In the Golden State, where I live, attitudes towards marijuana have always been permissive. A skunky whiff rarely raises eyebrows. Yet the drug is not exactly aspirational. Unlike cocaine, it does not suggest proximity to material wealth; unlike Modafinil, which keeps you awake, it is not associated with a ravenous desire for overachievement. If anything, marijuana has been typically linked, not always inaccurately, with drift.
But things are changing. For one thing, getting a medical marijuana card on the West Coast has never been easier. In some instances, you needn’t leave your house: you can be diagnosed over Skype in less than 15 minutes, and your medication can be delivered to your door via apps like Meadow and Eaze. If you do make the trip to a dispensary, you’ll find that the fanciest establishments feel like private clubs. One of my favourites, the Barbary Coast dispensary in San Francisco, brims with Chesterfield sofas and mahogany worktops. A knowledgeable budtender – a kind of weed sommelier – is on hand and will happily extol the virtues and flavour profiles of various strains.
The passing of Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalised marijuana for recreational use, has been seen as a watershed moment for many in the industry. On the one hand, it is predicted that the market for weed in California could be worth $6.5bn by 2020, according to a report released last year by ArcView Group and New Frontier, two market-research firms. On the other hand, there’s a fear among some local growers that legalisation could spawn an era of Big Weed. But one thing’s for sure: being a stoner has never been more stylish.
Spliffs have been swapped for nifty vapes that emit clouds of smoke with subtle aromas. One minimalist model, the Pax Ploom, boasts the clean lines and seductive curves of an Apple device. The provenance of a particular plant is increasingly important. Is it sun-grown? Is it locally made? Online, you can even compare and contrast strains on Leafly – which is like Yelp, but for pot.
Perhaps the biggest development is the growing demand for high-quality marijuana edibles – artisanal chocolate, small-batch truffles, organic tortilla chips, caramel fudge. These morsels can be enjoyed discreetly, are packaged beautifully, and are much more delectable than their predecessors. Dosages of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) and CBD (cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound with anti-anxiety properties) are clearly marked on the packaging. These are not the grassy brownies and space cakes of yesteryear.
Even restaurants are jumping on the trend. At some dégustation nights in Los Angeles and San Francisco, cannabis takes centre stage. Each meal contains marijuana, perhaps as a dressing, sprinkled in kief form, or rubbed on to meat as a marinade. Anyone over the age of 21 can attend and consume. Recently I visited Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican bistro in West Hollywood, where marijuana stars in three cocktails: the Sour T-iesel, the Stoney Negroni and the Rolled Fashioned (I sampled all three). Each is flavoured with cannabis oil, which has a robust herbaceous tang like a punchy amaro, making the drink linger on the tongue for longer than it normally would. Did I feel any different? Well, I was overcome with a sense of generalised wellbeing. Then again, I had just swigged three potent cocktails.
Meanwhile, pop-cultural depictions of marijuana use are also shifting away from cautionary tales and goofball characters. HBO’s “High Maintenance”, which chronicled the interior lives, common indignities and unexpected revelations of youngish New Yorkers and their bearded, bicycling weed dealer, was critically acclaimed. Viceland’s “Bong Appetit” follows a prodigious pot enthusiast on his quest to merge Los Angeles’ upscale culinary tradition with its emerging cannabis culture.
That culture could be monetised by California’s state regulators. It is estimated that a proposed 15% excise tax could swell the state’s coffers by as much as $1bn. For the residents of the West Coast, getting high has never been easier – or more delicious.