IT’S HIGH TIME TO CONSIDER THE POTENTIAL OF POT TOURISM
Want to hear more about pot’s potential in the travel sphere?
Hit up Founder of Bud and Breakfast Sean Roby, along with the founders of Potguide and OMGFO, at their talk, “THE RISE OF REEFER: CAN CANNABIS TRANSFORM TRAVEL?”, at this year’s Ministry of Ideas on Monday 11 June.
Herb; chronic; ganja; pot; sweet Mary Jane; blunt; hash; reefer; sticky-icky; grass; dope; green. Toking and dubious denominations are inextricably linked; but whatever you’re smoking, you can bet your last bud that its image has significantly improved in the last decade – from mandala blankets and raffia mats; to optical illusions and incense; to artisanal chocolate designed by a former Apple employee; to Bob Marley and bongs; and to weed paraphernalia with a Kinfolk aesthetic. A new study has suggested that the United States’ legal marijuana industry could generate $40 billion in economic impact by 2021. It’s a long way from Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke.
With six years at Apple, Ex-Production Manager Eric Eslao has taken plenty of design cues from his former employer at Défoncé Chocolatier. (Défoncé means ‘stoned’ in French, and French, I guess, seems a natural starting point for a sophisticated ‘food’ brand.) “Somehow, once you start drinking the Kool-Aid”, he says of his time with the Cupertino goliath, “it really does change the way you look at thing – how detail-oriented you are. How pixel-perfect you are.” Mr Jobs was famously obsessed with usability (Jobs was once quoted as saying, “Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works”), and the user experience is a key component in Eslao’s product, its three-dimensional design dividing each ‘dose’ of the bar’s 180 milligrams of THC into 18 pyramids.
Netflix last year partnered with creative agency Carrot and a Californian cannabis dispensary to produce weed themed around several of its TV series; celebrity artist Scott Campbell has a range of upscale products that The New York Times has called “the Hermès of marijuana”; New York’s Karlssonwilker have designed “L’Enfer Est Volontaire”, a luxury line that includes products like artisanal chips sealed with weed smoke; and the world’s most famous stoner, Snoop Dogg, has a range of ‘the finest quality cannabis’ that comes packaged like artisanal tea.
Like I said, marijuana’s image has changed dramatically.
“Across the country, Americans are worried about being able to find jobs and support their families”, says Tom Adams, editor-in-chief at Arcview Market Research, the country’s leading market research agency for the cannabis industry. “The numerous employment opportunities created by the cannabis industry – especially in states that are legalising adult use – cross the spectrum from retail and service jobs to science, technology and other traditional professions. Voters have noticed, and now legislators are waking up to the opportunities.”
Also predicting the creation of 414,000 jobs and more than $4 billion in tax receipts by 2021, Arcview’s assessment of the industry’s impact is auspicious. With the first weed billionaire created as far back as 2014, it’s going to be difficult to stop others following in the footsteps of the nine states (plus Washington DC) that have already legalised marijuana for recreational use.
“It feels like I get up at 4.20AM every morning to get high”, admits Joel Schneider, who traded a successful career as a lawyer on Wall Street (“I practised law for 30 years and hated it”) for a Colorado career in pot. “I tell my guests, ‘come down in your underwear, probably there’s going to be someone else sitting in their underwear, too, and you can just chill together and pass a joint around.’ That’s what I want – I want them to feel like they’re home.” In 2016, Schneider brought in over $1 million managing Bud+Breakfast, the nation’s first pot-friendly hotel, with travellers from states where cannabis remains illegal (a small amount of personal possession can still land you in jail down in Texas) forking out from $299 per night to bed down in his Denver homage to herb.
