ELLA RILEY-ADAMS • February 5, 2018
On the plane, I was annoyed at everything. The woman next to me kicked her foot in the air over and over, so vigorously I thought she might end up doing some Rockette moves in the aisle. The woman across from us kept pounding her thighs with closed fists, no doubt some sophisticated massage technique. I held one hand between my face and the spastic movement, trying to blinker myself like a Central Park horse. Never an avid smoker, I wondered if maybe I could use some weed.
I was on the way to Los Angeles, a city that’s currently engaged in cannabis celebration. California passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or Proposition 64, in November 2016, making it legal for its residents to grow and possess pot. Although recreational purchases weren’t permitted until January 1, the city has long been ablaze with weed-enhanced experiences, from workouts to fine diningand one Alice in Wonderland-inspired afternoon party, the cleverly named White Rabbit High Tea.
Its founder and “high hostess,” Jessica Cole, always had the urge to bring people together over petit fours and saucers. “Back in high school I had a subscription to Martha Stewart magazine,” Cole says. “Everyone else had a Seventeensubscription, but I had Martha. I love that she went to prison and made a mistake and recovered from it and is still doing what she’s doing and has Snoop Dogg as her bestie. There's something awesome about that.” After growing up in a weed-friendly town in Southern Oregon, Cole tried her hand at trimming (the handiwork required to separate marijuana leaves from the usable bud), but also threw countless parties in her own Oregon-Martha way. She moved to Los Angeles as the cannabis culture was evolving, and saw an opportunity to help her new friends create better brands, mostly through high-quality photography. Someone might grow pristine, organic weed and package it beautifully, but if they didn’t know how to present the product on Instagram, its exceptional nature could be lost to those not in immediate proximity.
As she met more people in the quickly growing industry, Cole realized that instead of having individual shoots, she could gather the most innovative brands with her penchant for party planning. So she dreamed up an event that would be part photo session, part showcase, but mostly one delightful trip down the rabbit hole, complete with THC-infused fruit leather, mini grilled cheese, and one very generous goodie bag.
This particular Saturday, it was held at the Petit Ermitage, a West Hollywood boutique hotel infamous for its Burning Man parties and generally debaucherous events. Simply staying there is a Wonderlandish experience of its own. A cookie tin at the check-in desk is labeled “quaaludes,” and in the bathroom off the bar, a little oval mirror is perfectly positioned so that, if you’re sitting on the toilet, you see your face staring back at you. On Friday nights, Toledo Diamond hosts a burlesque show in a side room. The bar food—caramelized Brussels sprouts with tempeh bacon, deviled eggs, lobster pho—was just the thing after a cross-country flight. The perfect Old Fashioned helped too.
The dress code for White Rabbit High Tea is “Sunday best,” or “date night attire,” but Cole encourages costumes. “People want to play dress-up, they want to play as adults,” she reasons. Guests have worn animal masks and top hats (we ran into a Johnny Depp relation the night prior, and he promised to bring the Mad Hatter hat next time). I wore a light pink romper and accessorized with a bonnet, thinking I could pass as some sort of Bo Peep. My friend became a cross between Veronica Lodge and a Vampire bride, wearing a choker and a veil. There were three tables set up beneath the wisteria in the Petit Ermitage’s rooftop butterfly garden. One was occupied by a birthday party for a student from USC, the other two were a mix of industry folks and curious cannabis enthusiasts. A couple had heard about the event on Facebook, but it was sold out the last two times they tried to go. In the elevator on the way out, they happily held their goodie bag: “This is so worth it.”
Bridgette Davis, owner of Big Momma’s Legacy, a line of cannabis salve, has sponsored High Tea before but attended as a guest this time. “Not only do you get to dress up and wear hats,” Davis said, “but on the business side of it I like it because you don’t know who you’re sitting next to or sitting across from.” She’s gotten clients from the high tea, as well as inspiration from fellow entrepreneurs. Cole is purposeful about selecting small business owners and women-led companies to sponsor each event. “You don’t realize what amazing products are on the market right now, how well they’re packaged and designed and created,” Cole says.
The table was set for tea, with china and calligraphic name cards. A closer inspection revealed the cannabis spread: bowls of bud, peppermint patties, floral lollipops, and elegant vape pens. I met Roxanne Dennant, co-founder of Fruit Slabs, maker of the “Mango Maui Wowie” snack.\
Tea was served, and Roxanne lit the first joint—it was Chocolate Hashberry flavor. Conversation turned, naturally, to weed. “There are sooo many cannabis events now,” one woman exclaimed, half complaining. The industry is happy to be in the light, at last. “Did you hear it was cannabis prom tonight?” another woman asked. Soon the tea snacks were delivered: they were trays of deviled quail eggs, triangles of grilled cheese, and an assortment of cookies provided by Petit Ermitage. When the tea is hosted elsewhere, Cole enlists the services of Holden Jagger, a former Soho House chef whose menu “celebrates cannabis as a vegetable,” rather than mind-altering substance.
At one point during the night, my table fell silent, each of us consumed with our own thoughts. The next table chatted animatedly, laughing. “They got the sativa,” Bloomfield’s Brooke Sinclair explained, referring to the strain of cannabis that’s more uplifting. One of her company’s products is a pack of vape pens: sativa, indica, hybrid, and CBD—“something for each of my girlfriends.” She’d distributed them among the tables. “Education is one things that our industry currently lacks, and I think it is important to constantly engage with consumers to explain the benefits of each strain and how/when to use them,” Sinclair told me later.
The evening included an education for those who could focus enough to take in the complexities of terpenes and cannabinoids. Eventually each sponsor stood up to introduce their product and explain the larger purpose behind their business. Most told stories of pain management and general healing. At the end of the night, a middle-aged guest shook hands with one of the presenters, clearly touched by the experience. “Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us,” she said.
The sun set as we were having tea
The tea finished at 7 p.m., at which point my friend and I considered what felt like one hundred restaurants before agreeing on Night + Market, Kris Yenbamroong’s Thai place. (I recommend having a driver pick you up.) The pad thai satisfied every unidentified craving, and the plastic floral tablecloths upheld the bubbly mood of the day. Later, wrapped in the Petit Ermitage’s bathrobes, we went through the contents of our goodie bags, examining and sorting and exchanging items with the same glee we used to have after elementary school birthday parties. Instead of bouncy balls and Smarties, we got cannabis skin rub, tinctures, and prerolls; just the kind of party favors you’d want in L.A. today.