This Entrepreneur Is Uniting Weed, Rave Culture and Social Justice

This Entrepreneur Is Uniting Weed, Rave Culture and Social Justice

You might know Michelle Lhooq from her bylines on the Fader, GQ, VICE, New York Magazine, and the major outlets where for more than 10 years, she's written lovingly about a menagerie of youth subcultures from EDM to rave culture. Her latest muse? LA's weed scene.

While party-hopping cannabis parties as research for her new book, due in April: Weed: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Stoned to Ask, Lhooq realized that there was a strange dearth of nightlife focusing on the intersections between music, weed, and wellness.

With this gap in mind, Lhooq conceptualized a monthly private "Weed Rave:" a 12-hour party from 4:20 PM to 4:20 AM. Her mission? To merge the subcultures she loves and carve out a new niche in LA nightlife; support the small startups and businesses being challenged by rapidly a corporatizing cannabis industry; to redefine weed as something generative and healthy that can be an alternative to riskier party drugs, rather than a slacker vice; and to foster a space where women, queer people and people of color (those left out by the Seth Rogan American visage of a pot-lover) can appreciate and enjoy weed in a safe, inclusive space.

The event will be divided into two parts. First is a wellness and education-focused portion, featuring local start-ups with weed goodies of every shape and substance, cooking demos, yoga classes and educational panels. Later, it'll turn into an all-night dance party with both rave, and ambient music spaces.

Few know more about the current transformation of weed culture in America, so PAPER caught up with the writer-entrepreneur to hear all about this weekend's rave, her research, and her vision for the future of weed.

Flyer by Thu Tran

Tell me about your vision for this event.

When I moved to California two years ago, I was witnessing all of these cultural changes that have come with weed legalization. I feel like this is one of the most interesting and important movements of our generation. You know, as far as easing the war on drugs, our ability to see weed as a plant and a medicine rather than some dangerous drug. I feel like it's always been woven in to the cultures that I'm interested in, which is rave culture and the cultures of youth, fashion and art. Weed is woven into these histories but it's always been so underground. So now, there's this incredible opportunity for all of these entrepreneurs and women and people of color and queer people to sort of create businesses based around weed. The economy is booming, there's this green rush that's happening. Also, I didn't realize it until I moved here and started reporting on weed but it's a very female-dominated industry.

Do you have any theories on why weed is a friendly industry to women?

I think for one thing, just because it's less established and less corporate.

Right, so there's fewer corporate gatekeepers that tend to privilege their own.

Right. And then there's also the fact that weed is medicinal, and for healing, and cooking like edibles and stuff, things women might be attracted to. Though now, as it gets more corporate, the industry is becoming less female-focused. It's become harder to get money to launch businesses, and a lot of small operations have shut down.

I always want to highlight women, people of color and queer people who are doing interesting things in whatever scene I'm writing about. I have a book coming out in April, called Weed: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Stoned to Ask. It's sort of a beginner's guide. One cool thing with it as that I only interviewed women of color and queer people. I discovered a lot of really interesting people in the scene, and I basically wrote the book by going out to cannabis parties, just hitting the circuit and meeting interesting people and then finding out who they were, what they thought was interesting and going from there.

How did sampling all those parties inform this event?

One thing I noticed at a lot of these cannabis parties was that they were all kind of corporate and awkward, and just not as lit as you would expect them to be. The only party that really stood out to me as really amazing was this one that Snoop Dogg hosted in this opulent Hollywood mansion. It was so fun, there were all these babes like rolling blunts by the pool, handing them out for free. I was just like, "wow this feels like a paradise."

That was really cool, but it was specifically a hip hop party, right? So I was like "OK there's a real opportunity here to bring together my musical community together with the weed world and combine it in a really interesting way." That was sort of the genesis of the idea. I want to highlight how this culture shifting, and be a part of pushing it towards wellness, holistic health, education, taking care of yourself and educating yourself — rather than just you know treating rave culture or weed as a thing you just use to get fucked up. So that's why I split the party, which is 12 hours total into two.

What will the two halves be?

The first half of the day is really focusing on wellness and education. We have two panels: 1) the weed-fluencer and 2) the intersection of the war on drugs and sex work. Both are moderated by women in cannabis scene — all of our our guests are women or trans men in the cannabis scene. In between we'll have activations‚ I shouldn't say activation, that's such a branded word — demos. I'm going to have cannabis chefs teaching about the culinary side of cannabis (have you ever been to a rave with a kitchen before?), and a yoga instructor leading cannabis yoga on the roof. Our instructor is an Asian-American woman who does origami ashtrays and blends all of her joints with these amazing herbs. Once the music starts, we'll transition into two rooms of music: one with hardcore techno, and one that's chiller. I want to show people that weed is a really good party drug — it's not something that you need to save for chilling at home.

Flyer by Thu Tran

Yeah, my first instinct is that getting high and raving aren't a natural pairing. Why am I wrong?

Yeah! Most people don't think it's a party drug, especially in the UK. But in other countries, it's been key to party culture. There's a really long-standing link between rave culture and weed, especially with the genres of music that I've asked my DJs to play: jungle, dub, dancehall. Weed is also a really multidimensional plant, and different forms of it have all kinds of different effects, some are like coffee and you can't sleep when you're on them. If you're not into THC, we'll also have a ton of CBD products, like energy drinks and coffee. The weed yoga is going to be paired with CBD lotion and tinctures.

