Sesh in the City: Space enough for everyone –

You may have noticed the culture of cannabis has metamorphosed.

It’s as if the tripped-out caterpillar from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland tucked himself tightly into a chrysalis of legalization and emerged with bold new set of wings. Where once the front-facing weed market catered only to its medical patients and the counterculture, it now must satiate a vibrant mosaic of customers from all walks of life.

Smoking, eating, and slathering on weed is trendy in a way it never has been before, which inherently means there are consumers flocking to the industry who don’t relate to its traditional trappings (think: tie-dye, Bob Marley, and a billowing bong). Bluntly, the new majority don’t want cloudy hotspots set to the backdrop of anarchistic revolution.

No. The nouveau weed wants: refinement, modernity, and education.

Now, let it be stated early on: I am the kind of pothead who loves emerging from a hazy sesh like a bloodshot bloodhound sniffing out the nearest Five Guys. Cannabis events, however, are starting to look vastly different than my beloved community hotboxes. It shouldn’t come as a shock to hear, most days, I roll my eyes at companies purporting to offer a “sophisticated sesh”. Frankly, my distain stems from the fact many of the events claiming to sanitize weed of its grungy past often turn out to be vapid, boring, and blithely unaware of their hypocrisy. Instead of creating a stigma-free space, these corporate sponsored events capitalize on the plant’s celebrity status and feed attendees lines about how much better their weed is now that it bears a legal bumper sticker—all the while bastardizing icons thoughtlessly yanked from a longstanding subculture.

Recently, however, I observed two events that aimed to create weed-themed entertainment for the outliers, newcomers, and various “others” who don’t see themselves reflected in the 70s-reminiscent smoke-outs. And both did so exceptionally well.

Whether I am growing up, growing bored, or just growing, these two initiatives, in fact, helped shift my thinking around Canada’s nouveau weed.   

Ganja Goddess Gala honours women in cannabis

As the country moves toward a legalized landscape, some transitioning and curious consumers are asking for classier platforms to collectively consume cannabis. Last month activists Pantha Vohra and Noreen Nathu delivered. The two hosted their first Ganja Goddess Gala: a black tie event for weed industry insiders with a powerful purpose.

Ganja Goddess Gala

A few weeks ahead of the event, I chatted with Vohra in her home. She dished on her various brushes with the cannabis sector, but caught my attention when she—a young, tattooed Kenyan woman whose hair is rarely ever the same colour twice—said she was disheartened by the lack of attention on women inside the industry.

I was shocked.

There are dozens magazines, documentaries, companies, and products entirely dedicated to servicing and bolstering the voices of women who like pot. So, when I asked for further clarification, she referred to the lack of praise for the minority groups slowly establishing a foothold in the space.

“Women have carved out a place for themselves in a male-dominated industry. And I want to specifically talk about the women of colour who have had to overcome even more to get there. That is something to celebrate, so why don’t we?” she posed as we passed a joint back and forth over her kitchen counter.

“It’s also about dressing up,” she said, laughing. “I want this to one day grow into the Met Gala of cannabis.”

Inspired, she and Nathu carved out their own space to fuel more of these conversations.

On April 6, I donned a dress and pumps to cover the first-of-its-kind weed gala. It was a welcome abandonment of my daily attire, which is often relegated to various plaid button downs, ripped denim, and well-worn skate shoes.

For its inaugural event, the Ganja Goddess Gala set out to celebrate South Asian women. Perched in a penthouse overlooking False Creek, dozens of dolled-up women and dapper men came together to celebrate cultural diversity in the legalizing sector.

Ganja Goddess Gala

The penthouse was awash with the live sounds of traditional Indian instruments and had been bamboozled by twinkly lights, flowers, and cannabis plants. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the West Coast’s most recognizable industry insiders—many of whom I had shared joints with before but never seen dressed to the nines—and a surprsing number of new faces.

Attendees milled about a Master Tokes bar dabbing Mamba Cookies and Papaya Diesel extract, and a local dispensary dished out dried flower for anyone who wanted to roll one on the deck.

Ganja Goddess Gala

The kitchen served kombucha and cocktails to guests, many of whom crowded around the ethereal Jessie Macpherson, patiently waiting to have their tarot cards read.

