Smoke and Mirrors: How Far Will LA Cannabis Brands Go to Out-Market Each Other?
There is a new, invite-only art gallery coming to Los Angeles that will focus on “functional glass art,” which is something of a euphemism for fancy bongs. These elaborate, hand-crafted bongs cost tens of thousands of dollars each, and are part of Grey Space Art’s collection, which is relocating from SoHo, New York to Los Angeles’s Arts District later this year.
As California cannabis companies prepare to market to recreational consumers, several brands are throwing exclusive events to entice and impress their future customers. In Los Angeles, the bar is being set higher than anywhere else, with events that blend cannabis, wellness, technology, and luxury popping up weekend after weekend. Lord Jones held a cannabis-infused sound bath on a Hollywood rooftop, while 1964 Supply Co threw an “art fight club.” Luxury brand Beboe’s swanky, celeb-studded launch was written up in Vanity Fair; other companies, like Grassfed, combine cannabis with upscale dining and virtual reality in hopes of standing out.
Grey Space Art seemed bent on outdoing it all. In the midst of Coachella earlier this year, I received an invitation to an exclusive cannabis-infused brunch that would serve as preview of this gallery. I initially dismissed the invitation—the preview was all the way in Rancho Mirage, and I was in LA without a car at my disposal. But the day before the event I received another message—there was one seat left on a helicopter, and it was mine if I wanted it. Who says no to that? I was told a car would pick me up and take me to the rendezvous point.
So the surreal experience began. Sure enough, a black Denali arrived at my apartment in Koreatown at noon and whisked me away to a private airfield in Santa Monica. I boarded a luxury helicopter with six others: a music journalist, a magazine writer, and four totally gorgeous young Insta-famous models who looked like they had stepped straight out of a magazine.
The helicopter dropped us off in Palm Springs, where we got in another car to Rancho Mirage’s Imago Galleries. Imago Galleries was founded by Leisa Austin in 1991, and it is both vast—at 18,000 square feet—and gorgeous. We were greeted by a woman named Century, who led us to a courtyard and sculpture garden complete with a reflecting pool and glasswork by Dale Chihuly.
The first thing I did was score a mezcal cocktail at the bar; then I went to check out this “functional glass art.” Each piece was colorful and incredibly intricate: There was a bong that looked like a blossoming vase, a bong that looked like a satellite, and a bong that represented a goddess. I was then told that a ‘Mr. Grey’ would show me around.
This turned out not to be some 50 Shades situation, thankfully. Mr. Grey is a 22-year-old entrepreneur who recounted how he invested money in cannabis stock five years ago and used the resulting windfall to open his gallery in SoHo. After proving himself in the New York art scene, he said that now was his chance to shift coasts and move the gallery to LA. It’s probably a good move, considering that California has voted to legalize recreational cannabis and New York has not.
It was nearly 100 degrees in Palm Springs, but Grey still wore a terry cloth blazer with shiny gold buttons. His grandmother, invited as well, had in tow an immaculately groomed poodle. In addition to the bongs displayed in the gallery, there were more on the tables. An assault rifle-shaped bong by artists Robert Mickelsen and Calvin Mickle was especially fantastical. Known as Jungle Gun, it is embellished with vibrant glass geckos and detailed leaves and retails at $60,000. It was moved to make way for brunch from Chef Antonia Lofaso (Scopa Italian Roots), which included sweet pea ravioli, charred octopus salad, rib-eye, and vanilla bean bread pudding.
As a pièce de résistance, the event was sponsored by Cartier—a first for the luxury jeweler, which created high-end gold, rose gold, and stainless steel lighters (retail: $900 each) to pair with the glass art. There was, of course, no shortage of cannabis, which guests could dab, eat, or smoke out of 24K gold rolling paper. Dipstick Vapes was on hand, explaining their new product which made it easy to use rosin: Press a button to heat the tip, then dip it into the rosin and inhale.
We were taken back to the airport after the event, where everyone began eating out of a popcorn machine ravenously despite the earlier feast. The pilot asked if they had failed to feed us at the party, but eventually seemed to catch on to the fact that everyone was pleasantly stoned, and we were whisked away back to Santa Monica, once again by private helicopter.
It’s an odd thing, to grow up in a world where getting caught with a baggie of weed earns you a trip to jail, and to emerge as an adult in a world where you be flown in a private helicopter to a cannabis brunch. Events like Grey Space’s are harbingers of the industry’s entrance into luxury spaces in California, a move other industries, including wine and spirits, have already made. These events elevate cannabis while allowing guests a chance to sample new products—which for now are freely given, as selling cannabis to recreational consumers would violate the changing laws.
Then again, one can also argue that ultra-exclusive events catering to the rich and influential are capable of alienating the same kind of mainstream consumer that the industry has long been working to attract. Just how far will brands go to court the upper echelons of potential customers? Surely there’s a brand out there already looking to top Grey Space’s recent display—and others will follow suit. With LA poised to become the unmitigated leader in the recreational cannabis scene when California officially opens its adult-use market in 2018, there’s no telling how far brands will go to outdo each other as they scramble for a slice of market share—or how these types of events will change the face of the industry.
Grey Space Art will maintain its air of exclusivity when it opens in the coming months in Los Angeles, meaning that guests will need to call a number to view the space. That number can be acquired via different means, including asking someone like me—who has been given the requisite business card—if you can borrow it.