It’s Saturday night in Las Vegas, and a small crowd has gathered to see one of the city’s newest free attractions, a row of 15-foot LED lotus flowers reaching toward the sky in a fashion similar to the iconic dancing fountains of the nearby Bellagio resort.
Yet these lotus flowers are not standing on the Las Vegas Strip, nor are they part of one of the city’s famous hotel-casinos. Rather, these flowers welcome guests into Planet 13, one of Las Vegas’ premier recreational marijuana destinations, where customers arrive in limousines and Lyft rides, instantly Instagramming their surroundings before strutting through the shiny glass doors to do their shopping.
The interior is brightly lit and adorned in luxury furnishings. Customers in designer threads leave carrying upscale shopping bags (there are no saran-wrap brownies in sight) and celebrities such as Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Colby Covington and rapper Xzibit are often seen mingling among the merchandise.
In a city that offers every luxury experience imaginable, cannabis is a new frontier. And Las Vegas is hardly alone. You might have read that Barney’s in Beverly Hills recently embraced luxe cannabis with a pop-up store dubbed High End, which markets everything from a $1,475 sterling silver cannabis grinder to jewelry boxes by designer Martine Ali.
Also featured among the products and paraphernalia at High End is California’s Beboe, the “Hermes of Marijuana” founded by celebrity tattoo artist Scott Campbell and fashion and ecommerce veteran Clement Kwan. The duo, which named their brand after Campbell’s grandmother, designed their products to appeal to an upscale clientele, one that never fit the stereotypical “stoner” mold.
‘Public Perception Is Changing’
We’re not that far removed from the days when cannabis culture was defined by the likes of Half Baked and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle; comedies fronted by “slackers” scraping by in life with little to show for themselves outside of a motivation to procure marijuana by any means necessary.
The wave of pro-cannabis legalization currently sweeping North America is slowly dissolving the “stoner” stereotype. In its place are well-to-do professionals and medicinal cannabis patients who are loathe to be defined by outdated methods of thinking.
“I continue to see the public perception of cannabis is changing,” explains Robert Weakley, a longtime hospitality executive who launched concepts in Las Vegas and California before founding INDUS Holding Company, a producer and distributor of high-end cannabis edibles, including Beboe.
“The stereotypes once made people cautious about edibles and consumers were unsure what they were going to get,” Weakley says. “We decided to take on that challenge, and our thinking was, ‘Let’s create an edible – chocolate, brownie, anything – that offers exactly the same feeling every time you have it.’”
Out of the gate, Weakley sought to produce and position INDUS brands as a higher quality of cannabis. Take, for example, the 2015 Hempcon San Jose-winning Dulce De Leche Bon Bons from INDUS’ signature Altai Brands line, a blend of white and dark chocolate that comes out of the oven laced in yellow and white accents. Its appearance beckons comparisons to the world’s finest artisan chocolate brands, and its taste leans more toward La Maison du Chocolat than Hershey’s.
A Market Still Evolving
While industry leaders are pleased to see a demand for gourmet edibles and $1,475 pieces of paraphernalia, they’re eager to experiment with new cannabis-infused products and experiences that will widen the industry’s appeal to luxury customers.
Colorado, for its part, has embraced the rise in cannabis-related tourism that came following legalization in 2012. A quick Google search of “Colorado Cannabis Vacation” will return dozens of ideas and companies specializing in cannabis getaways. California and Nevada, home to many of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, are already following suit.
Whether it comes in the form of art, fashion, or fine dining, the luxury market’s embrace of cannabis products will always hinge on a single aspect: guest experience.
“It’s all about hospitality,” Weakley says. “You have to welcome people and create relationships, the same as you would in any other industry.”