How the 1 Percent Gets High
Wealthy stoners are skipping £600 bongs in favour of cannabis consultants and heirloom weed.
Illustration by Cathryn Virginia
This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Cannabis consultant Amy Robertson likens the world of luxury pot to buying a bespoke suit. “It’s not only about the end product, which is amazing,” she said. “It’s also about the experience of having this suit made for you.”
Robertson doesn’t sell weed herself, but instead offers guidance to both curious newcomers and people who have been smoking for years. The self-described botany geek, who’s studied the plant on her own for years and contributed to the book Cannabis Pharmacy, will inquire about their lifestyle and what they want to get out of the drug. “Are you trying to enhance something? Or are you trying to relieve something?” she’ll ask. She’ll educate them about dosages and strains, and address any safety concerns, all for a price. She declined to discuss her rates, but she’s clearly aiming for a particular well-to-do clientele.
“The high-end market wants consistency; they’re health-conscious,” she said. “It’s about reaching the experience they want to have.” Robertson has worked with cancer patients hoping to treat chemo-induced nausea, high-functioning entertainment industry types looking to relieve anxiety, and a host of privileged users in between. She emphasized that she is not a doctor and doesn't give medical advice, and not all of her clients are using cannabis for medical reasons. “The high-end market—they can have anything,” she said. If they’re not looking to solve a particular ailment, “it’s about what kind of mind-shifting experience can they have.”
The legalization of recreational weed in states like California, where Robertson is based, has brought with it a wave of excess for stoners who can afford the finer things, even as smoking remains a crime in large swaths of the U.S. In Georgia, having more than an ounce of bud on you carries a mandatory minimum of a year in prison, but in other states you can purchase diamond-studded vapes and hire private cannabis chefs. You can even go on pricey bud-centric tours of Canada, where the drug was recently legalized. At the Barneys in Beverly Hills, you can’t buy actual weed—though a “concierge” is on hand to arrange for off-site sales and deliveries. But you can splurge on art-piece ashtrays, rolling papers made by centuries-old Parisian stationer Devambez, as well as insanely expensive drug-inspired jewelry, like $7,000 leaf-shaped diamond-drop earrings, and beauty products like a $12 hemp-infused period patch and cannabis-scented body wash.
But the emerging luxury cannabis market isn’t about gold-leaf rolling papers or $950 crystal water pipes. When it comes to weed, wealthy connoisseurs are looking for the same things they pay top dollar for in any other arena: artisanal, well-crafted product; concierge services; and personalization. The world of cannabis has cross-bred with wellness and speciality food cultures to spawn a cohort of rich weed geeks who want rare strains, technologically-advanced harvesting methods, and at least the impression of full control over their weed experience.
As for the diamonds and gold… “Any connoisseur is like, Well, who gives a fuck?” said weed devotee Lisa Eisner. “Like wine. Who cares about the label or the bottle? How good is the wine?” Eisner, a Los Angeles-based jewelry designer and former Vogue editor, makes a point to educate herself about different growers, growing herself, reading books on the topic, and experimenting on herself with different varieties. If someone offers her weed at a party, she’ll usually say: No thanks. I bring my own.
Robertson often advises companies on how to cater to wealthy cannabis consumers who are “more likely to shop on Saville Row than they are to go to any dispensary, ever,” she said, likening many dispensaries (she won’t mention which by name) to Walmart. “What these mainstream markets are missing is they’re heading for stoners. And that’s not really high-end. True luxury goods are crafted. It’s not about potency and purity in terms of concentration; it’s about a completely different set of factors.”
Many big-ticket items sold elsewhere make headlines but are more for shock value than anything else, like the $11,000 weed cigar sold in Vegas last December. “My guess is it had gold foil on it,” Robertson offered. It did, I told her, and she laughed. “Of course! But what does that actually tell you about what’s inside? And is what’s inside even still there? Was it preserved properly?”
Instead of Vegasian excess, people like Robertson’s clients are looking for an end product—be it an extract or an edible—that feels highly controlled and carefully crafted. Colorado-based 710 Labs, to take one high-end company, uses live resin, a type of cannabis concentrate made by freezing the flower after it’s harvested. This process is supposed to preserve “terpenes,” chemicals that give cannabis its taste and smell.
Cheaper ways of manufacturing the plant often employ chemicals and solvents, and are “like drinking Crystal Light rather than real lemonade,” Robertson said, and this raises health concerns for her and many of her clients.
The science behind how cannabis affects users is enormously complicated and still not well understood. Even the most basic bit of folk wisdom among smokers, that CBD is better for soothing anxiety than THC, is still being studied. And of course, different people in different settings can respond to different strains in vastly different ways. Those who are obsessed with getting certain effects out of cannabis have to conduct their own studies on themselves.
“When you really get to be a fetishist about it, then you want pure, organic, no shit in it, of course, and now it’s so artisanal that you can specify one effect,” Eisner said. She has friends who are trying to get off pharmaceutical sleep aids, experimenting with various strains in hopes to make a switch from Ambien to weed. “You have to be the guinea pig and you have to try things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you’ve got to keep trying. It’s worth it.”
Just as local microbrews cost more than Budweiser, this kind of consumption is pricey. Retail prices depend on rarity, but as a ballpark, heirloom cannabis (meaning a strain passed down through generations, as opposed to a recently invented hybrid), grown with zero pesticides or adulterants and hand-trimmed, can range from $100 to $400 for seven grams at specialty shops. (For comparison, you can buy seven grams of cheap weed for $40 at a California MedMen dispensary.)
Not that everyone is going to those specialty stores: Some aficionados still rely on California’s many unlicensed dealers who can provide high-end product and make house calls. For these customers, it’s worth breaking the law to get exactly what they’re looking for.
“The more people become educated, the pickier they are about what they consume,” said Scott Campbell. The famed tattoo and visual artist is the co-founder of Los Angeles-based Beboe, an upscale line of pastilles, vapes, and gift sets ranging in price from $25 for 20 pastille candies to $120 for The Beboe Box, which includes two vaporizer pens—one sativa, one indica, and a tin of pastilles. All of Beboe’s cannabis is grown without pesticides or other chemicals.
“There’s a huge overlap in luxury cannabis and the wellness movement,” Campbell said. “People are becoming more careful about what they put in their bodies, and willing to spend more money on that.”
“Our candies are like the cold-pressed juice of weed,” he added.
Eisner is a Beboe fan, and threw an anniversary party for the company last year, attended by celebrities like Lake Bell (who is Campbell’s wife), Alicia Silverstone, and burlesque icon Dita Von Teese. Eisner loves their gold vape pens, which retail for $60, and says they’re a hit among her friends.
“It looks like a lip liner, I can’t tell you how many times I tried to smoke a lip liner by the way, that’s such a stoner thing,” she laughed. “They’re light and they don’t smell. You could practically be in a courtroom and take a puff.”