Author Michelle Lhooq’s cannabis party revolution

Culture

Culture

Author Michelle Lhooq’s cannabis party revolution

10 min read

Michelle Lhooq, journalist and author of  WEED: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Scared to Ask, is on a mission to change the world’s perceptions about cannabis.

Lhooq was born in Singapore, a country with some of the strictest drug laws in the world. After moving to New York to attend Columbia University, Lhooq dove headfirst into the world of underground raves, and experienced recreational cannabis use for the first time. After exploring nightlife and party culture as a music journalist for Vice, New York Magazine and GQ among others, Lhooq became more and more interested in the burgeoning legal cannabis movement.

Relocating to Los Angeles to be at the heart of the cannabis scene, Lhooq channeled her insatiable curiosity into going to cannabis and CBD events, educating herself on everything from cannabis chefs and cannabis-friendly sex educators, to growing and knowing what strains are right for you.

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Now Lhooq hosts her own cannabis-centric rave parties in Los Angeles, featuring live art performances, avant-garde yoga, DJs, mixologists crafting THC- and CBD-infused cocktails, and a new frontier of socializing.

We spoke with Lhooq while she was in Singapore, where she is exploring the roots of cannabis in Asia. Lhooq talked with us about the inspiration for her book, the revolutionary feeling of current cannabis culture, nightlife and raves blending weed with art and partying, a recent trip to Thailand where medical marijuana is now legal, and where she sees the future of flower.

Q

Tell me how your book came about, and what started you on the journey of writing about weed.

A

I had moved to LA to be in the middle of the current cannabis zeitgeist. I think LA has become the new capital of cannabis; it’s not really Amsterdam anymore. I was approached by my publisher to write this introduction to weed. At first, I was a little hesitant actually, because I was wary of writing that had been done before. There are a lot of guides to weed out there. But the more I thought about, and based on all the experiences I was having in LA, going to a lot of weed parties and events, seeing how much crazy new innovation and people were out there, I realized there actually was a lot to explain about what is happening right now. I tried to focus the book on the new face of weed, things I myself was really curious about, so hopefully it appeals to beginners but also long-time stoners. Things like all the other cannabinoids besides THC and CBD, new occupations like weed sommelier.


Q

The weed sommelier has come up in other interviews and I actually got a bit of pushback for making fun of them.

A

[LAUGHS] Fab! It’s actually really interesting, I just wrote a story about weed strain names, and I think the current terminology we have for strains is a little outdated. Because when we talk about strains like Silver Haze or Blue Dream, these are supposed to be indicative of certain chemical structures. But because we don’t have accurate strain-testing kits, the science hasn’t quite connected to the marketing side of things. You could buy Durban Poison from two different dispensaries and it could be completely different. So I actually think sommeliers — who take in more than just the strain name, they are also thinking about the terpene profile, the color and the genetics — they have an important role to play. They are experts who can actually tell the difference. Although, again, you could put the same strain in front of 10 different sommeliers and they could all have different opinions.


Q

You mentioned the new face of weed and all of this is part of that, everyone is still trying to figure out where they fit in. There are roles being created, trying to figure out who the gatekeepers of this new industry are.

A

And that’s what makes this industry so fascinating to me. It feels like you’re witnessing something, even though it can be messy and chaotic and there’s a lot of contradiction, it kind of feels like witnessing the birth of punk. You just know it’s going to be really important.


Q

Before you started writing about cannabis, what was your personal journey with it, and how did that translate into your writing?

A

I grew up in Singapore, which ironically has some of the strictest drug laws in the world. So cannabis wasn’t around at all when I was a kid. I also spent time in Tokyo, which also has very strict laws. My brushes with cannabis when I was younger were very illicit, they felt like something that you absolutely should not be doing and there was very little education. It wasn’t until I went to school in New York, that I started smoking cannabis in more of a super recreational way. I started out as a music journalist writing about nightlife and rave culture and that was really fun, but I felt the pull towards writing about cannabis, which just felt really momentous and one of the defining movements of my generation. I think I had a realization, in the same way I thought I could never write about raves for a living because it was always something I did for fun, but the more I wrote about raves I realized there were so many sociopolitical issues I could write about through that lens. Weed was the same way — you could talk about politics, healthcare, plant and herb medicine, queer culture and people of color and social justice or streetwear.


Q

It sounds like you’re like a correspondent drawn to the action. From raves to weed, I get the similar energy where it feels like something is shifting culturally in spaces that are unregulated and exciting, and there’s room to explore.

A

Yes. And on a more personal level after writing about nightlife in New York for over five years, I was just so burnt out and had done way too many drugs [laughs]. Weed offered salvation and helped me get myself straight. I wrote an article about my journey becoming what I call “California sober.” I basically now just smoke weed and occasionally do some plant psychedelics. That journey taught me a lot.


Q

That’s super cool and something people don’t really talk about, which is cannabis as a way to wean yourself off harder stuff.

A

It’s so funny, because the other day my mom, who doesn’t really get cannabis was like, “Isn’t it a gateway drug?” And I was like, “No actually it saved me from all the drugs.”


Q

Yeah, drinking for me has been a thing and I’ve found more and more over the years that weed has become a way to replace that, that doesn’t feel like an addiction shuffle. It feels a healthier step towards emotional health and physical well-being.

A

I mean I always tell people alcohol is the real gateway drug to nicotine and cocaine.


Q

I’d love to chat with you more about the switch from East Coast to West Coast and what that was like for you, besides now being Cali sober?

