It’s impossible not to notice the colorful crosswalks on El Paseo in Palm Desert. That’s why everyone’s talking about them. Some pedestrians dig the new look while others, especially some local business owners, find them “distasteful” for the upscale shopping district. But this is more than street art: The surprisingly controversial color pop on Palm Springs’s streets is the first wave of a $950,000 demonstration project that aims to create a safe and pedestrian-friendly environment. Other improvements for the project include new crosswalks, wheelchair ramps, and solar panel pedestrian signals. Color us impressed.
The desert is alive in December. For those of us who grew up in cold climes, it seems surreal to be soaking up sun at the same time Mariah Carey is belting out carols and dreidels are spinning. But all that vitamin D in the day and cool Mojave breezes at night is a welcome respite from the darker side of the holidays. This time of year can be notoriously hard on many people, with the short days bringing on depression and the call to be happy and close to family triggering difficult and deep-rooted pain.
Last month was a tough one for me, personally. A friend lost her young daughter. In the same week, I received news of another friend’s passing as well as the news that yet another friend, the poet Chris Ransick, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. All that loss made me remember how little we control life, how all we can really do during our brief time here is treat other people the best we can and love with all our hearts.
We also lost Gert Boyle, the “Tough Mother” who ran Columbia Sportswear ever since her husband suddenly died of a heart attack in 1971. She worked every day at her company in Portland, Oregon, past her 95th birthday and participating in business meetings the same week she passed. Gert was famous for wry one-liners and she was an American success story, running her company from near bankruptcy to over $3 billion in annual sales last year. But she won’t be most remembered for hilarious commercials, like the one when she put her son through a car wash sans car to test a jacket, or for the quality of the ever-popular apparel she put on so many of us. She treated her employees, and even people like me, like family (even if it was with a touch of tough, sarcastic love).
Whether the holidays fill you with sadness or joy or an odd combination of both, you can find love and give love. And if you need some time to think it all over, head out to Joshua Tree, walk into the desert and just embrace the beauty of being alive.
At the end of October, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Cannabis Open Houses Are Putting the High in High-End Real Estate.” The trend piece by author Katherine Clarke revealed the emerging discovery being used by developers and real-estate agents to move luxe properties in communities where recreational cannabis is not just legal but widely accepted.
It’s not unlike Los Angeles, where the rising industry is being hailed as an untapped source for buyers of high-priced homes. Throwing cannabis-related events—everything from elaborate seven-course pairing dinners with vapes in lieu of vino to live trimming classes—at multimillion-dollar properties on the market is garnering attention, building social buzz, and attracting buyers with money earned in, around, or on cannabis.
Not everyone sees the genius behind the trend, however. Clarke spoke to one agent in New York, where recreational cannabis is still a pipe dream and old tropes live on about munchie-motivated stoners. “When I think about cannabis, I don’t think about buying an expensive house,” says Warburg Realty’s Jason Haber. “It’s not a call for action as much as a call for Doritos.”
Someone should tell him friends don’t let friends make tired stoner jokes anymore. Especially ones implying cannabis consumers indulge their munchies with mindless consumption of unhealthy snacks when the reality is cannabis appeals to what The Economist dubs the “health-conscious inebriate,” citing a poll that 72 percent of American consumers thought cannabis was safer than alcohol. A 2018 The New Yorker headline declared cannabis to be a wellness industry in California where, in fact, a cannabinoid cousin of THC and CBD is starting to garner a whole lot of buzz. Instead of stimulating appetites, THCV may suppress those hunger pangs. When 2021 is declared the year of THCV, you can say you heard it here first.
Consumption and consumerism
Cannabis has moved so far beyond the clichés of yore. Tie-dye tees, bell-bottom cords, dancing bear patches, plastic bongs, Ziploc baggies: these tired trends are so out of style, some have already circled back and left again. (Looking at you, tie-dye.) The stoner kids of yesterday are the cannabis entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and connoisseurs of today. And as they’ve aged, their tastes in cannabis aged with them, like the fine wine they can now afford. Cannabis consumers have money to burn.
