Eastern seaboard’s younger legal markets, where newly-sprouting businesses are finding ways to engage with consumers.

Folks can buy tickets to attend daytime festivals in Brooklyn on Saturday, perhaps after a night at S.O.B.’s with Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan. One could even check out THC NYC’s cannabis museum, which is hosting an open house from Wednesday until Friday.

INTER_, an interactive art exhibit in New York City, is partnering with Big Apple-based The Travel Agency for a one-night-only event on Thursday. According to the flyer, the event is designed for adults who want to explore art in a fun and friendly space — potentially in an altered state of mind.

Gotham, a New York City-based cannabis concept store, will kick off more experiential events on Wednesday with a one-time-only, weed-themed comedy show hosted by local duo Comedy Underground Overground. The event will also serve surprise goodies and drinks by Cann, a cannabis-infused beverage company.

Gotham is also joining forces with ICECREAM, the skate label under Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club, to support the launch of the ICECREAM 420 Capsule Collection. That will be held at the clothing line’s flagship store on Saturday, offering exclusive gifts and discounts to the first 100 shoppers who purchase an item from the collection.

And to help some recover from their celebrations, Gotham and Edie Parker are hosting a whimsically upscale brunch at The Standard Hotel East Village on April 21. Attendees will be treated to light bites, mocktails, and cocktails in a lush garden setting, along with goodies from both brands.

“In the competitive landscape of New York’s cannabis market, securing sponsorship dollars has been a challenge, mirroring the situation in California,” Geraldine Hessler, Gotham’s chief creative officer, told Green Market Report.

“However, we have devised a solution for our upcoming experiences by forging innovative partnerships and engaging in cross-promotion with prestige brands. By taking our 4/20 marketing campaign to new locations, we’re expanding our reach beyond the dispensary and ensuring that we engage with a broader audience and attract potential customers beyond our usual demographic.”

What the data says

April 20 is always a good day for dispensaries, attracting a record number of customers each year. But with the holiday falling on a weekend for the first time since 2019, retailers can expect even higher sales, potentially 2.5 times bigger than any other day of the 2023 calendar year, according to cannabis data firm Treez.

In 2023, dispensaries saw more than double the number of shoppers on 4/20 compared to any other day. Cashless payments also grew in popularity, with 28% of customers using this option, a 65% increase from 2022.

While the average discount on April 20, 2023 was 32.42%, experts advise against increasing discounts, as it may not lead to higher profits. Instead, they recommend targeted discounts for specific products and actions like online ordering, loyalty program enrollment, and cashless payments to entice new and existing customers while increasing profits.

Customer turnout on 4/20 has risen by 25% since 2020, while other cannabis-related holidays have seen a 13% decline. The firm said that’s because customers tend to stock up before those holidays, whereas 4/20 remains a cannabis-specific buying day.

Understanding local market trends and consumer behaviors is also important, as sales lifts during the 2023’s 4/20 celebration varied by state, according to cannabis market research firm BDSA.

Retailers are advised to focus on promoting innovative products this year, such as infused pre-rolls and topicals, which have shown strong growth potential. Educational events and social media campaigns can help generate excitement around those type of novel offerings, the firm suggested.

However, BDSA also pointed the need for retailers to balance discounts with long-term brand value. Offering limited edition, branded merchandise can create a memorable experience for customers and foster a sense of community around the 4/20 celebration, especially as events don’t have as much money to spend.





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