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How Marijuana Is Transforming the Event Industry

From “bud bars” to cannabis-infused dinners, find out how marijuana is being used in states that have legalized it.

By Mitra Sorrells February 9, 2017, 7:00 AM EST

At the Smoked Out Roast of Snoop Dogg in November, hosted by All Def Digital and Fusion TV, Merry Jane created a lounge with a bud bar and gift bags.  

Photo: Zack Labos

Four states legalized recreational use of marijuana in November—California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada—bringing the total number to eight plus Washington, D.C. As these laws go into effect, and attitudes toward the drug begin to soften, expect to see everything from cannabis-infused food and beverages to rolled marijuana cigarettes at events such as festivals, weddings, and more.

“What I’ve noticed is when we have produced events in cities where there is legalized marijuana, it is a very attractive option for young people for an after-party, particularly in the form of edibles,” says event designer Jes Gordon of Jes Gordon/ProperFun, who says she has created this type of experiences several times in recent years. “I think it’s going to become like you’ll have a regular bar and you’ll have a bud bar at a lot of events.”

Merry Jane is a digital media outlet launched by Snoop Dogg in 2015 that provides news and opinions regarding cannabis products, policies, and lifestyle. As associate director of marketing for Merry Jane, Maya Cooper leads events and partnerships for the brand. “The cannabis industry has thousands of events each year around the country. Most in legalized states, but they’re popping up everywhere,” Cooper says. The brand’s experiential marketing takes many forms, from exhibits at industry trade shows and conferences to producing “the Merry Jane experience” at private parties and creating cannabis-theme experiences in states where the drug is not legal.

“We’re planning something at South by Southwest, to do something immersive that embodies the traits of a cannabis event but still adhering to all laws,” she says. “We partner with some edible companies where they will feature non-infused products. The goal is brand awareness when there can’t be sampling involved.”

At Art Basel in Miami in December, Merry Jane partnered with Viceland television network to offer guests hand, foot, and neck massages with lotions and oils made from cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which is legal and non-psychoactive. The activation also included a CBD oil vape lounge and weed-theme portraits from pop culture cartoonist Napkin Killa.

In states where marijuana is legal, Cooper says they have created “bud bars” that combine product education with sampling. “We’ll partner with a dispensary to bring the product, and they’ll have a ‘bud-tender’ that knows everything about the product to explain to partygoers,” she says. “We might have large martini glasses with nuggets of weed for people to touch and smell. There will be pre-rolled joints and the bud next to it. And then there’s a gifting component with sample-size goodies.” The rules regarding recreational use and possession vary among states that have approved it. Cooper says the dispensaries can be a valuable resource to ensure laws are being followed, and she also suggests planners seek legal counsel.

When her clients want to offer edibles, Gordon says she evaluates products and dispensaries like she does any other vendor. “First you go with reputation. Then you meet with them, you ask for references,” she says. At her events where marijuana products are offered, Gordon says she has emergency medical technicians on standby and also educates the event staff on how to recognize guests that may be having a negative reaction.

Chris Yang is a scientist-turned-chef who hosts monthly cannabis-infused fine-dining events at the Container Yard in Los Angeles under his brand PopCultivate. Each event includes a seven-course meal, with about three of those courses offered with cannabis infusion for guests that carry a medical marijuana card or uninfused for those that do not. Yang also brings in musicians, artists, video designers, and performers to make each one a unique, curated experience.

“I’ve been cooking with cannabis for a little bit. The scientist in me was very unsatisfied in using food as a mechanism for dosing because it’s not very precise. I prefer to infuse a nonalcoholic cocktail we make,” he says. “For food, you have to consider how to put it in, what kind of food it is, and the portion size. I will infuse it usually in a salad or soup and in the main course with olive oil.”

Yang also does catering and he is now working to create PopLiving, a lifestyle brand that will encompass a test kitchen, smaller dinners, a social club, and additional cannabis-based experiences.

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