And since we live in a capitalist society (an unjust one where people remain locked up for nonviolent drug charges in states that earn taxes off now-legal cannabis sales—that’s a whole layered story for a different day), money makes things happen. And what’s happening now is the emergence of a cannabis experience elevated to a higher level.
If you were paying attention to the pop-culture cues over the decades, you would have seen the high-end highs coming. When cannabis prohibition began its slow-and-steady march to its forthcoming end, it emerged from the black market with an established following of consumers—loyal cannabis consumers with no brand loyalty, because cannabis brands didn’t exist. Dealers did, growers did, activists, advocates, and believers, too. But the concept of cannabis brands was all brand-new.
With strict laws surrounding where the substance can be marketed, sold, advertised, distributed, and more, establishing customer loyalty in this industry is more difficult than it would seem on the surface. What differentiates one edible brand from another, one vape pen from the next is complicated to discern for those who aren’t well versed in the modern verbiage or its meaning. (Full-spectrum distillate, live resin, 2:1 ratios, oh my!)
This is where marketing and branding comes into play. And with marketing and branding comes the emergence of new market segments, including the ultra-luxury category. It is from within that category that future trends are likely to emerge. That’s how trends play out, as Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) explained to her new assistant in one iconic scene of The Devil Wears Prada. (If you haven’t seen it in a while, a quick refresher: “The color of the shirt you are wearing right now was determined years ago by high-end designers preparing their collections for fashion week runways.”)
Trickle-down trends are a hierarchical process whereby individuals with high status establish fashion trends, only to be imitated by lower-status individuals wearing cheaper versions of the same styles.
“It’s always been a thing,” says Karyn Wagner, CEO of Paradigm Cannabis Group, a women-owned extraction company specializing in pre-rolls and extracts made from small-batch sun-grown flower. “There’s always been those products that are better than others. But now, with adult use, we have to be more brand-conscious. With that, how do you distinguish yourself from someone else? Why is this better? What makes it better?”
Some like it haute
With any luxury good, consumers want the assurance of quality and efficacy, Wagner says. But you can never underestimate the prestige that comes with a high price tag. “The moneyed class always loves expensive items,” she says. “This normalizes it in their world. It brings in folks who didn’t normally have the desire. It made it OK in their class. Expensive breeds expensive things. You wouldn’t have expensive cannabis if you didn’t have people who wanted to buy expensive cannabis.”
Jenny Le Coq, president of Le Coq & Associates, a marketing and communications firm in San Francisco that represents Kikoko cannabis-infused botanical mints, points out that most people typically don’t seek out a cheap bottle of wine, but look for something fine, trustworthy, and familiar. They want to know the winery, its reputation, who recommends the vintage. “People are looking at wines today with a more discerning eye—how their grapes are grown, for example,” Le Coq says. “People are looking at cannabis in the same way: with a discerning eye.”
“Discerning” can add up to big money, for sure. Anecdotal stories abound in national media outlets, suggesting couples in Colorado will drop several bills on “cannagars” and other high-end party favors to celebrate weddings and anniversaries. At The High End, Barneys New York’s luxury cannabis lifestyle shop in Beverly Hills, shoppers can splurge on a $1,475 sterling silver bud grinder or a $950 water pipe. New York fashion brand Alice + Olivia partnered with luxury cannabis brand Kush Queen to debut a CBD wellness line earlier this year—bath bomb, body lotion, bubble bath with lavender. Alice + Olivia packaging features CEO Stacey Bendet’s signature “StaceFace” motif, with big sunglasses and a bold red lip. A timeless statement-making style that trendsetters of every era make their own while trendy types try to emulate the overall aesthetic. That’s just the way things work.
