“I’m so glad you could make it. Okay, let me give you the tour. As you can see, there’s an assortment of brownies. They’re all infused. Later, we’ll have infused ice cream. For now, there’s the vape bar. Both indoor and outdoor flowers. And, once you’re feeling good and high, you should try the virtual reality.” This is how Dan Braunstein, founder of GrassFed, gives me the short tour and introduces me to his pop-up cannabis and VR soiree.
The crowd is young creatives. We mingle in a loft space on the top floor of a building, just south of downtown Los Angeles. The brick walls and wooden floors provide a certain feeling of timeless intimacy inside the open loft. There’s plenty of scattered furniture, comfortably arranged in clusters for conversation. Leaning up against and hanging on the walls is artwork that’s bold, striking. And then there’s the giant psychedelic-painted lion statue. Setting the vibe is a playlist of music that ranges from hip-hop to classic rock, psychedelic rock to Arabian folk music. It’s eclectic without ever feeling pretentious. A delicate balance to strike these days.
Now that California has passed Proposition 64 -- which will see a legal recreational marijuana market open for business in 2018 -- all sorts of savvy cannabis entrepreneurs are trying to figure out how to give consumers what they want. Braunstein’s pop-up pot event is one new model for how people might soon enjoy cannabis in intimate, one-time events. There’s a certain magic to a pop-up event for this simple reason. Just like a flower, the joy of the blossom only lasts so long. It’s a perfect way to create something special - something that provides a subtle feeling of wonder, like when Brigadoon magically appears.
As he leads me over to the vape bar, Braunstein tells me how GrassFed typically hosts themed, pop-up, pot-infused dinner parties. He wants people to enjoy a night out, microdosing to their heart’s content, invisibly surrounded by soulful music, delighted by new and intriguing tastes. Braunstein says his main goal is to destigmatize cannabis, to treat it with a similar sophistication that we bring to wine appreciation. In many ways, he swaps cannabis for wine. But he points out that tonight’s event will feature no alcohol. He finds alcohol can sometimes make social scenes messy. That rarely happens with cannabis. With marijuana, people tend to just chill and enjoy themselves. That said, much like wine, Braunstein also finds that cannabis pairs perfectly with good food and music.
This all sounds dope to me.
Before I hit the vape, I try a few brownies. They’re infused with THC, but unlike nearly every other pot brownie I’ve ever tried, these don’t taste like they were cooked with bongwater. These sea salt and caramel brownies are delicious, chewy, chocolatey. And I’m not even high yet. As I munch on three of them, Braunstein tells me that each one has 5 milligrams of THC. Perhaps three was a bit much, I say to myself.
Next, Braunstein leads me over to the vape bar. Tonight they’re offering indoor strains from an LA-based grow company called THC Design and outdoor flowers from a Mendicino farmers collective called Flow Kana. I try the outdoor flowers first. Ty, the bearded, friendly-faced rep from Flow Kana, asks me, “Which would you like to try? Tonight, we have Sherbet, Berry White, and Fruit Loops.”
Just going off the names, I pretty much have to try Berry White. But Braunstein steps in and suggests I smell each flower before I decide. He finds that the nose never lies. So I take his advice, and damn if I don’t change my mind. I try the Fruit Loops strain instead. Ty prepares the vaporizer and tells me about the 60 farmers in their collective. He says the woman who grows the Berry White strain is a second-generation marijuana farmer, which is common in the collective. Ty would like to see farmers have a fighting chance against the factory operations setting up shop in anticipation of the recreational marijuana market exploding in California. Everyone can sense it. The question will be: who benefits?
Ty is quick to agree when I compare the pot farmers to wineries. He adds that now that it’s legal the farmers are excited to come out into the open and show their faces to the world. No longer outlaw growers, they can now become known and branded, just like wineries.
The image of pot farmers eager to come out into the open is a funny one. Like closeted gays and lesbians, pot growers are stepping out, eager to be recognized for who they are, and to be celebrated as a welcome part of society. What an interesting moment. “Hi, I’m Sunshine Farms, I’m a pot farm, get used to it.”
