Before Booking That $425 CBD Facial, Think Twice About The Cannabis Explosion

Photographed by Rachel Cabitt.
The rolodex of expensive items you can buy in the luxury cannabis industry reads like the lyrics of Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings.” It’s not exactly “lashes and diamonds and ATM machines,” but it’s pretty close. “It’s “vape pens and gumdrops and CBD buffalo wings.”
Today, you can pay around $200 for a CBD Massage or $425 for a really nice CBD Detox Facial. Barney’s launched a “luxury cannabis lifestyle shop” called The High End, and Beboe will sell you a “luxury CBD pen” for $75. Meanwhile, in the art word, Benjamin Milstein, who’s known for his personal collection of beautiful, expensive art bongs at Grey Space Art, has bongs shaped like aliens and honey jars that cost up to $300,000.
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We’ve gone from back-alley weed deals to casual weed shopping sprees in Barney’s department store. The cannabis industry is worth billions of dollars and is constantly evolving. Marijuana itself has a fraught history, considering the drug war’s impact on communities of color. But in the last decade, the landscape has changed dramatically as some states legalized marijuana, and the 2018 Farm Bill removed some legal restrictions on CBD derived from hemp plants. As laws and national outlooks have changed, the way we consume has also changed. And millennials are fueling this blunt’s fire with staggering amounts of cash.
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@kurtbinstagramming Kintsugi Honey Bear, 2019 Borosilicate glass 7 x 3 x 3 inches (17.8 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm) Inscribed to the underside: Kurt / B / 2019 - "In 2009, the artist Kurt B purchased a plastic honey dispenser shaped like a bear and made a concrete mold around it. He put a molten piece of glass inside the mold, blew out, and voila, he had a hollow glass honey bear. Kurt blew the bellybutton open and shaped it into a bowl to hold weed, then he made the top into a mouthpiece and added 3 dots, for the nose and eyes and also for some dimension. Lastly, he sandblasted the work, giving it an opaque finish. Groundbreaking technique? No, Kurt wasn’t going to get into Corning Glass Museum for this one. In fact, in 2009, when the first of 100 began to disperse to head-shops around America, you could have seen one stuck on a shelf for months at $250-$300 dollars, however, technique was not Kurt’s focus, nor was creating a high ticket item. Instead, and new to the field of functional glass art, Kurt focused on creating a conceptual bong, prioritizing not functionality, design, nor color, but instead a feeling, an ode to nostalgia. Kurt then became the first to successfully advance bong art as a vehicle for non-cannabis related ideas. In a Dadaist moment, Kurt decoupled the sculpture from its message. Three years later, by 2012, any one of those 100 honey bears had gone from $250 to a minimum of $3,000. This led to a conceptual movement within bong art.." - Being auctioned off now at Heritage Auction house! Register online or participate in the live auction Monday 2PM - link in our Bio

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When I first learned about the luxury world of CBD and cannabis, I felt like the Little Mermaid with her treasure fork (AKA Dinglehopper). Look at this stuff! Isn’t it neat! But the move of cannabis and CBD into luxury is more complicated than you might think. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, explains that there’s always been a lux component to weed. Even when it was illegal almost everywhere, there was a market for upscale cannabis. You could pay more for quality, or a nice bong. He says baby boomers have also been spending their money on hemp creams and products for decades. “The expensive CBD creams might seem new, but there’s a long history to it,” Owusu-Bempah explains. “Women who drive Subarus and eat trail mix and have some money, they’ve been buying hemp… But now it’s all become more mainstream.”
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“Anything can become mainstream if people are advocating for it and it has positive value and is beautiful,” Milstein says. He says he thinks the industry will continue to grow, and create more jobs. Barbara Kramer, the founder of The Plant Lore, an agency of organic beauty and wellness brands specializing in CBD-from-hemp, and Plant Alchemy, says women are some of the main consumers when it comes to this new frontier. “They understand CBD and get that it's not just a trend, and it’s not a ploy to sell products,” she says. “There are women who want to do good for themselves. They know it’s the next big thing.”
In a sense, the more women continue to consume CBD and cannabis, the more sales will thrive, and the more normalized it will be come. After all, Bloomberg reported last year that women drive 70 to 80% of consumer purchasing — they're the primary buyers in retail. There are good things about that. For one, he says, as people accept cannabis and CBD, they may rely less on pharmaceutical drugs. On top of that, he says that as the industry is legalized and normalized, fewer people of color will go to jail for possession.
“I’m very happy, in some sense, that the war on cannabis has come to an end,” Owusu-Bempah says. “Cannabis in particular has been so heavily used to target, to criminalize, and to harm racialized and otherwise marginalized communities."
But as the industry swells and we fork out more cash for shinier, more lux cannabis and its accompanying products, it’s important to think about who’s benefiting, Owusu-Bempa notes. “Am I happy about the commercialization [of cannabis], period? I think it’s great that it’s providing jobs and opportunities to many people,” he says. “But I want to ensure that people who have been historically criminalized for possessing and perhaps trafficking cannabis are included in this commercialization."
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He says that, in many ways, those people are being excluded. The fact is that “many of the people that own the major cannabis production companies are not the same people who were targeted by [authorities and unfair laws],” he says. “The industry has been gentrified.”
So, what can we do about that? There are so many beautiful things out there to be bought. Things you want, and things you might even feel you need. Ultimately, Owusu-Bempa says one thing you can do is consume thoughtfully. You can buy your products from places such as the Simply Pure, the first dispensary in Denver owned by African Americans. You can buy your CBD cooking essentials from Potli, whose co-founder is a woman of color.
Ultimately this thriving and lux economy isn’t all bad, but it also isn’t all good. There’s a lot of grey area in this green industry. The bottom line: Whether you’re buying an insanely expensive art bong, a massage, or a bottle of CBD oil, be sure to purchase thoughtfully.
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