To be fair, luxury doesn’t have to mean $$$$. What it must indicate, however, is quality. “Luxury is an assigned label. It is typically assigned by marketers,” Le Coq says. “So, what do you want cannabis to be? As a consumer, how do you perceive luxury? The concept is really defined differently by every person. We want people to experience something that is luxurious. Not only the packaging is beautiful, the taste is beautiful, the place you are put into mentally is a nice, beautiful place.”
I drink badly, and I have a lot of fun doing it (when I remember). That’s a lethal combination, and when you throw in my unfortunate discovery of White Claw—I can drink as many as I want and never feel full!—I flamed out with alcohol last winter.
On February 1, just as everyone else was celebrating the end of Dry January and just ahead of the Summer of the Claw, I swore off the seltzer. I figured I’d give myself one month (note: the year’s shortest) to reset. It wasn’t an easy 28 days, but when March 1 rolled around, I felt better than I’d felt in years. The chronic inflammation I had attributed to everything from gluten sensitivity to genetics was clearing. I saw the light, and there was no going back.
I thought sobriety would be lonely, that every Saturday night would be Netflix. I forgot the Brett Kavanaugh generation isn’t in charge of culture anymore (thank God).
Millennials and Gen Xers aren’t interested in swilling beer until they black out like we did in the ’80s. Sober is sexy—or, as hipsobriety.com sees it, “sobriety is the new black.”
On Instagram, there are influencers such as @stylishlysober, @thesoberglow, and the darker @fucking_sober and hashtags like
#soberliving, #soberAF, and #sobercurious. Millie Gooch, who posts as @sobergirlsociety, encourages her nearly 60,000 followers with inspirational messages like “Mocks not cocks” and “Sobriety: a surefire way to improve your wellbeing and your Uber rating.”
Just like that, I’m a cool kid—with a huge range of new options on Saturday night (and beyond). I’m exploring elixirs made with raw cacao, maca, and horny goat weed at Tonic Herban Lounge just a few blocks from my home in downtown Boulder (I can walk home after imbibing, and it amuses me that I don’t need to). I can do yoga and shake it before dawn at a Daybreaker dance party (daybreaker.com) in Denver, one of 27 cities where the alcohol-free early morning rave pops up and invites people to “sweat, dance, and connect with ourselves in community.”
I’m surely not alone in this realization that life is better without booze. Worldwide, alcohol consumption fell by 1.6 percent last year. Led by young people, heavy-hitting countries like Russia, Canada, Japan, and the UK are seeing drinking rates as well as tolerance toward intoxication decline. An international survey found that about a third of people wanted to reduce their alcohol intake because of everything from sexual regret and embarrassment to physical health. A 2018 survey found that nearly 40 percent of global consumers want to drink less for health reasons.
In the US, CNBC reports, 52 percent of adults are trying to lower their alcohol intake, and underage drinking has steadily declined in the last 10 years. But only 21 percent of US adults in a CivicScience poll said they had any interest in drinking less or not at all, and most of those were 21- to 34-year-old, vegan-leaning flexitarians who practice yoga and consume cannabis daily. Women, especially those in their 30s and 40s, are drinking more than ever.
Booze still rules for most Americans, and “increased stress and demoralization” is actually pushing more women, minorities, and poor people to the bottle, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The national Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 17 million adults in the US are alcohol dependent, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in six binge drink—defined as drinking four or more drinks over two hours or until blood alcohol reaches 0.08—nearly once a week. For this White Claw guzzler, that definition is, well, sobering. I called that happy hour.
Giving up alcohol isn’t a hashtag for a lot of people. It’s not even a choice. As Sean Paul Mahoney writes on The Fix, a website about addiction and recovery, “I didn’t get sober to be cool. I just got sober to stop dying.”
A Little Bit Addicted?
