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Potent Demand for Vapes in California

Passion for vapes in California was already strong in March. And by July, just four months later, it had grown even more potent. The latest data from data analytics firm BDS Analytics reveals that market share for vapes within the broad concentrates category is highest in California among states with established recreational cannabis marketplaces — and California is not, at least nominally, a recreational marketplace.

Passion for vapes keeps rising in California.

Back in March, vapes captured 57 percent of the concentrates market, on $29 million in sales. Its nearest competitor, wax, held just 10 percent of the concentrates market. In July, sales of vapes rocketed up by about 30 percent, to $39 million. And while other concentrate categories remained flat, market share for vapes climbed up to 65 percent.

In Colorado, vapes in July captured just 37 percent of the concentrates market, with shatter coming in second with 19 percent of the market. However, as testament to the relative popularity of vapes within recreational markets compared to medical markets, they grabbed 46 percent of the Colorado recreational market compared to 20 percent for the state’s medical market.

The story is similar in Oregon, where consumers within both channels are nearly as vape-crazy as Californians. In Oregon in July, vapes captured 64 percent of the concentrates sales between the state’s two markets. But vape-adoration within the state’s recreational market is even more pronounced than in California — vapes capture 67 percent of concentrate sales within Oregon’s recreational market. In the medical marketplace, vape sales represent 50 percent of concentrate sales.

It’s not just Californians enthusiasm for vape pens that stands apart — Golden Staters also go all-in for oil-filled cartridges, compared to consumers in Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

It’s all about oil in California.

When vape pens first began appearing in Colorado in 2014, all of them used THC-infused oil. But now, distillate is on the rise and consumers in states increasingly are choosing vape pens that use distillate rather than oil. The difference? Oil is a concentrate derived from the plant itself, and contains traces of the terpenes and other substances found in the plant. The distillation process goes a step further. The process involves heating the oil until the THC vaporizes (it is a very high temperature for THC). The vaporized THC rises in what is essentially a still, and when it cools the vapor condenses into a liquid and falls into a separate container. The distillate is not 100 percent THC, but it is close.

Distillate has been on the rise, markedly so, in Colorado, Washington and Oregon during the past year. The more pure form of THC can be helpful for marketing, and some people say they prefer the distillate experience. The process also eliminates things like pesticide residue that might remain in a batch of oil. With state-regulated testing rather rigorous in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, distilling oil is one way to potentially avoid penalties.

Meanwhile, in California the testing regulatory structures are not yet as rigorous as in other states, which could explain why distillate has not yet taken off. In California in July, 84 percent of vape sales were for those with oil; distillate harnessed just 5 percent.

In July of this year distillate captured 38 percent of the Colorado vape market, up from 27 percent market share just four months earlier, in March. In Oregon, distillate held 34 percent of the vape market in March, but in July its command of market share rose to 38 percent. Washington’s embrace of distillate is less intense — just 13 percent in June, compared to 76 percent for oil.

Vapes are one of the fastest-growing segments of the cannabis market. In July of this year, the category grew by 107 percent in Colorado compared to the previous July, for example. Fast-growing, evolving rapidly, dynamic — this is one of the most interesting subcategories of the cannabis marketplace.

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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