When I stepped off the plane I was completely disoriented. Feeling a bit like Dorothy in Emerald City, or Alice through the looking glass, I wasn't in New York anymore. I was in Colorado, on Mountain Standard Time, and for the remainder of my weekend trip I would never quite remember whether that meant I was two hours ahead or behind. There was snow on the ground and the sky was pale and sunny as I waited for a car outside the Denver International Airport; it wasn't cold, but it looked like it should be. I was jet-lagged, sleepy, and slightly confused, but luckily all the locals already had me sorted out: If I wasn't here for the Steelers vs. Broncos game, it could only be for one thing: legal weed.
After taking my bags and offering me a bottle of water to counteract my burgeoning altitude sickness, my Uber driver promptly hit all the talking points about his hometown: the recent influx of millennials (emphasized, I thought, as if he was saying "aliens") and the tech industry, gentrification, the projected billions of dollars cannabis will bring in for the state and the millions it already has. Last year, he said, Colorado made more money from taxing marijuana than they originally knew what to do with. I asked him, jokingly, if he was also employed by Denver's tourism bureau, and then I asked what he thought about all the change. He said he felt positive about it, not least because of the ease with which he could now stock up on vape pen cartridges.
Since Colorado legalized the drug under Amendment 64 in 2012 , anyone over the age of 21 can purchase weed like groceries without getting arrested, fined, or a second glance—and, so far, the federal government has pretty much left the state alone. This might just sound like a long-overdue policy that makes sense and is perhaps inevitable for the rest of the United States, but to see it and experience it, practically, for the first time felt like an alternate universe. No longer a clandestine operation for the denizens of Colorado, or an excuse to incarcerate people of color, weed was everywhere: My unofficial tour guide and I passed an obvious weed dispensary, which he said outnumbered Starbucks locations in the state, every few feet. He pointed out the manufacturing plants along the highway that were now being used as growhouses. By the end of my ride, I saw more puns on weed-related words than I thought were possible. I had a feeling that this was my Mecca.
Indeed, Colorado is for stoners, though that's not the state's official slogan just yet. Anything you could conceivably think to do, here you can do it with weed, and there's a lot of money to be made from it. If you want to rent a vacation house, Bud and Breakfast is Colorado's 420-friendly version of Airbnb. (Some properties offer weed-inclusive packages, and the host I stayed with even had a "dab cage.") If you want to go out, there are cannabis bars that substitute the plant for alcohol. And if you want to get married in the state, why not have a weed wedding?
"Why not?" was general sentiment behind Denver's inaugural Cannabis Wedding Expo on Sunday, where vendors on both sides of the aisle came together for the first time to start a dialogue about what cannabis can do for brides- and grooms-to-be, as well as for the wedding industry itself. As I walked up to the local art gallery where the event was held, I was greeted by a white stretch limo that had promotional water bottles lined up on the roof. I poked my head in. "What's this for?" I asked the driver. He explained that he was one of the vendors at the expo, and he was offering his limo service to wedding parties. "So... if I wanted to rent this limo for my wedding I could hotbox it, legally?" He nodded and smiled, "You sure can."
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Inside the expo, spanning the gallery's three floors that were soundtracked with pulsing music, 25 other vendors were also hoping to get the word out about their weed-friendly services, which ranged from cannabis bouquets to "budtenders" like Andrew Mieure. "This is my first networking event," said Mieure, the founder of Top Shelf Budtending. He's dressed as he would be when he's behind the cannabar, in a crisp button-down with suspenders and a bow tie. Mieure only started his company a few months ago, but since the weed wedding industry is still so new and emerging, he said, there's not much competition. "There's not a lot of companies that are doing this yet," he said. "If you need bud at your wedding or party, we bring all of the accessories and expertise. At the wedding, we would rope the area off, make sure everyone who entered was 21, and give everyone a wristband prior to consuming."
In Colorado, marijuana is tracked using radio frequency identification (or RFID tags) that follows each bud from the grower to the dispensary. Every step along the way requires a specific license that's regulated by the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division. That means that third-party businesses like Mieure's can't legally sell weed along with their budtending services. The bride and groom, or any client, have to buy and supply the weed, or they have the option of shopping with Mieure's expertise at a dispensary. "I'm basically a consultant," he explained. "I'm telling people what strains would be best, making sure people are consuming responsibly, and ensuring that they're having a good time. I'm not actually selling any [cannabis]. The client is basically providing the bud for their guests; under Amendment 64, anyone over the age of 21 and older can give up to one ounce of bud to someone else over 21. That's the only way we can get away with this," he said.