A

Moving to California, at first I felt like I almost had cultural jetlag. My sense of time was not in sync with the city. Everything was moving a little bit slower, and I would get super impatient and pissed off. I remember one of the first weed parties I went to was a CBD infused soundbath by Sigur Ros and everyone went there in the middle of a weekday and I was like, “What?” Everyone just laid down and meditated or just zoned out for like an hour. And I just thought, this is crazy, how can these people just go into this deep chill like that? I think that is one of the big cultural differences, people in Cali just know how to chill. And weed has a huge role to play in that.


Q

Yeah, definitely. I’ve been thinking about that too, now being on the West Coast and there’s just this hard edge of neurosis in New York specifically that feels good to take a step back from.

A

Yeah. People always say New Yorkers are crazy and Angelenos are wacky. Crazy has this sharpness to it, like you said, and wackiness is more loose. It’s still weird. Luckily I was able to translate my love of partying from crazy warehouse all night raves to all of the different weed parties I started going to. That was really my means of exploring this new cannabis world. I love going to events. I think physical spaces are becoming more and more important in this digital world that we live in. I actually started my own weed parties.


Q

Tell me about those.

A

I was having a great time going to all these events and learning a lot. But I wasn’t necessarily having a good time as just like a fun release, which is what I think good parties should be, something almost cathartic. I think a big problem is you have is since the industry is so new, it can be very insular and product-focused. Like, let me tell you about this vape, and then everyone gets to try it. What’s really fascinating to me is creating social spaces around cannabis. It’s a social experiment, like how nightlife and social interactions change when you’re smoking cannabis together in public. It’s a really new phenomenon, which not a lot of other cities are able to have. Even in Amsterdam, you don’t have like weed restaurants like the one that just opened in Hollywood. These are very, very public spaces.

I wanted to throw a rave, of course, that was based around cannabis and not alcohol or molly. And also bring in the outside world into the weed space, like all of my friends who are DJs and designers. They’re super into weed, but they’re not keeping up with new brands all the time, they’re just hitting the dispensary and picking up whatever looks cool. I wanted to show them there are so many cool brands run by women, and people of color, and queers, like buy those instead of just blindly going to MedMen. Also to the brands, let’s introduce your product in a way that feels like they’re being used in real life in a really creative way. So we’ll have an ambient room that’s a vape lounge, and fill it up with smoke. We’ll have mixologists making creative cocktails using THC, we’ll have massages. I love yoga, so I had two of my friends, a dancer and a musician collaborate on a really avant-garde yoga class. Let’s have a Sativa room and an Indica room. There’s still a lot of stigma around cannabis, which I learned from doing these parties, which surprised me.


Q

What specifically surprised you?

A

People would be like, I can’t come to your party because weed is going to make me fall asleep, or it will make me paranoid and I can’t talk to anyone. I get it, that’s a real concern, but I would ask them, have you ever tried a microdose? Or just CBD? One of my favorite things to do is smoke and just dance super hard in a dark room full of strobes and be really energetic. But we also have a really ambient Indica room with live performances and that space is always full. I love that slow rave vibe too.


Q

Your parties also sound like they’re about fun education. Someone who may think they’ll get paranoid isn’t aware of all the variety and different options.

A

Probably. I’m like, let me show you this weed lube [laughs].


Q

[laughs] That’s amazing. What’s your next step in exploring cannabis culture? Or does there need to be one, is it just chill out and see where it goes?

A

Well, I’m already planning a couple events for next year. I really want to do a weed spa sex party. I think sex is self-care, so bringing it to a spa makes a lot of sense to me. I want to do a fundraiser. That would be separate [laughs]. I’m also moderating about legalization in New York at the Brooklyn History Society on the week of 4/20. I spent the last month in Thailand.


Q

It’s legal there, right?

A

Yeah, they have medical cannabis. They’re the first country in South East Asia.


Q

Pretty amazing.

A

It was really cool. One of my next steps is to globalize. I think this is a global movement, if you connect the dots between what’s happening in LA and New York and Thailand, that’s really interesting to me.


Q

What’s it been like being in Asia?

A

It’s super interesting, because cannabis actually originated in Asia. There are many cultures here that have very deep connections to it, but they don’t think of it as being connected to what is happening in LA. They even have different words for it. But to look at how local tribes have been using cannabis for years medicinally, as well as making clothes out of hemp, that is really cool for me. A lot of countries here are still very, very strictly anti-drug, but the medical incentive, as well as the economic incentive, is so strong. For Thailand, for example, it presents a really huge agricultural opportunity. They have a lot of farms and this is an opportunity to make a lot of money. Once Asia comes on the market, there is a theory that the price of cannabis is actually going to go down. But there are a lot of issues to figure out.


Q

Going back to the beginning of our conversation, it’s kind of like, that is what’s exciting about this. There are issues and it is sticky. But it also feels like a global movement, that is changing lives on every level, from someone who’s coming to one of your raves just to explore, to a farmer in Thailand who could get money and change their whole life from growing this crop.

A

Yes. It’s one of the most multi-faceted plants in the world. One other thing I wanted to mention, is that I would really like to collaborate with festivals and brands to bring weed-centric parties to those types of spaces. I would love to have a weed tent at Coachella.


Q

I don’t know why that hasn’t happened yet. It seems like such a no-brainer.

A

I know! One of the coolest things about throwing parties has been realizing that weed is actually an extremely social substance. Contrary to its reputation for making people into paranoid hermits, it actually encourages people to be friendly. That’s what I love about it — the energy at weed parties is always so unpretentious. It’s hard to be mean to someone when you’re stoned. Even sharing a joint with strangers, it brings you all together, and I think the future of weed is going to be extremely exciting for that reason.


*All Images used of Michelle Lhooq from https://michellelhooq.com/ | CC BY