Cheryl Shuman likes to make weed purées for dessert, topped off with Goldschlager Cinnamon Schnapps.
"Imagine a beautiful cannabis infused chocolate soufflé with a raspberry purée on top with the gold sparkles from the Schnapps," she told me. "It's delicious and oh so glamorous."
This is Shuman's world: glitz, glam, and ganj. As the director of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, a high-end purveyor of luxury weed and accessories, her love for cannabis overlaps with her activism which overlaps with her pot rebranding campaign. And while we might associate weed with Ziploc baggies and hazy basements, this is more about diamond studded vape pens and Hollywood soirées.
And she's not alone—Shuman is part of a growing circle of entrepreneurs capitalizing on what she calls the "pot com boom." With US marijuana sales expected to top $10 billion by 2018, there's a lot of money to not only be made in the legal bud industry, but also to be spent. So 14-karat gold vape pens, dank artisan grown bud, golden rolling papers, munchie-free skinny weed, and gourmet edibles are transforming a once underground trade into a luxury business.
"Since Colorado's historic decision to legalize marijuana for recreational use, states are lining up—and so are we as branding experts, designers, and entrepreneurs," said Shuman, who is also the head of Moms for Marijuana, a network of mothers advocating for safe and legal cannabis.
Her cannabis club offers a range of sparkly accessories, from gold and pavé diamond vaporizers to couture handbags with hidden stash compartments. She is also working to soon launch cannabis-friendly resorts, hotels, fine dining, internet cafes, workout yoga centers, and coffee shops with the club's signature products. The team already hosts private Hollywood events, such as a Grammy's afterparty and weed-infused dinner parties, cooked by professional chefs.
The luxury cannabis market is usually not just about getting high. It's about the taste, texture, quality, feeling, and environment in which the consumer ingests it and in which the bud itself is grown. So it's not surprising that in our food-obsessed world, the high-end weed industry is taking munchies and edibles to a whole new level.
LA-based cannabis cook Jeff the 420 Chef also caters to this "high" end scene. He travels to individual homes and parties—celebrity parties, yacht parties, cannabis magazine parties—to cook up infused feasts. Kale salad, hazy Thai wings, and 420 Irish Cream (sans alcohol) are some of his favorites. He keeps the dose at around 10 milligrams per person (assuming you don't stuff yourself), which he says would have about as strong an effect as two glasses of wine.
But for those worried the munchies will mess with their lithe yoga bodies, their luxury weed circle has also introduced skinny weed. Bethenny Frankel's "Skinnygirl Marijuana", for example, has garnered press for being specifically engineered to be munchie-free. Perhaps best known for starring in The Real Housewives of New York City, Frankel already made her Skinnygirl cocktails a household name, so cannabis wasn't far behind.
Skinny weed is based on some very specific chemistry. The endocannabinoid system, or the body's endogenous network of cannabinoid receptors, regulates, among other functions, appetite and metabolism. Endocannabinoid receptors tell the body when to release ghrelin, also known as the "hunger hormone."
Some of the cannabinoids, or chemical compounds in cannabis, activate the same receptors in the brain and digestive tract as the body's endocannabinoids—hence, why some cannabinoids found in cannabis, specifically THC and CBN, stimulate appetite. Others, however, such as THCV and CBD, do the opposite. Cannabis strains like Skinnygirl can be bred to highlight specific cannabinoids. And strains that already have high levels of THCV or CBD include Durban Poison, Doug's Varin, ACDC, and Harlequin.
The way a strain is bred, whether for its effect on appetite, or for its overall quality, has become a luxury craft, like microbrewed beer or aged whiskey. At the Emerald Exchange Farmers Market this past August, pot farmers from Mendocino, California, trekked down to Malibu to show off their crop, just like a wine tasting. And like wine or champagne, high quality cannabis has come to be labeled to prove its quality and origin.
Before cannabis appellations you generally just had to trust your dealer. But Justin Calvino, an entrepreneur in Mendocino, is hoping to distinguish cannabis quality by where it's grown. Calvino owns Terroir Event Company, which organizes cannabis farmers markets in Mendocino, and the one in Malibu. "We're creating a marquee brand that will showcase our methodology, our strain development, and our climate, [which] make for the finest and highest quality cannabis in the world," he said.
The craft bud is primarily sungrown outdoors or in a greenhouse, and in customized native, composted soil infused with different kinds of tea. "You can taste the earth in our cannabis," Calvino said. "It's the highest quality product money can buy, to an educated palate."
Whereas cannabis quality used to be determined by its potency and THC levels, Calvino said tastes have evolved as marijuana becomes more ubiquitous. "We're in a movement to honor the terpene profile," he said. While the average toker may not recognize these subtle differences, cannabis connoisseurs can understand and feel the importance of terpenes, or the essential plant oils in cannabis that give the bud its aroma and flavor.
Evoxe Laboratories, one of the companies featured at the Emerald Exchange Farmers Market, banks on the desired effects of a bud's variety, combining cannabis oil with terpenes from aromatic essential oils for users to vape. Blending an indica strain with lavender, chamomile, and orange essential oils has a more relaxing effect, while a sativa strain with peppermint, lime, cypress, and cinnamon oils will be more uplifting—like the "Red Bull of cannabis," said Michael Katz, president of Evoxe.
While all the chemicals in cannabis work synergistically during what's called the "entourage effect," adding in essential oils and chemicals from other plants like Evoxe does enhances that effect even more. "Luxury cannabis is knowing your cultivator and knowing the quality of the product you're using and how it's made," said Katz.
Once you've got some luxury dank, there are more luxurious ways to smoke it than ever before. Artisan bongs and art piece pipes can cost anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dab rigs can also be expensive, costing up to $10,000. Not to mention a couple thousand dollars will get you a prime rozin press (not a perfectly good hair straightener) and torches. Nice dabs themselves can also be hundreds of dollars depending on how much you get.
For the rest of us plebes without an extra grand in your wallet, there's always golden rolling papers. The only kind of edible gold is 24 karats, said Dave Brown, CEO of Shine Papers. His products range from $14 to $55 per pack.
"No, it's not oxygen," Brown said, "but people like to show off. People like to celebrate with their friends. Shine is a very social product. You're probably not sitting alone on your couch smoking Shine, you're probably doing it with your friends or at a concert."
With all the fanfare around how high society gets, well, high, smoking a simple joint seems all of a sudden rudimentary. But even the people selling luxury weed say that at the end of the day, it's all about how you feel.
"But it's not all about just getting high," said Calvino. "What function does it serve? Is it a relaxant, is it for focus? Are the desired effects met? And how do you enjoy the way you feel when you're smoking?"
Luxury Week is a series about our evolving views of what constitutes luxury. Follow along here.
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