LA's West Hollywood aims to become a new New Amsterdam with Pot-Themed Emerald Village Initiative
Entrepreneurs lead the way in making LA a cannabis tourist destination.
Some towns or cities, when they opt to bring cannabis into their business districts, will do whatever it takes to prevent clusters of retail outlets, or prevent them from creating showy displays of their wares. These towns and cities, we should mention, are not West Hollywood, CA. Having embraced medical cannabis early on in the ‘80s during the AIDS crisis, the city made history in 2018 when it announced the permitting of 15 social use cannabis lounges within city limits, including the country’s first infused restaurant. And while the pandemic may have temporarily blunted the city’s ambitions, it could not derail them entirely. In November, the city announced the foundation of Emerald Village West Hollywood, a business association that when complete will encompass 40 upscale cannabis businesses of all sorts, from restaurants to consumption lounges, ateliers to infused yoga studios.
And it’s also attracted some high-profile backers as well. Jay-Z has already climbed on board by purchasing the female-owned Calma; Patricia Arquette is investing in a yet-to-be-constructed lounge/LGBT community space; and Woody Harrelson and Bill Maher are going in on a store and lounge. The city is more than happy to identify itself as an upscale cannabis tourism destination. In a press release, West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, said, “West Hollywood’s imaginative entrepreneurs have led the way to reinvent how our residents and visitors experience cannabis. I look forward to Emerald Village promoting and highlighting the best that West Hollywood has to offer and embracing our city's values of creativity, collaboration, and social equity.”
WITHIN THE VILLAGE
For now, the Emerald Village is made up of just six businesses — the old-school medical dispensaries AAHS West Hollywood and Los Angeles Patients and Caregivers Group, the upscale cannabis chain MedMen, Calma, the Artist Tree and Zen Cannabis. Four other businesses — Greenwolf, Aeon Botanica, Monica’s House and PleasureMed — are set to open, and the OG Cannabis Café, formerly the Lowell Farms Cannabis Café, also promises to reopen as well. However, these are far from the only cannabis businesses that have already been permitted by the city. For instance, Aeon Botanika, a wellness emporium that promises a wellness studio, a tea/social lounge and a full line of cannabis and herbal products owned by the founder of Los Feliz-based Fred 62, has seen its opening date pushed back twice since the start of the pandemic. Also waiting to break ground is the Antidote, a fine dining experience that would offer culinary classes, private party space and its own infused chimichurri sauce.
In addition to the celebrity investors, some of West Hollywood’s best-known business owners have jumped into the fray. PleasureMed is owned by Brian Robinson of the long-running adult toy store the Pleasure Chest, while Greenwolf is co-owned by Soheil Yamini, who owns the delivery convenience store Pink Mart. The apparent result would ultimately saturate the city in cannabis shops. Currently, according to the Los Angeles Times, there’s one dispensary for every 5,959 residents in West Hollywood, compared to 18,528 residents in Los Angeles. Emerald Village West Hollywood, which counts cannabis industry veterans such as Americans for Safe Access founder Don Duncan and Jason Beck on its panel, seeks to further elevate its presence within the city. “The Emerald Village is ready to welcome travelers who will appreciate our imaginative cannabis experiences alongside our iconic LGBT nightlife, entertainment, world-class hotels, award-winning restaurants and strong sense of community,” says Emerald Village executive director Scott Schmitt.
However, spreading the word on a federally illegal substance is not a trivial undertaking, as typical avenues of tourist promotion such as billboards or keyword ads are as a rule not available, which means falling back on in-person promotions such as Palm Springs Pride Festival and social media influencers seems to be the prevailing strategy. So while it’s early days and choppy waters in terms of spreading the word for Emerald Village West Hollywood, the city has kept its eyes on the prize. So far, the six business alone bring in $2.2 million in taxes for the city; West Hollywood anticipates raising that up to $6 million by the time all 40 businesses are up and running.