Recreational use of cannabis is now legal in nine states, including California, Washington and Massachusetts, the primary hotbeds of US entrepreneurism. Meanwhile, medical marijuana (often an excuse for recreational use) is legal in the 29 states which together comprise roughly 80% of the country's economic activity.

In some industries, especially high tech, cannabis usage is so common that most companies don't even bother to test for it. Indeed, almost every computer programmer I've known over the past three decades has smoked marijuana. While this activity took place after-hours, plenty of technical issues are hashed out (as it were) when the programmers were high.

Now that I think of it, that might be one reason behind the general bugginess of most commercial software. In any case, nowadays even the big, conservative high tech firms are jumping onto the bandwagon. HP, for example, is developing an application specifically for companies entering the marijuana business.

So cannabis is going mainstream, whether we like or not.

That being said and before going any further, I must make one thing completely clear. This column IN NO WAY implies that Inc.com or its parent company are in favor of cannabis usage, inside or outside a business setting. This column consists of my own opinions and observations, and presented as a public service for those likely to encounter cannabis, or the expectation of cannabis, in the course of building a customer relationship.

As for myself, I haven't smoked marijuana for many years. Frankly, I never enjoyed it that much, because it tended to worsen my natural sense of anxiety. This column is thus not based on my personal experience (not recent, at least) but on what I've been able to gather from researching the subject on the web and applying what I learned to my strong understanding of relationship selling.

For those not familiar with it, relationship selling is the time-proven sales strategy of developing and closing a sales opportunity by bonding with your client and creating rapport. The #1 rule of relationship selling is: "all things being equal, people prefer buying from their friends." The #2 rule is "even if things aren't equal, people prefer buying from their friends."

Relationship selling involves broad conversations to find commonalities and shared experiences to build friendship, which naturally leads to business partnerships, sales agreements and long-term customer relationships and loyalty.

Alcohol has always played a huge role in relationship selling. (Think just about every episode of Mad Men.) So has caffeine, especially in regions where coffee or tea are cultural traditions. Therefore, to understand the role marijuana is likely to play in relationship selling, it may be helpful to examine the role played by those two drugs.

(I might note, in passing, that nicotine was once a perfectly acceptable business-friendly drug, although that's no longer true in the US.)

Both alcohol and caffeine build rapport though the social ritual that accompanies their consumption. In Ireland, for example, a pint of Guinness with a client--including the ritual of waiting for the foam to subside--is practically a requirement of doing business together. In Japan, it's the tea ceremony. In Ethiopia, it's coffee.

Both alcohol and caffeine also change people's emotional and mental state. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and reduces anxiety, thus making it easier to bond with other people. Caffeine, by contrast, tends to sharpen the mind and focus attention, both valuable behaviors during business meetings.

Both alcohol and caffeine can be abused... to the detriment of a customer relationship. Getting drunk with a client is risky; you might say or do something you regret. Worse, your client might. Awkward!

Drinking too much coffee isn't as risky but it's not a great idea to do business if you've got the coffee-jitters. In this case, I can say from personal experience that I tend to over-commit when I've had too much coffee. The "wired-up" feeling causes me to underestimate the amount of work involved. I suspect others have had similar experiences.

With all the above in mind, let's take look at cannabis specifically.

As with alcohol and caffeine, smoking cannabis is a bonding ritual. However, just as specific rituals for alcohol and caffeine vary according to geographical areas, rituals for smoking cannabis varies by generation. Baby-boomers are likely to want to "pass a joint" while Millennials are more likely to personally vape.

Again, as with alcohol and caffeine, cannabis changes one's emotional and mental state. Cannibis differs from alcohol, however, in that it's not a disinhibitor, and differs from caffeine in that different varieties and hybrids of cannabis can have quite different psychological and physical effects.

Because of this, when offering cannabis to a client, it probably makes sense to have the cannabis equivalent of a "well-stocked liquor cabinet." Similarly, it's probably useful to know the basic varieties of cannabis and how they are likely to affect you. According to the website Leafly.com:

Most consumers have used these three cannabis types as a touchstone for predicting effects:

  • Indica strains are believed to be physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie or as a nightcap before bed.
  • Sativas tend to provide more invigorating, uplifting cerebral effects that pair well with physical activity, social gatherings, and creative projects.
  • Hybrids are thought to fall somewhere in between the indica-sativa spectrum, depending on the traits they inherit from their parent strains.

This belief that indicas, sativas, and hybrids deliver distinct effects is so deeply rooted in mainstream cannabis culture that budtenders typically begin their strain recommendations by asking you which of these three types you prefer.

Once again, as with alcohol and caffeine, you should take care not to overindulge. Always remember that you're trying to build a relationship with the client, not a relationship with a bag of potato chips. 

Finally, until cannabis becomes even more accepted (inevitable at this point), let the client make the first move. The last thing you want is to offer cannabis to somebody who thinks the movie "Reefer Madness" is the definitive word on marijuana. In other words, unless the client brings cannabis up, the most you should do is hint around a bit. If that.

To summarize:

  1. Take your cues from the client; and don't offer cannabis unless you're certain it's welcome.
  2. Be sensitive to whatever rituals the client might have around the consumption of cannabis.
  3. Know your varieties and, if you're the host, make a variety of strains available so that the client can select one they want.
  4. Don't overindulge. As the saying goes "Get Buzzed Not Blitzed." (I made that saying up, but it's still good advice.)
Published on: Apr 17, 2018