Why I Threw an Underground NYC Weed Party and Invited the Press

To celebrate the release of his book 'How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High,' author David Bienenstock threw a legally questionable pot party.
April 20, 2016, 4:00am

All photos by Alex Swerdloff unless otherwise noted

"If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man." Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

On Friday night, I threw an underground pot party in New York City. The occasion was the publication this week of my new book on marijuana culture and etiquette based on my fifteen years as a dedicated weed reporter. I recruited current Columbia University senior and culinary phenomenon in the making Jonah Reider to create a tasting menu, gathered together some of the Baked Apple's major movers and shakers in the ganja game, and then invited select members of the press to share in an evening of top-flight cuisine and top-shelf cannabis. (Spoiler alert: It was a lot of fun.) But I also had a more serious reason for convincing my publisher to blow nearly our entire book promotion budget on a legally questionable party.


In this amazing age of rapid marijuana legalization, I believe it's vital that those of us who have lived through the outlaw days continue to nurture the roots of authentic cannabis culture, and that we never stop pushing to bring our values with us into this exciting new post-prohibition era. Otherwise, the wolves of Wall Street and the Don Drapers of the world will parachute in and co-opt our scene—and they're already trying.

Most of the marijuana books that have come out since legalization were penned by people who didn't lift a finger to legalize weed and really couldn't have cared less until they saw a market opportunity open up. Without exception, these works focus on the "high profits" to be made in legal pot. But as I write in my book, "Cannabis should transform capitalism, not the other way around:

Keep in mind, for roughly 10,000 years, humanity revered the herb as a lifesaving medicine, an incredibly nutritious food, an amazingly useful industrial crop, a truly renewable energy source, a spiritual and creative aid, and an all-around enhancer of life's pleasures. Only relatively recently did this wondrous botanical become the target of a coordinated global eradication campaign."

No inherent property of the species can explain this dramatic reversal, as the War on Weed stems not from an attempt to lessen marijuana's supposed harms, but rather to suppress its benefits. An insidious plot to protect the pharmaceutical industry, Big Tobacco, the booze barons, and the plastic-industrial-complex from unwanted competition, while criminalizing marginalized communities and building up a modern police state right under our noses. And they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for us meddlesome stoners. For together, with every bud harvested and joint rolled, we've been collectively engaged in a highly-effective civil disobedience campaign to end this truly senseless and self-destructive system of oppression.

And so it was with those beliefs in mind that I threw, in my humble opinion, the best (or at least the best catered) book launch party New York has ever seen.

A collection of classic New York weed strains greeted partygoers at the complimentary cannabis bar

Hosted by musician/entrepreneur Ben Bronfman at a private residence in Brooklyn, the party drew an eclectic mix of creative professionals, weed legends, writers, musicians, artists, actors, comedians, scientists, fashion designers, academics, and marijuana activists.

At most parties, I tend to gravitate to wherever the small cadre of herbal enthusiasts have gathered to smoke—be it a balcony, a backyard, or a fire escape. It's the sort of minor social isolation stoners have come to expect over the years, but at this party, we heads had the full run of the place. Fortunately, someone (and nobody seems to know who) made sure the evening's complimentary cannabis bar was stocked with pristine buds and pre-rolled joints of Chemdog, Sour Diesel, and Nigerian Haze—three of the city's best loved and most sought-after strains. Before long, the plant's tendency to inspire sharing and camaraderie had broken down any and all social barriers, and the whole house was operating as one big happy, vibey crew.

Poppy seed crackers, served with cannabis butter, sea salt, and watermelon radish

Adding to those good vibes was Jonah's spread, which rivaled anything I've ever eaten, stoned or not (see the MUNCHIES coverage for the full low-down on that). Again, nobody seems to know precisely how these menu items got infused with weed (mildly dosed at 3 milligrams of THC per serving, to promote moderate intake), but I can attest that, along with his team, this seriously motivated young man—best known for running one of the city's hottest restaurants out of his dorm apartment—fully conceived and flawlessly executed every dish. By the end of the night, Jonah and I felt like old friends who'd been through a peak experience together, despite the fact that we only first met a couple of weeks ago, after my mom spotted him dropping a 420 reference on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and suggested I get in touch. (By the way, nothing tells me the New Weed Order is upon us more clearly than my once cannaphobic mother now consistently suggesting marijuana stories for me to investigate. Thanks, Mom!)

Abdullah Saeed and Ben Sinclair, star and co-creator of 'High Maintenance.' Photo by Kalu Kalu Jr.

For me, the absolute highlight of the festivities came toward the end, when the cannabis-infused oysters, octopus, duck breast, and ash-dusted chèvre all had a chance to take hold, and—not quite "high as fuck," but more than a little giddy—I corralled together my tightest cannabis circle to hit up the evening's grand finale, a THC-infused ice cream bar. Joined by the editor of my weed book, the host of my weed video series, the star of my favorite weed show High Maintenance (soon to be on HBO), and one of the first dudes I ever got high with from my hometown, plus my new friends Jonah and Ben, I felt a profound sense of gratitude wash over me—not just for the wonderful plant we all love, but also the way the herb has brought so many amazing people, experiences, and epiphanies into my life. Fifteen years ago, when I first started covering marijuana politics and culture, it was actually a pretty depressing gig. Publicly self-identifying as a marijuana user, or even taking it up as a political cause, pretty much disqualified you from being taken seriously in the public square. Well-meaning friends and colleagues (almost all of them closeted pot smokers) endlessly warned that I'd never land a "serious job" after being open about my personal refusal to obey the laws against marijuana.

Now those same friends and colleagues keep hitting me up for advice on how to break into the weed biz, as polite society slowly comes around to the idea that we shouldn't put peaceful people in a cage for the simple love of a plant.

The author with Jonah Reider

So for one night, in the greatest city in the world, a small group of us refused to obey a law that's wrong—an act of both celebration and defiance. And this 4/20, millions around the world will do the same. Probably not while nibbling scallop crudo topped with meyer lemon, cannabis-infused charred ramp oil, chamomile, rhubarb, and black salt, but in the same spirit and with the same purpose.

Remember, so long as any one soul remains in prison for weed, none of us truly blaze free, but we have, at long last, officially reached the beginning of the end of this terrible, senseless war.

We're not there yet, but I do see a lighter at the end of the tunnel.

David Bienenstock is the author of How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High.