Defying the stereotype that stoners are too chilled to do much else than ‘puff puff give’ and stagger to the corner shop with a serious case of the munchies and stock up on snacks, something of a Colorado turf war began when rival entrepreneur, Sean Roby, founded the Airbnb-style Bud and Breakfast. Schneider claimed that Roby’s namesake platform was designed to cash in on his press and exposure, the latter countering with the argument that he’d held the domain name since before the former had even left New York. Whilst the spat seems to have been stubbed out for now, the success of both ventures proves there is serious demand for cannabis tourism. “Pot tourism is completely exploding”, says Sean. “If we’d had more accommodations since we went live, we would have been completely filled out for the 420 events that went on in all the recreational states… People were desperate to get a place that was cannabis-friendly.”
Progressive values aside, there are plenty of mandala blankets, hash-green walls, and barefoot cabins to be found on Roby’s marijuana-friendly search engine; and Schneider’s Denver hotel has an unmistakable ‘homeliness’ about it. As designers like Eric Eslao have demonstrated, the ‘green aesthetic’ is shifting. Could weed tourism go luxe?
“With cannabis legality gaining ground state by state, there is a massive opportunity to create brands that will be the foundation of the industry”, explains Fritz Mesenbrink, co-founder of Official Mfg. Co. (aka OMFGCO.). “Naturally, this explosive growth has created a highly competitive landscape, but surprisingly the bar of quality is still very low. The market is flooded with forgettable, poorly conceived brands that are often intimidating to newcomers to the industry. It’s a sea of sameness.”
Mesenbrink’s Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director, Jeremy Pelley, was part of the original Atelier Ace team responsible for opening Ace Hotel Portland in 2006, and worked with the Atelier crew on Seattle, Portland, New York and Palm Springs properties between 2006 and 2010; at the same time, Pelley and the Atelier Ace team also worked together on branding and interiors projects for folk such as Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Their work for two cannabis dispensaries, Electric Lettuce and Serra, and herbaceous vape pen Quill (of which they are a partner, along with its ‘weirdo’ sister company, OCO) demonstrates anything but sameness, pointing to a future where hotels with creative class travellers in their sights might open their arms to the great green good.
“I’d love to get a Quill in the mini bar of a hotel”, admits Mesenbrink, “there is definitely an opportunity there, and we’d love to work on something like this. There are a lot of challenges in this space, though, since regulations are still currently so state-to-state.” Seeing their sleek, low-dose cannabis vaporiser in the progressive mini bar offerings of an Ace or a Standard makes perfect sense, and you can see that sort of concession being the first logical step toward the industry truly embracing legalised pot; but their work for Portland herb retailer, Serra, gives us the most realistic coup d’œil into how this future might manifest itself. (And it’s not Joel Schneider inviting guests down for an early morning session in their underpants.)
“In general, pot retailers don’t offer their audience a sophisticated retail environment”, says Mesenbrink. “Using the idea of an elegant greenhouse as inspiration, we chose lush greenery, wrought iron, glass, brass, marble, natural light and custom tiling to create a unique cannabis shopping experience. We didn’t use green. We didn’t use pot leaves. Instead, we used restraint and focused on creating a sophisticated language that opened the brand up to new kind of customer.”
Walk by Serra’s downtown dispensary, and you’ll be captivated. It might be a refined interiors store; or it might be a design consultancy. It sets out to woo creatives, the culturally conscious, the haute-design aficionados. Because they smoke dope, too.
“Successful marijuana brands are just like any other successful brand: they know their audience. They speak through design. They make you feel something. They persuade, engage, and allow for discovery.” From Serra’s ‘tamper necklaces’ to their custom ‘stash bag’, there’s little here that would look out of place for sale in a forward-thinking design hotel. And why shouldn’t it? Because that’s what all this is about – brands created by those like Mesenbrink and Pelley are rewiring our consciousness, replacing shag-pile carpets and tie-dye wall rugs with Scandi-woods and Instagram-friendly installations.
With the ball rolling across the United States; Canada soon to follow; and Uruguay already the first country where cannabis can be smoked anywhere, governments are waking up to the many benefits of legalisation over decriminalisation. It’s only a matter of time before more brands give the green light to welcoming weed. If you operate in a space you deem to be disruptive, it might be high time to spark up your strategy.