“Sober curious” became a thing after HarperCollins released Ruby Warrington’s Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol in 2018. Warrington also has a podcast, runs Club SÖda NYC (featuring sober events like Kundalini Disco), and stages events (“Sober Curious: Choosing Sobriety for Focus, Presence, and Deep Connection” is February 14–16, 2020, at Massachusetts’ renowned wellness retreat center Kripalu). Her take is that a lot of Americans might not have a “problem” with alcohol but see it as getting in the way of their healthy lifestyles. “We eat well. We exercise. We meditate,” the press release for Sober Curious states. “So, why do we…still drink?”
Warrington wants to know why the only people who don’t drink are the ones who can’t and asks, “What if I am just…a little bit addicted?”
Call me old school, but a little bit addicted sounds a lot like a little bit pregnant. I worry that people who shouldn’t will take the advice of John Costa, who writes on twentytwowords.com that being sober curious is like being bi-curious—you don’t always hook up with people of the same sex, and you don’t have to cut out drinking forever. “Be sober half the time,” he writes, “and sauced the other half.” He’s joking, but those are dangerous words for me. That’s the life I was living: sober by day + tanked by night = balance.
Like all disorders (and pretty much everything in our culture), alcohol use runs on a spectrum. I was at the end that spent hours upon hours researching whether drinking while on this antibiotic would really make me projectile vomit and scoffed at friends as they struggled through Dry January, Dry July, Sober September, and Sober October. I wasn’t interested in giving up drinking for any reason or any amount of time, until I had to give it up for life.
Warrington, who sees reducing alcohol intake as another step in the wellness revolution, is at the other end of the spectrum—and she is aware of the difference between recovering from alcohol addiction and feeling better during yoga. I hope all of her followers are, too, because the last thing most drinkers need is a loophole.
I want to believe the trend Warrington is leading toward spirits-free activities and thoughtfulness about alcohol’s role in our culture—where every ritual, celebration, loss, entertainment, and even sporting event is cause for a drink—is not a trend but a movement. That we’ll look back at “mommyjuice” like we shake our heads at “mother’s little helper” pills from the ’60s and ’70s. The infrastructure to support sobriety is being built, and public opinion is turning. After centuries of going hard, America is getting woke, not wasted.
Cheers to that.
From a young age, Steve DeAngelo had an affinity for activism. “Some of my earliest memories are of Freedom Riders staying in my parents’ house and my family feeding them,” he says. That desire for change led him to dedicate his life to overturning the draconian laws that governed the consumption of cannabis and to educate the masses to its wellness benefits.
“The specter of a stoned nation losing its competitive edge to a culture of self-indulgent hedonism was successfully deployed by our opponents to justify re-criminalization, urine testing, denial of student and housing aid, and draconian sentences. The personal choice to get high was transformed by our opponents into a threat against all society,” he says.
DeAngelo is an icon in the industry as the cofounder of Harborside, one of the first licensed dispensaries in the nation; Steep Hill Laboratory, the first fully dedicated cannabis laboratory; the Arc View Group, the first cannabis investment firm; and the National Cannabis Industry Association, the first trade association for cannabis.
While all this has been happening, DeAngelo has also been overseeing the growth of Harborside, which has the largest share of the California market. Its latest move is an expansion into the Coachella market with the first drive-through dispensary in Southern California. As his company grows, he has eyes on a national expansion and a growing platform to educate anyone and everyone about the positives associated with cannabis. For the last 18 months, he has crisscrossed the planet evangelizing his message and developing relationships that will hopefully one day help erase the stigma associated with cannabis use. We caught up with him in Mexico.
You seem to spread a different message about cannabis than most.
I reject the dichotomy of medical or recreational cannabis. I don’t think that either of those categories fully describe why people use it. People use it for the wellness it gives them—relief from medical issues, mental problems, daily rigors—and overall it promotes better living. There are many, many reasons why people use cannabis.
How has that message evolved over the years?
