How the 1 Percent Gets High
Cannabis consultant Amy Robertson likens the world of luxury pot to buying a bespoke suit. “It’s not only about the end product, which is amazing,” she said. “It’s also about the experience of having this suit made for you.”
Robertson doesn’t sell weed herself, but instead offers guidance to both curious newcomers and people who have been smoking for years. The self-described botany geek, who’s studied the plant on her own for years and contributed to the book Cannabis Pharmacy, will inquire about their lifestyle and what they want to get out of the drug. “Are you trying to enhance something? Or are you trying to relieve something?” she’ll ask. She’ll educate them about dosages and strains, and address any safety concerns, all for a price. She declined to discuss her rates, but she’s clearly aiming for a particular well-to-do clientele.
The ‘Wild West’ of Weed Is Dying Out. Here’s What’s Replacing It
“The high-end market wants consistency; they’re health-conscious,” she said. “It’s about reaching the experience they want to have.” Robertson has worked with cancer patients hoping to treat chemo-induced nausea, high-functioning entertainment industry types looking to relieve anxiety, and a host of privileged users in between. She emphasized that she is not a doctor and doesn’t give medical advice, and not all of her clients are using cannabis for medical reasons. “The high-end market—they can have anything,” she said. If they’re not looking to solve a particular ailment, “it’s about what kind of mind-shifting experience can they have.”
The legalization of recreational weed in states like California, where Robertson is based, has brought with it a wave of excess for stoners who can afford the finer things, even as smoking remains a crime in large swaths of the U.S. In Georgia, having more than an ounce of bud on you carries a mandatory minimum of a year in prison, but in other states you can purchase diamond-studded vapes and hire private cannabis chefs. You can even go on pricey bud-centric tours of Canada, where the drug was recently legalized. At the Barneys in Beverly Hills, you can’t buy actual weed—though a “concierge” is on hand to arrange for off-site sales and deliveries. But you can splurge on art-piece ashtrays, rolling papers made by centuries-old Parisian stationer Devambez, as well as insanely expensive drug-inspired jewelry, like $7,000 leaf-shaped diamond-drop earrings, and beauty products like a $12 hemp-infused period patch and cannabis-scented body wash.
But the emerging luxury cannabis market isn’t about gold-leaf rolling papers or $950 crystal water pipes. When it comes to weed, wealthy connoisseurs are looking for the same things they pay top dollar for in any other arena: artisanal, well-crafted product; concierge services; and personalization. The world of cannabis has cross-bred with wellness and speciality food cultures to spawn a cohort of rich weed geeks who want rare strains, technologically-advanced harvesting methods, and at least the impression of full control over their weed experience.
As for the diamonds and gold… “Any connoisseur is like, Well, who gives a fuck?” said weed devotee Lisa Eisner. “Like wine. Who cares about the label or the bottle? How good is the wine?” Eisner, a Los Angeles-based jewelry designer and former Vogue editor, makes a point to educate herself about different growers, growing herself, reading books on the topic, and experimenting on herself with different varieties. If someone offers her weed at a party, she’ll usually say: No thanks. I bring my own.
Robertson often advises companies on how to cater to wealthy cannabis consumers who are “more likely to shop on Saville Row than they are to go to any dispensary, ever,” she said, likening many dispensaries (she won’t mention which by name) to Walmart. “What these mainstream markets are missing is they’re heading for stoners. And that’s not really high-end. True luxury goods are crafted. It’s not about potency and purity in terms of concentration; it’s about a completely different set of factors.”
Many big-ticket items sold elsewhere make headlines but are more for shock value than anything else, like the $11,000 weed cigar sold in Vegas last December. “My guess is it had gold foil on it,” Robertson offered. It did, I told her, and she laughed. “Of course! But what does that actually tell you about what’s inside? And is what’s inside even still there? Was it preserved properly?”
Instead of Vegasian excess, people like Robertson’s clients are looking for an end product—be it an extract or an edible—that feels highly controlled and carefully crafted. Colorado-based 710 Labs, to take one high-end company, uses live resin, a type of cannabis concentrate made by freezing the flower after it’s harvested. This process is supposed to preserve “terpenes,” chemicals that give cannabis its taste and smell.
Cheaper ways of manufacturing the plant often employ chemicals and solvents, and are “like drinking Crystal Light rather than real lemonade,” Robertson said, and this raises health concerns for her and many of her clients.
The science behind how cannabis affects users is enormously complicated and still not well understood. Even the most basic bit of folk wisdom among smokers, that CBD is better for soothing anxiety than THC, is still being studied. And of course, different people in different settings can respond to different strains in vastly different ways. Those who are obsessed with getting certain effects out of cannabis have to conduct their own studies on themselves.
