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The rise of the vape

The concentrates category is the cannabis industry’s largest, next to flower. And it looks like that second-place ranking is not drifting away anytime soon, based on data from BDS Analytics, one of the cannabis industry’s leading sources of cannabis data.

Vaporizers spike with oomph during the end of 2016.

 While forms of concentrate like shatter, wax and kief perform admirably in the $498.4 million marketplace for the combined states of Colorado, Washington and Oregon during 2016, the segment of the category that is now largely responsible for muscling it higher and higher, in terms of market share, is vape pens. The category, which includes kits (pen + prefilled concentrate cartridge), prefilled cartridges (which are plugged into pens), and disposable devices account for 31 percent of the concentrates market during this period, with sales of $157 million. And during just Q1 of 2017, the market share has crept up to 36 percent (Washington’s data is just January and February).

 In terms of the consumer embrace of vape pens in individual states, it is much more vigorous in some states than others.

 In Colorado, the state with the longest track record of recreational cannabis sales, vape pens during Q1 2017 grew by 90 percent compared to the same quarter last year, on sales of $27.84 million. And now, vape pens lead the concentrate market, with 30 percent of sales. Pen’s triumph over the other categories is a fairly new phenomenon. Just a year earlier, in Q1 2016, vape pens held 23 percent of the market, just ahead of wax, at 22 percent, but behind shatter at 26 percent.

 Consumers in Washington during January and February of 2017 also crowned vapes as the kings of concentrates. In the Evergreen State, vape pens captured 29 percent of the market, putting them ahead of both wax and shatter. During the same two months in 2016, shatter, at 27 percent, was ahead of vape pens, which held 24 percent of the market.

 And then there is Oregon.


 Since regulatory issues did not permit Oregon recreational dispensaries to sell vape pens until June of 2016, year-over-year comparisons are not apt. But we can at least examine market share in the Beaver State.

 And there, vape pens grabbed a full 60 percent of the concentrates market during Q1 2017, up from 46 percent during Q3 2016 (when vapes were for sale at recreational dispensaries). They were popular to begin with among Oregonians, but popularity for vapes appears to be mounting with passing months.

 “With all of the hype in this category, we are seeing increased competition, as existing players are extending current product lines and launching new lines, vendors from other categories are expanding into vape, and new vendors are coming to market,” says Greg Shoenfeld, vice president of operations at BDS Analytics. “We started seeing early signs of some of this during Q3 and Q4 of 2016 and it is gaining traction in Q1 of this year.”

 Vape pens are the very essence of convenience and discretion. They easily fit into purses and pockets, are extremely lightweight, and when used produce little in the way of odor or visual vapor. They have struck a chord with cannabis consumers during the past year, and are helping to drive strong sales at dispensaries. Will they help the concentrates category beat flower? It is not likely that will happen for some time. But given the vape pen boom, concentrates are likely to remain an extremely important part of cannabis sales for a long time.

Doug BrownDoug Brown

Doug Brown

Douglas Brown spent more than two decades in newspaper and magazine newsrooms around the country, covering everything from the White House and Capitol Hill to technology policy to crime in New Mexico. Now, he runs Contact High Communications, a leading cannabis public relations firm based in Boulder, CO. He can be reached at

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