In the early days, we didn’t know any of the history of science surrounding it. We did know that it helped us be the people we wanted to be. Back then, we used the arguments we had. We stood on the grounds of individual rights and freedom, that cannabis prohibition was not right, that they could not tell us what we could put into our bodies. That argument worked for a while. But under Reagan, everything went backward. We got moving forward again by spreading the message about all the previously hidden industrial and medicinal prospects that it offered, following the lead of Jack Herer, the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Educating the populace about the positive effects cannabis offers paved the way for the progress we’ve made.
What makes California such a fertile place for the industry?
Well, for one, California is a tilt zone. It’s a place where all the loose nuts that can’t land anywhere else end up. The state has a population that is uniquely open to change. People have been consuming cannabis here in larger amounts, for a longer period of time, than anywhere else in the world. That has created a vibrant culture around cannabis and a much more accepting populace that is open to it. Look at Northern California. You have small towns with organic groceries, packed bookstores, yoga studios, a welcoming community with schools built by donations from growers. There is a unique culture there that surrounds it, and you can find that feeling throughout most of the state.
Where do you see the industry headed?
In the next two or three years, I think you are going to see some major movement happening at the federal level. The plan I like the best now is Bernie Sanders’. It’s clear and concise, but most of the candidates have some plan for the full legalization at the federal level. If any Democrat wins, except Biden, something big is going to change. I think there is even a chance heading into the election that Trump and the Republicans could make a play if they get desperate enough. One way or another, we are going to see some fairly significant change on a federal level. What we have seen is that the pace of change has rapidly accelerated. I don’t see that slowing at all.
I have been traveling all over the world since January 1, 2018, and there are countries everywhere reforming their laws. South Korea, a spot that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, just changed its [laws]. There is a global cannabis renaissance happening right now. That is the most exciting thing to me.
We are seeing cannabis displacing other products. I just saw a study that shows alcohol sales in states that have reformed their laws drop quite significantly (11 percent to 9 percent). Opioid prescriptions drop too. We know that Medicaid reimbursements go down in legal states. It’s disrupting industries and gaining momentum daily.
What is needed to continue the change?
In most parts of the world, the need for basic education about cannabis is needed. Most people don’t have a full understanding of the biochemistry and therapeutic benefits it offers our bodies. CBD is helping spread the message, but it’s mostly a creature of prohibition. What’s driving people to it is that it’s the only cannabinoid they can have access to legally.
Why open the new store in Desert Hot Springs? Why a drive-through?
The Coachella Valley is one of the major epicenters of the cannabis industry in California, even the world, I would say. We see that the Valley is turning into a cannabis tourism location. People are planning trips just for that, so we think, what better way to introduce them to the Harborside experience? As for the drive-through, why shouldn’t our consumers get the same level of service they are offered in other businesses? When people come in for the Coachella Festival, they can easily get their product. And on hot days, they can stay in their cars. We want to offer them convenience.
Do you see any big changes coming?
There are going to be multiple shakeups in the industry. When you are growing at the rate we are, it’s impossible not to have disruptions. There are going to be peaks and valleys. We just saw that on the Canadian Public Exchange. A year ago, we saw incredible valuations and today we are seeing companies suffering a huge loss of value. That’s stressful, but it’s not going to stop the growth of the industry.
Look at the issues facing the contaminated vape pens. This is the first major product-related crisis facing the industry. People are wondering if this will kill the vape pen business. Is the government going to ban them? How are we going to get through this? Well, whatever happens, we will survive. If they are banned, then we will just start selling more hand-held vaporizers that consumers can put their own product into. The Canadian Exchange will rebound. Business will keep growing. There is huge growth potential, and the world has no choice really but to embrace it. Everywhere I go, people want to have access to cannabis.
Any last words?
The cannabis tribe is open-minded, tolerant, and peaceful. We respect diversity, we abhor racism, we don’t give a shit about conformity, we honor individual freedom, and we walk peacefully on Mother Earth. That’s who we are around the world. We need more of that, so why stop it?
Harborside and its drive-through dispensary are now open at 66205 Paul Rd. in Desert Hot Springs.