Ty says it’ll be vitally important for farms to become known brands. Using alcohol for a metaphor, he suggests that just like craft beers, farm collectives like Flow Kana imagine a place in the market for upscale cannabis cultivated for the discerning consumer. He thinks customers will gravitate to second-generation farmers whose organic, solar-powered, rainwater-collecting, passive-drip-system-employing farms offer a sophisticated, environmentally conscious approach to cannabis. I think he’s right. I’m always willing to pay for quality. Ty, Braunstein, and other forward-thinkers like them are betting on that attraction.
Ready to hit the prepared vape, I try the Fruit Loops. It’s tasty. The hit is super smooth. And then, for comparison’s sake, I also try the Berry White. Just because it’s Berry White. I find that I prefer it -- and not just for its badass name. In this instance, my nose was wrong.
As the cannabis I’ve ingested and vaped begins to take effect, Braunstein asks if I’m ready to try the virtual reality. Over at the VR stations, two women wearing headsets and headphones lurch and lean as they shoot alien spaceships that surround and attack them in waves. It’s funny to watch them, their hands clutching paddles that they swing about wildly as they shoot down the alien warships. Well, that’s what they see at least. We see someone in a headset lunging around like they’re trying to invent a new viral dance.
When it’s my turn, I try a few different VR games, starting with the spaceship game. You stand on a platform, armed with a blaster and protected by a shield. The drone spaceships buzz about you like a swarm of angry hornets. It’s not a photorealistic simulation of reality. It’s like a video game, only you're inside of it. Like Tron. And at first, it’s disorienting. But much like prison, you quickly adjust to the world you’re in.
Curious for new sensations, I switch games and try the first-person shooter where you must survive a zombie attack. It may have been all the edibles and vapes I puffed finally hitting me, but I’m in the game. These motherfucking zombies are on my ass. I’m pulling headshots like my life depends on it. Shabeer, the rep from VR Territory who is supplying the VR for tonight, has to actually put his hands on my back to keep me from pulling away from the machine and yanking it onto the floor by the headset cord. That’s how real this shit feels. Or how high I am. Either way it’s fun AF.
As I take off the VR headset and return to reality, Braunstein tells me it’s time for ice cream. There’s an assortment of flavors. I opt for the Rocky Road. Braunstein recommends I top it with powdered THC, each scoop is ten milligrams. So I go ahead and dust it with some powdered THC. Have to say the infused ice cream is just as tasty as the brownies. And once again, there’s no hint of bongwater. Always nice.
Not that I really need to ingest or vape anymore THC, but curiosity wins over and I try the indoor strains from THC Design. The rep is named Ophelia.After I compliment her glasses, she asks if I'd like to try THC Design’s strain of XJ-13. It sounds like a classic Jaguar sports car. She prepares the vaporizer, telling me it's called the Vapexhale Evo, and it works using convection heat. While I exhale a plume of vapor, Ophelia explains that in our modern digital world, coming out to a night like this feels special. It’s a crafted experience. As she puts it, “You can’t stream cannabis -– can’t download it.”
And there it is, the ultimate appeal of a night like this. We have social media because we like to be social. But we’ve also sequestered ourselves in our bubbles of comfort. We order delivery. We shop online. We stream movies and binge-watch our favorite tv series. So it’s nice to go out, get high, mingle with some chill-ass people, and tease our senses with new or rare pleasures, while still also remaining comfortable. I think cannabis pop-up events like this one from Braunstein’s GrassFed will definitely be a growing trend in the next year.
Chatting with two attractive women who clearly enjoy their pot, I hear The Streets bumping from the speakers. It’s the song 'Let’s Push Things Forward'. Which seems very fitting. There’s a reason why it was added to the playlist -- a subliminal message offering an accurate affirmation of why we’re here. “Let’s push things forward.”
Banner image by Tomer Grassiany.