What the hell am I doing smoking weed in L.A.?
I’m from Toronto, Canada, where we legalized pot nationwide in 2018. It’s been a slow rollout, with a handful of edibles finally hitting the shelves legal dispensaries. I live in the heart of downtown Toronto, and it’s hard to tell that I’m surrounded by three different legal dispensaries. They are discreet, with no windows or posters up on the walls, and have guards standing outside the doors like bouncers.
I’ve heard time and time again that things in California are different — a land of wide open dispensaries that look like Apple stores, filled with every kind of strain and infused products you can think of. That’s not to mention huge pot billboards, cafes, and more.
With licensed cannabis sales in 2019 reaching a record $3.1 billion in the state and on track to $5 billion by 2022, California is the world’s largest legal marijuana market.
As of 2019, the state’s licence authorities have issued over 10,000 commercial cannabis licenses, leading to a proliferation of stores and products since they moved from a limited medical-marijuana model to becoming completely recreationally legal in 2016 through Proposition 64.
L.A. is California’s largest city, known as the home to Hollywood, luxury experiences, and horrible traffic. But how has L.A.’s unique culture mixed with its burgeoning legal weed market?
Greencamp took a tour of the city to find out. We hit up an art gallery-inspired dispensary, went on the city’s only cannabis tour, and grabbed maybe more than a bite at North America’s first ever weed-restaurant. Here’s how it all went down.
Take a look at the video Adam Chen recorded while experiencing California’s weed scene:
I Never Smelled Venice
I began in Venice Beach, known as the place that re-popularized cannabis in California after it became criminalized in the early 20th century. I could smell the weed in the air, as I walked through the sun-baked streets leading from the famous Venice Canals over to the beach. This area was once a home for the Beat Generation, with poets, artists, musicians and authors working out of the Venice coffee-shops lining the district.
This counter-culture eventually led to the hippy generation, which ultimately led to skate and surf culture emerging in the area. These movements heartily embraced the use of weed, which is why the beach was well positioned to become lined with pot shops once California legalized medical marijuana in 1996.
Off We Go to WeHo
But when recreational weed was legalized in 2016, these medical pot shops saw a decline on the boardwalk in favor of larger retail stores across the city. To get a glimpse of how capitalism has embraced the bud, we headed to West Hollywood, or WeHo. The area is known for its vibrant art scene, and is sprawling with galleries. Nestled between them you’ll find the Artist Tree, a dispensary that’s been infused with the essence of WeHo.
“If you look around the store, you’ll see that it’s filled with artwork. It’s got original murals and artwork from local artists,” explains Lauren Fontaine, the Artist Tree’s founder. “Here in L.A., a lot of the stores have waiting rooms, and no windows to outside. We adopted an open layout, with no waiting room, and we tried to make it a lot more colorful and fun.”
Fontaine, who used to be a finance lawyer prior to entering the cannabis space, said they have plans to expand this space into a lounge.
“My dream is having a place where people want to come and hang out, and they feel like they want to be a regular, with a fun vibe with live entertainment, comfy seating, good food,” she said. “Not a gimmicky tourist thing.”
While they have applied for L.A.’s newly formed consumption permit, there have been a number of bureaucratic hurdles to mount first.
In the meantime, I was floored by their extensive selection of product and art. To be honest, it was a little disorienting seeing table after table of different flower, concentrates, topicals, beverages, edibles, and more. Luckily, they have developed a kiosk to help customers like me navigate the whole experience.
“[The kiosks] are designed for customers to be able to explore on their own,” Fontaine said. “There’s product information and also a consultation platform where you can put in your age, how often you use [weed], and if you’re looking for help with a specific ailment — it’ll recommend specific products.”
After importing my preferences, I was recommended a 100 mg hybrid Kushy Punch gummy, which tasted like tropical punch and lasted a solid six hours. For a topical, it recommended a 2 oz bottle of 211mg THC Eucalyptus Relief Cream, and finally some Guava to smoke.
This really simplified my shopping experience, and freed me up to spend more time admiring the local art and mini cannabis clone greenhouse they have installed right at the entrance to the store.