There'll be something for everyone.

Totally. There are going to be around 15 companies involved who are all going to be showing their products and all of these company are run by people that I really admire. That's another thing I'm excited about, connecting people from the rave to the people from all communities to the companies.

It's pretty remarkable how quickly weed culture is corporatizing.

Yeah, that's really the main topic of conversation when you go out and talk to people in the industry. The number one struggle is figuring out the regulations, figuring out how to stay afloat and navigating these crazy taxes, which is easier for big companies. We're in a really unique time where a lot of big interests are coming in and trying to claim their stake in the market.

So this party is kind of an intervention into the corporatization, as far as highlighting these startups and small businesses.

Yeah, this is also a transitional time where all of these smaller players are standing together and helping each other, which is amazing. All the companies that I've been working with have been so supportive of this rave. Most of them are run by the women and I think that that's telling! Women want to support other women. Together, we all have a chance to define what weed nightlife and what the new weed aesthetic looks like. Weed has always been associated with this stoner bro-y, psychedelic look for a while, but some of the companies that are going to be selling are leading the way in that aesthetic. It's very modern. Very sleek, very streetwear.

Tell me a bit more about that Seth Rogen, Pineapple Express slacker stoner trope. Why has that been so dominant for so long?

I think it just has to do with the fact that straight white men have dominated the culture for so long. Not just weed culture, but all of pop culture and we're experiencing this incredible moment right now where other voices are being amplified. They've always been there, we just haven't heard from them. Now women are being given an opportunity to showcase their worlds, who appreciate weed in a really different way from that sort of stoner bro like douche bag. Which involves treating it as a wellness product.

It feels like there's a burgeoning backlash against weed-normalization. I'm sure you saw, but Malcolm Gladwell recently published a piece arguing that weed isn't as safe as we think, that a lot of others have pushed back against, calling it fear-mongering. What did you think of that?

My first reaction was like "OK the weed backlash has begun." There's no way for there to be so much hype and positivity, without a counter movement. But I also think it is important to talk about safety, and addiction, as well as weed's benefits. I think one of the coolest things that I'm trying to show with weed raves is that you can actually replace alcohol and other drugs with weed and feel a lot better. That's what I've done in my life. I've been raving for like 10 years or something, and I've realized you can't do cocaine every weekend! I've actually quit all those other party drugs and I'm pretty much sober right now besides weed. I want to show people that like weed can be a healthier alternative.

But we also need to talk about addiction. In the industry, there's a lot of hype that CBD is a cure for everything and it'll solve all your problems and cure cancer! Like, we do need to check that and look at the studies research being done. But luckily, legalization has opened up the opportunity for there to be so much more quality research. If we don't pay attention to science and facts as we go through this shift, there's just going to be more articles like the Malcolm Gladwell one.

What was your entry-point into both weed and rave culture?

Weed journalism and rave journalism are interestingly similar. When I first started writing about raves, I was like "this is a joke like nobody takes raves seriously." How am I supposed to create a career out of this? I was kind of, to be honest, down on music journalism, just like that it's wishy washy to just be describing sounds. But I realized how many interesting things are happening in music that go beyond sound, it's about culture, it's about politics. We can talk about gender, racial inequality. There are so many interesting subcultures that are converging within music. You're talking about youth culture when you write about music, when you write about underground rave culture. Some of the most interesting visionary people are at these raves. I felt the same thing about weed where when I arrived in California.

I still feel that there aren't many qualities weed magazines out there. But we are starting to see them, like Broccoli Magazine is one that I really love that that is run by women. But it still feels kind of underground. I knew there were stories to tell about weed that go deeper than people might expect. Maybe people still think of weed as like something kind of frivolous, they think about raves. I want to show people how this plant touched so many lives outside the underground. So yeah, I just felt like there were opportunities to do really interesting work in a space that hasn't been saturated by journalists.

Photo by Kaitlin Parry

You're an expert on nightlife in general. As far as the LA landscape, what role will this party play in the scene?

LA is the only underground that's really popping right now. It's really exciting. There are so many there's so many warehouses and weird spaces. I went to a rave last weekend that was literally underneath a bridge, totally outdoors, no guest list, no bar nothing, real raver shit. I go to different warehouse parties every single weekend. That's something I missed living in New York, where I lived for 10 years. You know in the mid 2010s, there were tons of warehouse parties as well and then after Ghost Ship, everything kind of shut down and the parties moved to clubs.

What's your take on the state of NYC nightlife?

I mean, New York nightlife is also popping right now too, it's come back in a way that's reminiscent of the 90s, where all these clubs are the center of nightlife, sanctioned by the city. There are underground spaces in New York. But they're not the same as the Bushwick warehouse hay-day. Now everything's happening in clubs like Elsewhere, Nowadays and places like that. Nightlife comes in cycles and now this late stage of oh now we have these clubs. Whereas LA doesn't have any clubs really except for the stuff in Hollywood, which is really a whole different scene.

With LA, I wanted to unify all of the things that I think are really interesting, because as I've learned in New York, when these different subcultures come together, it can be really powerful and parties really pop.

Cover Photo by Kaitlin Parry