Cannabis events typically don’t evoke the most sympathetic portrait. My mind immediately goes to the hyper-branded sleek influencer events held by the industry gatekeepers or the barely organized burner events with an overwhelming and undiscerning amount of options. I didn’t know what to expect coming into Emerald Exchange, but the event far exceeded my expectations, striking the perfect balance between the rare offerings of an upscale event with the community and energy of a more laid-back consumer-based market. The experience also transcended the marketplace offerings: The location was breathtaking, the event was well-produced and the structure was a perfect blend of industry opportunity with a curated environment.
This was Emerald Exchange’s third gathering, and any kinks that may have existed before were certainly ironed out before this past weekend. The festival was broken down into three main parts: the marketplace for vendors, food and bar options, and leisure areas. These were dispersed throughout the Malibu mountains on a ranch where chickens, horses and dogs grazed not far from the tents. There were fairytale pathways lined with art and decorative lights leading from the main pathway to a yurt hosting Sound Baths and yoga, a teepee with charging stations, furnished with pillows and mats for relaxing. A man stood outside painting attendees' faces. Fiona Ma, among others, spoke about cannabis taxation, sustainable living and other political considerations for the industry, and on a patch of grass nearby, a vendor featured "glamping," a service that provides a luxury camping experience featuring a queen-size bed with a headboard in a sheer white tent. A little further up the hill, you hit the food stations where hungry souls can get medicated (or unmedicated, if you prefer) spicy tuna rolls from the guys at Jetty Sushi or take a dab or a drink from the guys running the AbsoluteXtracts bar. Walking further uphill is a bit of a hike, but food trucks, water stations and the nicest outdoor toilets they could find line the pathway to the marketplace.
Once in the marketplace, the options are almost overwhelming. I tried artisanal paleo-centric chocolate chip crater cookie edibles from Moonman’s Mistress, got cannabis rose bath salts from Sweetwater Pharms and tested bright essential oil topicals from hälsa. The ethos throughout Emerald Exchange truly seemed to be about the spirit of exchange. Jen Bruce, who makes edible printed lollipops, only hires female designers and collaborators to help rectify the gender imbalance in the cannabis industry. Griffin Pohle, who makes innovative edibles for Treometry, wants to further explore microdosing to help reduce THC-induced anxiety in consumers. Every vendor I spoke to wasn’t just excited about their product, they had a passion for using their products to give back to the community.
This sense of community was even present in some of the more established vendors. Justin Capri from AbsoluteXtracts came back to Emerald Exchange for a second time because he valued both the market and the community.
“We initially heard about it from some friends,” he said. "Connections from down south and people from up north come together. The people and brands here are what you want in your shop. It’s a curated event.”
(Article continues below slider.)
Capri wasn’t the only industry leader who came to this event because of a personal recommendation. Almost everyone I spoke to, from speaker Larry King (no, not that one) to Chef Michael Chen from Woon, came to Emerald Exchange via a friend of a friend or an in-law’s recommendation. Maybe it was all the weed that had me feeling the communal vibes, but as the day went on, I decided to partake in a Sound Bath, something I was admittedly skeptical about before participating.
The Sound Healings took place inside a small yurt looking over part of the leisure and food areas off the beaten path. I took off my shoes and stepped inside, sitting not too close but not too far from Simon Ballard, who led the session. The space filled up quickly, and before I could second-guess my decision, I was being told to close my eyes and relax my tongue. After luring us into a meditative state, Simon began to use a number of instruments, from sound bowls to a rare steel drum, that took him eight months of study and application to acquire. I felt the sounds rush over me, bringing with them vibrant colors and tactile emotion. After a day of trying dabs and every kind of edible they had to offer, there was nothing more cleansing than the beautiful cacophony Ballard provided. I had never had my chakra aligned before, and after the healing, I felt embarrassed for any skepticism I had going in. I left feeling refreshed and cleansed, ready for the night activities to come.
As the sun set over the mountains and painted the sky pale pink, the alcohol started flowing, and the string lights illuminated benches crafted from tree branches and a live band. After a quick set, the all-female DJ lineup began transitioning into the night with hotel rooftop music, perfect for the atmosphere.
The entire day, crafted by Emerald Exchange, existed in perfect balance. There were plenty of activities for the casual cannabis consumer as well as an industry shaker trying to network. The mission-focused thesis of the vendors alongside their commitment to being part of a cannabis community set a tone for this event, and indeed reflects on the industry at large. Cannabis culture is expanding and evolving, and this festival was one of the ways in which we are seeing it merge more with mainstream offerings. Everything from the products being sold to the organization of the festival had an artisanal touch that elevated the experience, an encapsulation of where the industry is looking to as the epicenter of business shifts from Denver to Los Angeles.
As legalization continues to trend across the United States, perhaps we will see cannabis events start to look more like this one: curated to socially conscious upscale consumers who care as much about the cannabis experience as they do the product.
Photos by KINDLAND.