While clients generally look to weed as an alternative to alcohol, they don't have to choose between the two. "Alcohol is [legally] allowed to be served alongside cannabis, but I wouldn't recommend mixing the two," Mieure said. "I think, personally, weed is a safer alternative to alcohol, and it costs about the same as an open bar. A little bit of weed goes a long way." A budtender's job is also to make sure the guests don't get uncontrollably high. "We keep guests to a 20 MG limit for edibles, and a one- or two-joint limit on the bud itself."
If you want to get more creative with cannabis consumption on your wedding night, LA-based Christopher Sayegh, who goes by the name the Herbal Chef, was also at the expo. "I do cannabis-infused fine dining," he told me. "So that means multi-course meals that are individually dosed [with THC]. The dosage is completely customizable to everyone at the table because you want to be able to enjoy the whole meal without getting too high." For the stoner who is also a discerning foodie, Sayeg sources local ingredients and often bases dishes on what he's just foraged or hunted. He's worked with clients who have their medical cards in California and is looking to expand into Colorado's recreational space; he's booked to cater two weddings in the state this September. "People still aren't used to eating savory edibles," Sayegh explained. "They're more used to the sweet stuff. At these dinners my clients are usually trying this stuff for the first time. One time I went dove hunting and used the doves for a dinner. I served them on wooden plates that I carved from tree trunks and made a turmeric hash to represent the earthiness of where [the doves] died. Then I smoked [them] using the hay that was all around the area [where they] died. Then I made a cannabis-infused dove sauce."
Surprisingly, this wasn't the craziest dish he's made. "I made a Caprese salad for desert," he said, adding that he comes up with his best flavor combinations while stoned. "I am absolutely in love with cannabis. I love the culture. Everyone is friendly, and there's this great sense of community. Plus, who doesn't like to get high and eat food?"
The event was heavily populated with members of the weed industry, but there were, of course, civilian couples genuinely looking for wedding inspiration. One couple I spoke to had an all-weed-everything wedding in the works. The bride planned to have a custom-made wedding gown made from an abstracted pattern of the weed strain she and her husband grow, Cherry Kush. Her wedding colors are purple and gold, like the THC crystals on the strain, and they said pictures of the strain would also be hung at the reception as artwork. "We just want to have a fun wedding that represents who we are," the bride said.
For those who might want a more subtle look, Janay Andrews (or Janay A), a wedding dress designer from Kansas City who had a booth at the expo, makes custom wedding dresses out of hemp that can be indistinguishable from a traditional gown, though she was just commissioned to make a dress incorporating a bodice of beaded weed leaves. Andrews isn't married, nor does she have immediate plans to be. When I asked her if she would ever consider a cannabis wedding, she responded: "I want to have a mushroom wedding!"
Lauren Gibbs, a cannabride, guest speaker at the event, and the social media guru behind many different weed brands, including Women Grow, sat down with me to talk about her weed wedding and some of the setbacks she had in the planning process. Gibbs has long pink hair and was wearing her engagement ring, as well as a weed leaf charm bracelet. "I knew I wanted a cannabis wedding," Gibbs said. She even sacrificed her dream venue in order to have cannabis at the ceremony—although cannabis can be legally consumed in private spaces, many wedding venues in the state still aren't too keen on the idea."I found the absolute perfect place, but they wouldn't allow me to serve cannabis. They said it was illegal, which it's obviously not [in Colorado]." Gibbs had to go through several options before she found a place that fit her wedding aesthetic and also allowed her to have weed present. "It's a ranch," she said, "so they just asked me to make sure no one gives any edibles to the goats."
Opening up the wedding industry to 420-friendly vendors and clients was one of the primary motivations for the event, the founders of the expo, Bec Koop (of Colorado's first cannabis florist Buds & Blossoms) and Philip Wolf (of the cannabis tour company Cultivating Spirits), explained. Koop, who creates bouquets and "budtonniéres" using cannabis plants, was rejected from traditional expos, so she decided to start her own. "As people start to see cannabis as a normal part of daily life, it just makes sense to also have it at your wedding," Wolf said. "The wedding industry is a a multi-billion-dollar industry, and as more states opt for legalization, cannabis will play a big role in it."
The expo was BYOC (bring your own cannabis), complete with a smoking lounge, so by the end of the day, the event felt more like a wedding itself than a convention. More stoned than I've ever been in my entire life, I almost forgot that the main reason for the event was commerce; it was hard not to have a good time when everyone in attendance was liberally sharing joints, vapes, and anything else smokeable or edible. Maybe that was the point, I thought, as I stared at a melting ice sculpture that was laser-etched with cannabis leaves: Almost everything—weddings and wedding expos included—is better with weed.