“When you really get to be a fetishist about it, then you want pure, organic, no shit in it, of course, and now it’s so artisanal that you can specify one effect,” Eisner said. She has friends who are trying to get off pharmaceutical sleep aids, experimenting with various strains in hopes to make a switch from Ambien to weed. “You have to be the guinea pig and you have to try things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you’ve got to keep trying. It’s worth it.”
Just as local microbrews cost more than Budweiser, this kind of consumption is pricey. Retail prices depend on rarity, but as a ballpark, heirloom cannabis (meaning a strain passed down through generations, as opposed to a recently invented hybrid), grown with zero pesticides or adulterants and hand-trimmed, can range from $100 to $400 for seven grams at specialty shops. (For comparison, you can buy seven grams of cheap weed for $40 at a California MedMen dispensary.)
Not that everyone is going to those specialty stores: Some aficionados still rely on California’s many unlicensed dealers who can provide high-end product and make house calls. For these customers, it’s worth breaking the law to get exactly what they’re looking for.
“The more people become educated, the pickier they are about what they consume,” said Scott Campbell. The famed tattoo and visual artist is the co-founder of Los Angeles-based Beboe, an upscale line of pastilles, vapes, and gift sets ranging in price from $25 for 20 pastille candies to $120 for The Beboe Box, which includes two vaporizer pens—one sativa, one indica, and a tin of pastilles. All of Beboe’s cannabis is grown without pesticides or other chemicals.
“There’s a huge overlap in luxury cannabis and the wellness movement,” Campbell said. “People are becoming more careful about what they put in their bodies, and willing to spend more money on that.”
“Our candies are like the cold-pressed juice of weed,” he added.
Eisner is a Beboe fan, and threw an anniversary party for the company last year, attended by celebrities like Lake Bell (who is Campbell’s wife), Alicia Silverstone, and burlesque icon Dita Von Teese. Eisner loves their gold vape pens, which retail for $60, and says they’re a hit among her friends.
“It looks like a lip liner, I can’t tell you how many times I tried to smoke a lip liner by the way, that’s such a stoner thing,” she laughed. “They’re light and they don’t smell. You could practically be in a courtroom and take a puff.”
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Wealthy stoners are skipping $750 bongs in favor of cannabis consultants and heirloom weed.
12 Successful CEOs Who Have Admitted to Using Marijuana
Marijuana use doesn’t have to hinder your career. | Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
Traditionally, marijuana use has come with an associated level of stigma attached to it, especially in the professional world. While taking constant cigarette breaks or having a few too many drinks during happy hour has become socially acceptable in the business world over the past several decades (just watch an episode of Mad Men), admitting to marijuana use has remained off-limits — even as we enter a post-legalization era.
That doesn’t mean, however, that some of the most successful business leaders in the world have completely abstained. In fact, some of the world’s most celebrated visionaries have not only admitted to using cannabis in the past, but they continue to use it. Now that the social stigma is starting to fade, it’s only a matter of time before even more people become open about their cannabis use.
Although we’re headed in what many people would consider the right direction in terms of our attitudes toward marijuana, that doesn’t give the average American worker a free pass to smoke, vape, or otherwise ingest. You can still be fired for marijuana use, after all, even if it’s within the confines of state law. Some are also worried the Trump administration could crack down on marijuana, a big shift from the hands-off approach of the past president.
But to illustrate the point, we’ve compiled a short list of successful CEOs who have, at one time or another, provided a bit of insight into their own marijuana use. For some of these people, their relationship with cannabis ended decades ago. For others, it’s become a daily ritual. Either way, they go to show using marijuana doesn’t need to be a career-ending decision.
Here are some of the business world’s most successful marijuana users. No. 6 is a co-founder of one of the most valuable companies in the world, while No. 10 is more likely to pass you a handmade cookie than a joint.
12. George Zimmer
George Zimmer | Kimberly White/Getty Images for Generation Tux
You might remember George Zimmer as the former CEO of Men’s Wearhouse. He’s the guy who would famously say, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.”
Well, Zimmer was fired a few years ago. And that’s a bummer. But Zimmer is still one of the more famously successful marijuana users in the business world. He has admitted to being a user for half a century, in fact. He now acts as an advocate for legalization and even told CNBC that marijuana prohibition was “the biggest con that has been perpetrated on this country in the last century.”
11. Ted Turner
Ted Turner | Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Ted Turner is a media mogul, as the man behind many television stations, including CNN, TNT, TBS, and more. He’s also a long-time marijuana user. It only makes sense that the man who pretty much invented the 24-hour news cycle would be under the influence. Rumor is he was even caught growing pot in his dorm room while attending college.
