What LA's First Weed Rave Means for the Future of Cannabis and Nightlife

If there are two things Los Angeles has going for it right now, it's legal weed and underground nightlife. So for 12 hours this past Sunday from 4:20 pm to 4:20 am (obviously), journalist Michelle Lhooq pulled together her favorite DJs and cannabis influencers for the party of the zeitgeist, aptly titled Weed Rave.

The "stoner fantasy," as Lhooq calls it, took place in a downtown warehouse that, well before the end of the night, became essentially a three-story hotbox: a taco stand on the ground floor, three rooms of panels, music, and weed brands on the second, and on the roof, stoned yoga, underneath the blood moon of the lunar eclipse, and a view of the DTLA skyline.

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Pictured above: Michelle Lhooq, photo courtesy of Jacob Andrew; Pictured here: Yoga on the roof, photo courtesy of Kaitlin Parry

It was on the roof where I found myself hanging out before things really got going, watching a group of strangers fumble with and ultimately bond over pipe that looked as if it came out of a stoner sci-fi flick. But no, it was actually a gift from every stoner's favorite throwback, Tommy Chong, to another journalist photographing the party. Yet, while every "cannabis event" has its share of media, what was unique about this one was that most of its attendees weren't, in fact, cannabis industry scenesters.

"Free weed" was one guy's reason for attending, while another shared that he only just recently tried cannabis for the first time and came out of curiosity. The crowd's diversity was impressive — and for weed enthusiasts and noobs alike, there was something for everyone.

The first half of Weed Rave featured two panels, one on the parallels between the War on Drugs and the War on Sex Workers, and another spotlighting a few "weedfluencers" at the forefront of the "women in weed" movement. Then there was yoga on the roof during the eclipse. As the night progressed, it became more about the music, ambient tunes and CBD tonics in one room; edibles, drinks, groovy electronic beats in another. Joints were pretty much everywhere, including during the panels, which began with a smoke circle.

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CBD tonic bartender, photo courtesy of Kaitlin Parry

When Lhooq moved to LA from New York two years ago, she says she started going to both a lot of underground raves and cannabis events. "That's one of the reasons I moved to California, to see the cultural changes that legalized weed would bring," she tells Civilized. "I feel like generations of stoners have been waiting for this moment, but unfortunately I just don't think that I really went to that many cool parties. I felt like a lot of them were kind of awkward, kind of corporate, and the music was always an afterthought."

And she's totally right: What's lamer than a weed party that's not inherently fun, or which neglects what a stoned audience really wants? That being, simply, good music, good food, chill vibes, and comfortable spots to hang out or relax. "With this rave, I really wanted to avoid the all too common experience of going to a weed party and having someone stand behind a booth, telling you the same spiel over and over. My idea was to create an experience that really speaks to how complex and multidimensional weed is," Lhooq says. "I want to show that weed is a really good substance for partying. People associate it with sleeping or chilling out, and it's good for that, but it's also really good for going out and dancing."

That's another thing: If you're familiar with the rave scene, you may be asking if cannabis really can be a substitute for MDMA (or any sort of upper to help with dancing all night). The answer is yes. "If you truly love rave culture and you love going out and listening to music, you can't be doing molly or cocaine every weekend," says Lhooq. "I've seen so many friends get sucked into not sleeping and partying for days."

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Weed raver, photo courtesy of Kaitlin Parry

Plus, she adds, weed actually complements raving because it piques your senses, enhances your experience, and makes you more sensitive to external stimuli. "Compare it to alcohol, for example, which dampens your senses and makes you sloppy, weed pulls you into music and heightens your enjoyment of it," says Lhooq.

But Weed Rave was about more than just proving that weed parties can actually be fun (with the help of weed and weed alone); they can also make a political statement. "This is historic," said pornographer and human rights and cannabis activist Buck Angel during the War on Drugs//War on Sex Work panel. "We have the freedom today to smoke cannabis here [which] we didn't have five years ago," he said. "Today, you have the legalization of something that is ours, our plant. Understand how important it is for you to put out the need to legalize sex work. It's our body."

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Weed raver, photo courtesy of Kaitlin Parry

Legalization — of cannabis and of sex work — is an issue of harm reduction, equity, and economics. And as much as people enjoy the fun associated with these industries, the panel made clear that consumers' buying power also supports the direction these industries will go.

"Combining education, the party scene, and the natural properties of cannabis was a no-brainer," says another panelist Bianca Monica, founder of a boutique agency called Limone Creative. "The energy in the room was electric." The panels opened up the the speakers and the crowd for the rave party to follow, she adds, noting how important it is to mix educational components into cannabis events. "There's so much to learn and so much left to be done," she says. "We need more of this going forward."

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Bianca Monica moderating a panel of "Weedfluencers," photo courtesy of Kaitlin Parry

With about 400 people in attendance on January 20 — which also happened to be Lhooq's 30th birthday — this was only the beginning of a Weed Rave series. "It will be a monthly thing leading up to the launch of my book on 4/20, which is called Weed: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Stoned to Ask," says Lhooq. The next Weed Rave in February will be spa-themed, located in an actual Korean spa (check back with Lhooq's newsletter for more details). 

"I'm trying to change the conversation around rave culture just as much as I'm trying to change the conversation around weed," she adds. "They both have this old reputation that's very outdated about being destructive, hedonistic, druggy, and dangerous, but I think the culture is moving toward more holistic self care, and a politically involved kind of vibe."
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View from behind the DJ, photo courtesy of Kaitlin Parry

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