The apartment was brimming with beautiful products like pink rolling papers by Ohai Life, Tucann vape pens, and Blissed Love tantra oil.

Then we feasted on a buffet of South East Asian cuisine catered by Jambo Grill, a gilded cake by My Edibles Chef, and cannabis-infused almond brittle and fudge brownies baked by Adam Barski, the Budder Chef.

I should note the reason these two women could honour the plant in such an open way, allowing for elements like a dab bar and rolling stations, is because the event was held in a private residence. It is becoming increasinly difficult for cannabis industry event organizers to secure venues willing to insure or even consider hosting a smoke-friendly crowd in light of new regulations banning public consumption.

Ganja Goddess Gala

Stuffed full of food and slightly stifled by the lack of elbow room, I popped out onto the patio for a puff with more pretty people. Finally coming face-to-face with Instagramers I had followed for months and chatting shop with fellow writers, much of the conversation that flowed throughout the evening touched on male allyship, female entrepreneurship, and bridging the industry’s cultural divide.

Vohra and Noreen Nathu then gave a speech thanking attendees and sponsors, and crowned the Ganja Goddess for 2019: the founder of Niche Canada and diversity advocate, Barinder Rasode.

“Barinder has helped destigmatize cannabis within South Asian communities. In India, cannabis has been used for thousands of years. It is written into the Vedas. It’s a sacred plant to us, however, in the recent history a lot has been erased,” says Nathu.

“As we come into the legalization of the plant, we want to honour women of colour who have made a different. We thank Barinder for her contribution, the way she supports women of colour, and the glass ceiling she’s shattering right now.”

Pantha Vohra (centre) and Noreen Nathu (left) crown Barinder Rasode Ganja Goddess of 2019.
Ganja Goddess Gala

Took a trip to Planet Trichome with Tantalus Labs 

Just when you thought planets were getting kicked out of our solar system, federally licensed cannabis producer Tantalus Labs goes and discovers a new one: Planet Trichome. And they invited a handful of the weed industry insiders to tag along on their inaugural trip.

It was late afternoon on April 18 and I had just come from one of the heaviest hotboxes of my life.

For several hours before boarding the shuttle to Planet Trichome—a cannabis event billed as “an immersive and educational evening of multi-room exploration”— I had been filming an episode of the webcast “Expert Joints Live!” I was hyping up the soon-to-be biggest 4/20 protest Vancouver has ever seen. In the studio was the show’s host, Craig Ex, chain-smoking joints, Greg “Marijuana Man” Williams puffing on what he called: “the best Congolese in the world”, the founder of the Fukushima Pre-Roll Factory passing around his company’s notoriously potent Moonrockets, and Toronto’s Dabberman turning B.C. flower into solventless rosin at a hydraulic press in the corner.

There was enough cannabis in that room to render an elephant catatonic. And I was sitting in the middle of it.

The episode wrapped and I popped 50 mg of edible cannabidiol (CBD)—gummies from Products by Sec—and burned out of there. By the time I reached the H.R. MacMillion Space Centre, I was already breaching Earth’s atmosphere. My trip to Trichome was well underway.

After getting acquainted with the space travel supervisor—Tantalus’ community manager, Karli Fahlman—I meandered through the loading dock (the elevator) and into the party.

Brandon Artis/Tantalus Labs

For an event celebrating the sun, it was awfully dark. I guess this part of the trip was supposed to emulate sailing through the deep black of the universe. On the walls, space museum graphics pumped out factoids and pretty interstellar images. It felt akin to standing in the holding bay before a round of lazer tag—everyone awkwardly looking around at one another, our teeth and t-shirt lint glowing under the ultraviolet lights.

Barring a quick “hello”, I lost track of the Planet Trichome’s lead voyager: Tantalus Labs’ founder, Dan Sutton.

I wanted to know more about the inspiration behind this trippy-out event, so we later caught up on Twitter.

“Cannabis touches humans of all walks of life, and at Tantalus Labs we love the weird ones,” he wrote in a message.