Glass Blowing for Bong Ripping
Now that I picked up a bag of goods, I headed up to northern Hollywood to meet with Greentours, the only cannabis tour company left operating out of L.A.
According to my guide, Ryan, they’ve done over 1,000 tours since legalization. Lucky participants on their “Tommy Chong Tour” get to ride around with the legend himself. I wasn’t able to make it for that, but I was treated to my own personalized L.A. cannabis tour.
We first went to check out the American Made Glass (AMG) Bong warehouse and factory, where we caught a glimpse of some truly unique items being made in all their loud and fiery glory.
We stepped back into the warehouse, where they had a wide range of complex and cutting edge bongs available, including droppable silicone bongs, bongs with 4 chambers, and of course — a Rick Sanchez head, inspired by the hit cartoon, Rick and Morty.
Next, we met up with Greentours founder Gene Grovotzky to check out the city’s only indoor growth operation open to the public.
We arrived at MMD North Hollywood, a dispensary based in Los Angeles since 2006. Walking past a wall completely covered in grass, I was led by Grovotzky to a hidden door that opened up to a viewing room of their indoor growth operation. He explained to me that the owner of this operation started off growing weed pre-legalization.
“Because he was doing something completely illegal, he changed his name to Luke,” explained Grovotsky. One of Luke’s hybrid strains began to be quite popular in the Valley, regularly testing at having over 30% THC. “So he created the OG Skywalker, the line that still exists today.”
Grovotsky said this story is emblematic of what defines the L.A. weed scene.
“When you want outdoor weed, you gotta go to Northern California. If you want indoor weed, you gotta come down to LA. We got the science down.”
Having grown up in the Valley, his friends were all growing marijuana plants in their closets, which moved onto garages, then warehouses, and finally becoming dispensary owners. “A few of them made it to the point where they built billion dollar companies,” he said.
Since starting Greentours, Grovotsky said he’s hosted a diversity of guests, including lawmakers and investors. “For a group of billionaire investors, we set up a group of five L.A. cannabis industry people to speak with them about what they’ve learned,” he said.
He’s also had politicians from other, undisclosed states, requesting tours with them to understand how L.A.’s legalization took place. “After they left, I heard their state went legal three weeks later,” he said.
The Best Plate of Brussels Sprouts in the Whole F*cking World
I figured it was time to enjoy some of this L.A. weed myself. But I was also hungry. Luckily, located in the heart of Hollywood is the Original Cannabis Cafe, North America’s first cannabis restaurant.
I entered through the dimly lit entrance and gave my name to the hostess. She led me through the restaurant, which is half patio, half indoor bar, and all covered in green leafy plants.
I was greeted by my server, Kash (not Kush), who introduced me to a menu that took a minute to wrap my head around. In addition to food, there was a menu for pre-rolled packs, fresh flower, concentrates, edibles, and even THC-infused beverages to try.
As someone with a sweet tooth who doesn’t often drink alcohol, I was very excited to have a cold cannabis beverage to wash down my meal, which consisted of a brussel sprouts dish that put my home cooking to shame.
I took an order off their “Top Shelf” flower product line and roll up with one hand, while holding in my other hand and sipping from my can of Lemon Lavender sparkling “Social Tonic” by Cann.
Double fisting my weed with the smell of fresh food wafting in my direction was an experience I’d recommend to just about anyone.
Once the plates were cleared, we rolled out of the restaurant, grabbed an Uber (as one does in L.A.), and packed it in for the night.
On the ride home, I reflected on my time spent roaming the legal cannabis scene of L.A.
I remembered a conversation I had once with Lisa Campbell, CEO of Mercari Agency Limited and former Cannabis portfolio specialist at Lifford Wine & Spirits. She talked about the day when Canada’s strict marketing and distribution regulations would loosen up, allowing people to consume cannabis in a full service restaurant, as if it were a pipe dream.
Having experienced this myself, I must say, I hope Canadian regulators get moving soon — so we can all share in that dream together.