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Hey, ‘Budtender’: Los Angeles’s Power Brokers of Pot Crank Up the Kook


Hey, ‘Budtender’: Los Angeles’s Power Brokers of Pot Crank Up the Kook

Laura M. Holson • December 9, 2017

LOS ANGELES — Carli Jo Bidlingmaier was talking to a group of 20-somethings in a living room in the Bel-Air neighborhood here, weeks before the wildfires. She was explaining that consuming marijuana allows a woman to awaken her “yoni,” a Sanskrit term for vagina favored by Hollywood bohemians.

“Everybody stand up!” she shouted. The crowd, all women seated on pillows on the floor, leapt to their feet.

Ms. Bidlingmaier, a former casting producer for “The Bachelor,” vigorously shook her hips. She was leading the women in a so-called cannabis sensuality circle that seemed like something out of 1960s Esalen: joints, frank talk about sexuality, meditation and — at the end of the night — a headlong plunge into a big bowl of strawberries and dark chocolate.

“It is our divine right to enjoy our pleasure,” Ms. Bidlingmaier said. No one disagreed.

In January, California will join the list of states where recreational marijuana is legal, among them Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska. With researchers tallying California’s marijuana sales at $7.7 billion last year, the so-called green rush has already turned gold. Next year, the Standard hotel in Hollywood plans to open a dispensary for edibles. “It’s exploding in a good way,” said Emerald Castro, a brand ambassador for cannabis start-ups. “There are a lot of professionals on board.”

Cannabis sales, currently for medicinal purposes, are primarily a cash business. (Federal laws prohibit the use of banks for illegal drugs.) And with restrictions on advertising, the industry retains something of a quaint dorm-room vibe.

That means parties. Lots of them. Parties to educate and inform new users. Parties to connect to friends who partake. And parties to sell, sell, sell cannabis to an unfamiliar public, most of whom still think “Girl Scout Cookies” are for eating, “Moby Dick” is a novel, and “Skywalker” is Luke’s last name, rather than chic new strains.

Along with the sensuality circles, there are get-togethers for gamers who smoke pot, marijuana Christmas parties, classes where artists can puff and paint. There are studios where yogis smoke sensimilla with their shavasana and members’ only co-working spaces where entrepreneurs can enjoy a dab of hash while poring over data-flow diagrams and accounting receipts.

“It all comes down to not feeling like a criminal, being seen as a criminal,” said Douglas Dracup, 31, whose Hitman Coffee Shop on South La Brea Avenue is one of these spaces. Parties, he said, have “set the stage for the industry to flourish.”

Below, a recent tour of Los Angeles’s flourishing pot scene.

High Tea

In a gated office building off Sunset Boulevard, tucked between a parking lot and two motels, about 25 people gathered one recent Saturday for “White Rabbit High Tea.” Jessica Cole Eriksen, 34, began hosting tea parties in April 2016 after working as a nanny in Ireland where brew was a daily ritual. “I’m rolling joints so, everyone, let’s get rolling,” said Ms. Eriksen, who brought a box filled with masks and hats for people to wear. “I’m so happy you are here on this lovely afternoon.”

Some were friends or guests who read about the tea party, which cost $65, online. “I saw it on Instagram last month, and I thought I would come,” said Bridgett Davis, in between puffs under her leopard-print hat. “In December I’m going to pull out my mink. It’s a different kind of crowd, not teenagers or millennials.”

Holden Jagger, a former executive pastry chef at the Soho House who started a cannabis cooking and cultivation business last year, prepared the meal. The table was set with place cards, gold lace paper napkins and strategically arranged ashtrays. There was no pot in the roasted corn and buttermilk scones. But there were plenty of joints, vape pens and edibles on the table. A server wearing a crimson dress and rabbit ears poured peach green tea.

Tara Dawn Roseman, an eyebrow aesthetician, examined a bottle of lotion infused with medical marijuana.

“My dad loves this stuff,” said Roxanne Dennant, whose company, Fruit Slabs, makes cannabis-infused fruit leather. “He rubs it on his hands.”

“My hands are always hurting,” Ms. Roseman said.

“Then use some!” Ms. Dennant said. “They are on the table to be used.”

There were a lot of products to try: cannabis-infused cellulite cream, lip balm, chocolate cookies and small bottles of artisanal buds from Northern California. Ms. Roseman brought some pot from home, which she dumped on a plate so she could roll a joint. Platters of finger sandwiches were passed.

“Do you find yourself with friends that want to talk about something else?” said Ms. Dennant. “We can’t. We are passionate.”

Ms. Eriksen refrained from smoking because she was pregnant. She watched as guests eyed the buds on the table. “You get a gift bag so you don’t need to pocket anything,” she said.

As caramel popcorn and apple pie cookies were passed, the table grew silent. A man put a zebra mask over his face and scrolled through his cellphone. “I was just staring off into the sky and thinking, ‘I am sufficiently stoned,’” Ms. Dennant said.

Ms. Davis said, “You feel like not talking so much anymore.”

Mr. Jagger joined the table. “I had a mom give me a cookie once,” he said, recalling his early 20s. “I just couldn’t talk for a while. My arms were moving, but my mouth wasn’t working. She put a whole plant into butter and it was pretty strong.”

When he was a younger man, Mr. Jagger said, he prided himself in baking potent cookies. Nowadays, cooks are better at tempering the high. “The idea that we can manage it,” he said, “takes the fun out of it.”