Chem Tales: ‘High Culture’ Has a New Meaning

Expensive dinners with cannabis pairings are part of an effort by the industry to attract more affluent consumers.

Once a season, Mason Jar’s Kendal Norris hosts elaborate parties for adults to enjoy marijuana amid other mature pleasures, like good food and conversation. On Sunday, I accepted an invitation to Mason Jar’s latest outing.

A weed-friendly party bus picked guests up in Denver and delivered us into a bucolic autumn scene: Dark wood tables handsomely set amid the resplendent foliage. A bluegrass band unpacked their instruments by a burbling brook. Behind them, a sheer vertical cliff loomed, glowing pink as the sun set.

Stepping off the bus, a man said that he’d dreamed of something like this. I knew what he meant. It felt like entering a snow globe or a J.Crew catalog.

It was an attractive industry crowd, one more inclined to discuss cannabis minutiae than, say, the election. I got the impression that merely mentioning Trump would have been as much of a buzzkill as sneezing in someone’s organic roasted squash soup — served with grilled brie and green apple sandwiches. Hosea Rosenberg, who won Season 5 of Top Chef, prepared the meal.

The salad of roasted local brassicas and then a very tasty pork dish, were each paired with a strain, though the distinction, as with wine and other fine things, was lost on me. Dessert arrived with mini-graters to dust a flurry of a mint chocolate edible over the brownie and ice cream. The fine motor skills needed to operate the device, frustrated the guests at my table and we ate the chocolates whole.

In his 1983 book Class: A Guide Through The American Status System, the late scholar Paul Fussell writes that it’s “a rare American who doesn’t secretly want to be upper-middle class.” Class, as he sees it, isn’t purely about how much money one has, but also a set of traits, tastes, and habits still most closely associated with northeastern WASPs.

For Fussell, the 1970 “Ivy-idyllic” movie Love Story about two Harvard students, captures the upper-middle class’s boundless professional confidence and well-intentioned social awkwardness. More recent examples include When Harry Met Sally or The West Wing.

For generations, Americans from newly arrived immigrants to punk rockers have defined themselves in the ways they have emulated or rejected notions of the accomplished and tasteful upper-middle class. Even as this group has seen its social and economic clout diminish, their lives have maintained a mystique that, however unfashionable it is in some circles, has been spun into gold by figures like Ralph Lauren.

The cannabis world is as susceptible to these bourgeois charms as any pack of American arrivistes on the make.

There’s also a business reason for the affinity. Even more than with alcohol and other illegal drugs, the cannabis industry depends overwhelmingly on the most devoted stoners. According to one estimate, the illegal market generated about 80 percent of its revenue from daily users in 2014.

The demographics of cannabis use have shifted somewhat with legalization — oldsters can’t get enough of the stuff — but men under 40 are still by far the heaviest users. To the extent the industry has been allowed to market itself, one of the predominant themes has been to strip the plant’s lingering associations with odiferous, unproductive men. What better way to rebrand the plant with successful, tasteful people than a dinner party worthy of Martha Stewart?

The press has acquired a taste for the new world of high-end cannabis and non-stereotypical users, like seniors, athletes, and suburban parents, but it’s still too early to tell how far the idea that pot is as compatible with adulthood as alcohol has caught on. Even in legal states, the bans on public consumption deprive us of even an atmospheric sense of who uses, how often. and how.

I’m not sure there’s much demand for extravagant dinner’s like the one I attended. (Tickets cost $200 plus $25 for the weed and swag bag.) What they certainly do is begin to reshape the way Americans think about the plant. The more women who tie it to glamorous dinner parties rather than young men not living up to their potential — perhaps the one in their basement — the more likely they are to try it.

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