10. Richard Branson
Richard Branson | Virgin
Billionaires don’t often admit to using cannabis, but Richard Branson is an exception. He even sat down for an interview with High Times to dig into the subject a little bit. He’s also gone head to head with politicians regarding marijuana use, comparing it to alcohol and saying the vast majority of people who use cannabis in moderation end up being perfectly fine.
9. Gary Johnson
Gary Johnson | Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Gary Johnson is more famous for being a politician than a CEO. He served as the governor of New Mexico for eight years from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s and ran for president as a Libertarian in 2012 and 2016. A regular marijuana user, he said in an interview with USA Today that he abstained during his presidential run because he wanted to be “completely on top of my game.” Previously, he was CEO of Cannabis Sativa, Inc., which focuses on development and sales of cannabis-derived oils and concentrates.
8. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
CEOs don’t come with much bigger names than Steve Jobs, and Jobs was well known for his rather unorthodox approaches to health and wellness. Prior to his death in 2011, Jobs talked a bit about his drug use, which included LSD habits in addition to marijuana use. He even called his LSD use one of the most important things he ever did. As far as marijuana, Jobs used to smoke with friends or bake up some brownies — though he said he hadn’t gotten high since the late ’70s.
7. Sergey Brin
Sergey Brin | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
It’s hard to look at the photo above and think that Google co-founder Sergey Brin hasn’t ever dabbled in marijuana use. Although there’s not much out there regarding Brin’s experimentation, he shows up prominently on many lists showcasing “successful marijuana users.” Word is that Brin, like other business leaders, would toke up in order to ease his mind and solve complex problems.
Jay-Z | Elsa/Getty Images
Jay-Z is famous for a lot of reasons. He’s a rapper, entrepreneur, owner of an NBA franchise, and Beyonce’s husband. He was also previously the CEO of Def Jam Recordings. And it’s not much of a secret that he has used marijuana over the course of his life. Interestingly enough, it seems like those days are behind him. He’s a father now, after all, and needs to concentrate.
5. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey | Mike Windle/Getty Images
During an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995, Harpo Productions CEO Oprah Winfrey famously admitted she’d used crack cocaine. Her dabbling in marijuana has received considerably less attention than that announcement, though she’s said she has smoked in the past. In a 2015 interview with David Letterman she said, “I haven’t smoked weed in 30 years.”
4. Michael Bloomberg
Michael Bloomberg | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival
In some quarters, using marijuana is still fairly controversial, which can lead some people to downplay their experience with the drug. (See Bill Clinton, who famously claimed he “didn’t inhale.”) That’s not so with Bloomberg CEO and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. “You bet I did. And I enjoyed it,” he told New York magazine when he was running for mayor in 2001. But he isn’t a fan of decriminalization. Bloomberg called Colorado’s legalization of weed “stupid” in 2015.
3. Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times
Crafting queen Martha Stewart (and former CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) has made doll beds out of clementine crates and turned old stuffed animals into a terrifying-looking chair. So you can bet her skills extend to knowing the right way to smoke weed. “Of course I know how to roll a joint,” Stewart told Bravo’s Andy Cohen in 2013, though she didn’t go so far to say she lights up herself. Stewart also co-hosts a cooking show with noted weed enthusiast Snoop Dogg on VH1, though the pair reportedly don’t smoke together.
2. Rick Steves
Rick Steves | Rick Steves via Facebook
Rick Steves’ tips on the best places to see on your next European vacation are a staple of PBS programming. But Steves — CEO of Rick Steves’ Europe, which produces his travel books and leads tours — isn’t just an expert at finding Europe’s off-the-beaten-path sites. He’s also a big advocate of reforming the nation’s marijuana laws, serves on the NORML board of directors, and is an occasional user himself. “I smoke very occasionally, socially. Maybe once a month or something,” he told the Boston Globe in 2016.
1. Hugh Hefner
Hugh Hefner | Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Playboy
Legalization advocates owe a big “thank you” to Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. The famous bon vivant donated $5,000 to NORML when the organization was first getting off the ground. As a marijuana user himself, “he had a personal interest” in legalizing weed, founder and legal counsel Keith Stroup said. Decades later, he continues to support decriminalization.
“I don’t think there’s any question that marijuana should be legalized because to not legalize it, we’re paying the same price we paid for prohibition,” he said in 2010.
Megan Elliott also contributed to this post.
Marijuana use might be stigmatized, but that doesn't mean it will stunt your career ambitions. Just look at these successful CEOS who've used marijuana.