But nothing felt remarkably weird about Planet Trichome. It was inhabited by the nouveau weed—fashion designers, CEOs, influencers, industry crossovers—and Tantalus’ crew. What was slightly weird was that they didn’t have any weed on a planet called Trichome—a compliance issue we can thank the provincial government for enforcing. (To no fault of the organizers, legal cannabis events can’t advertise pot, promote its use, distribute it in any manner, or condone its consumption.)

His message continued: “Our vision has always been off the beaten path, and with Planet Trichome we wanted to surprise people with a gathering that transcended both the panel discussion and the classic smoke-out. From strange botany to interstellar appreciation, we vibe with shining our light on the strange and beautiful Vancouver that lives between the lines.”

Brandon Artis/Tantalus Labs

Sutton achieved that goal, as space was certainly off the beaten path—our trip to the sun taking us about 149.6 million kilometres off the path to be exact (a factoid I picked up during the educational component of the evening.)

Once all the voyagers had arrived, we filed into the planetarium, lounged back into the comfortable theatre seats, and stared upwards at the dome of monitors hovering above our heads. The room stilled to a silence, and then proceeded to burst into sporadic giggles.

At first it was only one or two small snickers, but each time it would inevitably set off the whole room. To my left sat my boss, who at this point was reduced in a fit of tears at the hilarity in wrangling over 100 stoners to quietly watch a nature documentary together. To my right, a couple had fallen asleep with their heads propped together.

A British woman’s voice came over the speakers, reinforcing the reason BBC’s documentaries are beloved amongst the stoner community. Her soothing intonation took us through the solar system, unpackling the role of the sun in human and plant life.

The show covered everything from the meticulous record-keeping of ancient Mayan sun-trackers to the elemental composition of the solar photosphere, which, as it turns out, is like a bubbling pot of soup “more than 20 times hotter than the average kitchen oven.” Of course, the thought of a field of cannabis basking under a floating bowl of steamy tomato bisque sent the room into yet another collective chuckle fest.

The evening hit a crescendo when the audience unanimously cheered for photosynthesis—a key element in Tantus’ ‘SunLab‘ cultivation process. At that moment, everyone in the room found something they had in common: an appreciation for good ol’ sun-soaked weed.

Then, Tantalus Labs unleashed Khotin on the audience. The electronic DJ filled the space with a blend of binaural beats, ambient sounds, and trippy tunes, lulling everyone into a collective coma. For a moment, the room felt as if it was breathing to the same rhythm.

The strange botany (which Sutton alluded to in his message) was back on Earth, being lit on fire and passed around outside of the space centre. After the event wrapped, I stepped out into the brisk darkness where several sesh circles had formed, overlapping like a Venn diagram of consumption. Several joints from various benefactors circulated in figure eight paths.

As people began to dissipate, some carried their energetic high over to the after party at Paradise, others like me yearned for sweatpants and the four walls of home.

I felt like taking the buzz that had solidified in my core back to my cave for a night cap and reflect on the evening.

Khotin played to a room full of cannabis curious in the planetarium.
Brandon Artis/Tantalus Labs

My take-away?

For the classic stoners, icons like Willie Nelson and Tommy Chong still remain at the helm. We can still sway to the lyrical poetry of Bob Marley and Cypress Hill still plays to tens-of-thousands of the blissfully blitzed. Our tees are still tied-and-dyed and our kicks are still scuffed up Converse. There’s no school like the old school and traditional weed culture isn’t going anywhere for the high-kids-at-heart.

But for the consumers who don’t want to waft weed wherever they go, for those who prefer hor d’oeuvres over ordering in, for those who want a to circulate instead of sit in a sesh circle, there need to be places tailored to their interests, too.

As the industry draws various new and transitioning demographics into the community, there has to remain a blend: heady smoke-ins to cater to the counterculture, networking brunches for the suit coats, light shows for the trippers, art shows for the connoisseurs, and educational activations for the canna-curious. Sometimes these crowds intersect, but one is never more important or relevant than the other. That is normalization. 

This is why we all—the old guard and the new—need to continue collectively fighting for legal consumption spaces and laws that don’t further reinforce archaic stigma. 

And if I gleaned anything from clinking glasses with Ganja Goddesses or staring up into the abyss on Planet Trichome, it’s that there’s space enough for everyone.