When Adrian Sedlin got a call from his brother-in-law Randy Patten in 2015 to ask if Sedlin would buy him a building to grow weed in, Sedlin wasn’t immediately on board. Before retiring three years earlier at age 42, Sedlin had a career taking over relatively early-stage companies to reposition their strategy, grow them and exit. Most recently, he’d turned around an online crime-mapping company called CrimeReports, which Motorola then bought. Patten had been a cannabis cultivator for 20 years.
But as a retiree Sedlin had time on his hands and saw how the legalization of cannabis was rapidly creating a new industry for the plant in Colorado. After a few months of research, he co-founded his California-based cannabis company, Canndescent, later that year. (Patten, a co-founder, was involved in the company’s day-to-day operations for two years, and remains a significant shareholder.) “My view was that I was going to have gorgeous cannabis in cut crystal decanters, and that we were going to reposition the whole thing and make it approachable,” he says. Instead of enigmatic strain names like Super Silver Haze, Juicy Fruit and Chernobyl, Canndescent’s flower comes in five self-explanatory “effects:” Calm, Cruise, Create, Connect and Charge. Each comes in a pretty, color-coded jar (Calm, for example, is deep blue, and Charge comes with a pink label), packaged in the brand’s “signature orange box,” not unlike a certain fashion house’s enamel bracelets and silk scarves.
While Sedlin doesn’t want Canndescent to look like a knockoff, he hopes customers will associate the branding with familiar luxury names. “People look at our use of orange and maybe see a little Hermès, or maybe our color treatment makes them think of what Tiffany does,” says Sedlin. “You look at our font treatment, maybe it has a little Chanel. Our logo, maybe a little Tory Burch.”
Canndescent is just one company that sees the potential in rebranding weed for a new set of users. Elevated design and the embrace of the industry by high-profile names means it’s straying further away from the stoner stereotype of yore. Yes, your mom talks openly about using CBD oil, and stocking up on edibles during a trip to L.A. is as easy as replacing a forgotten toothbrush—but now cannabis is going truly upscale and the upscale world is loving it back.
In March, Barneys New York debuted a luxury concept shop dedicated to cannabis in its Beverly Hills flagship, called The High End, where shoppers can buy a bulbous handmade crystal water pipe inspired by clouds, a chrome-plated ashtray inlaid with zebu horn and a malachite leaf necklace adorned with diamonds. The handbag brand Edie Parker just launched a line of cannabis accessories called Flower; offerings include hand-blown glass pipes shaped like a bundle of grapes or a juicy strawberry—fruit bowls, if you will—and a red-and white-striped tabletop lighter inspired by vintage varieties. Jonathan Adler recently collaborated with the smoking boutique Higher Standards on a line of ceramic ashtrays and boxes. “I’m a complete ascetic now, but in my deprived childhood and adolescence, when I went to a head shop I would have to find pot accessories that were kind of like pewter goblins or rainbow-colored blown glass—tragedies,” says Adler. “From a business standpoint, it’s interesting to have a brand new category of product.”
As weed becomes increasingly legal across the U.S., cannabis data company New Frontier Data predicts the legalized market will grow to $25 billion by 2025. In the last decade, it’s become recreationally legal in 10 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and remains illegal in just twelve. The remaining 28 states have legalized it for medicinal purposes or decriminalized it, or both. Compare that to the 1990s, when five states and D.C. had passed medical marijuana laws, or the aughts, when that number had risen to thirteen. Creating a luxury market for a substance that users are still being arrested for possessing can be complex, but many companies are betting on full legalization.
Design “is helping propel the industry forward,” says Ariel Zimman, founder of Portland, Oregon-based company Stonedware. When Zimman started bringing her geometric ceramic pipes to sell to stores, she says, men who worked at head shops would tell her they were too small to hold enough weed. She’s found a largely female audience for her pipes—which are shaped like large gemstones with faceted sides in an array of sizes and porcelain finishes with names like “Minted” and “Blushing”—users who want to have a few hits from a pipe that looks cool on their table or bookshelf. “People are using cannabis in ways aside from, let’s get high and party,” she says. “It’s not counter-culture anymore.”
Gunner Winston, the CEO of dosist, a company that sells a vape pen designed to give users control over their dose, says his typical consumer doesn’t have time to get high. “They’re an executive and mother of two,” he says. “They’re traveling the world. [They’re] dealing with some type of challenge, whether it’s sleep, whether they’re anxious, whether it’s pain. Oftentimes, people are told to go right to prescription drugs on a doctor’s recommendation, but what I’ve been inspired is the ability to find natural solutions to certain ailments.”
Robert Rosenheck, the co-founder of Lord Jones, says the most important element behind the company’s design is to reposition cannabis as a health and wellness offering. He and his wife Cindy Capobianco, Lord Jones co-founder, originally launched their business as a medical marijuna company before moving into the high-end CBD products they’re known for. (CBD is derived from the cannabis plant but doesn’t get users high; it’s marketed for its claimed pain management and calming effects.) Now they’re gearing up to relaunch a THC line (the part of the plant that does induce a high), which will include the world’s first cannabis boutique inside a hotel, at the Standard West Hollywood.