In the last two years of legal marijuana sales in Colorado, there has been a cornucopia of 420-friendly events — arty dinners, joint- and sushi-rolling classes, speed dating happy hours and even bus tours of residential Christmas light displays.
But no entrepreneur has yet figured out the tricky cannabis event space as well as Kendal Norris, founder of Mason Jar Event Group.
Looking back to Mason Jar’s previous events — an effortless-glam dinner party celebrating autumn and a ripped-from-Sunset Magazine yoga brunch, both of which involved several cannabis-and-cocktails pairings and live music amid picturesque Boulder-area farms — it’s easy to see why these weed events were so memorable.
To give you an idea, here’s a little scene-setter from Mason Jar’s last Fall dinner: A grassy, sun-kissed meadow for a mingling happy hour with passed apps transitions into an elegant, candlelit dinner setting with attentive table service and a floating budtender packing fresh bowls for seated guests. Each of the meal courses are paired with a different strain or type of marijuana — and an alcoholic beverage, as well — explained naturally by servers and staff who are more like sommeliers than catering part-timers. Every detail, from the understated jars of unused glass one-hitters to the cannabis flower-enhanced centerpieces to the easy-to-follow menus that direct the evening’s proceedings, seems to work perfectly in unison.
O, and there’s “Top Chef”-winning restaurateur Hosea Rosenberg over there watching over the kitchen space. And a limo bus, included in your ticket price, shuttles eventgoers to and from the event from central transportation hubs in Boulder and Denver. And all of these events are zero-waste with full composting and recycling programs.
The new culture
“I’ve been hosting dinners like this at my own home for years,” Norris told The Cannabist. “I’ve been a cannabis user for a very long time, and I feel immersed into the culture. These are my favorite things: Food, wine, yoga and cannabis, and when I left the corporate world and was trying to decide what to do when I grow up, I thought, ‘These are my favorite things, and they’re other people’s favorite things, too, but we don’t have an opportunity to experience this together’.”
Rosenberg also fed attendees at Mason Jar’s Yoga With a View event, when morning dabs and tea from a local boutique label loosened folks up for a 90-minute sesh of meditation and yoga with live band accompaniment — followed up by a casual-chic brunch that involved pairings with mimosas, cannabis flower and even a THC-infused edible.
“When I used to host these dinners at my house with friends, I would pair the meals with my favorite strains — but I wasn’t as sophisticated about it,” Norris said. “It was before it was legal, so I would say, ‘This is what’s available right now from the guy I’ve been buying pot from for 25 years.’ We didn’t really think about the flavor profiles and notes and the active cannabinoids and how it was going to make you feel. It was just what we had, saying, ‘This might really taste good with this wine and this entrée,’ and it was a more casual, organic way than what we do now.”
Mason Jar events are elegant and on-point, yes. But they also have a way of transcending the weed event space in their thoughtfulness; Norris, her team and partners have a way of anticipating what diners and yogis might want before they do, and that uncanny ability of filling out an event experience so wholly is what sets their parties apart from others.
Norris sat down with The Cannabist this week to talk about the challenges and excitement of the cannabis event space in 2016 — and to share the details of her Winter dinner coming up later this month.
The Cannabist: Getting high and practicing yoga, or getting stoned before sitting down to a thought-out meal — what do you specifically get out of these experiences?
Kendal Norris: Yoga is the easiest one to answer, at least for me. It allows me to get so much deeper, so much quicker. I can almost drop in as soon as that first sun salutation is over – I’m already in it, instead of having to spend some time washing off what’s happened during the day or week previous to the class. It makes it so much more accessible. That window’s already open, and you can dive through it instead of trying to inch forward through it.
Cannabist: Last time you threw a big cannabis dinner it was during the fall. And now you’re planning one for winter?
Norris: After the fall event, I saw the excitement and the need, really, for this group of individuals to have a place to come together and experience a beautiful meal in a beautiful setting and also to be able to consume cannabis and have that really be the focal point of the dinner. It occurred to me that we could do this on a seasonal basis and really dive into the seasons from every aspect. The fall was focused on harvest food and root vegetables and the setting with the changing trees and so on. For winter, you’ll see a lot of those same components – really hardy, simple, rich French cuisine with the decor being lots of evergreen. We had a bluegrass band for the harvest dinner in the fall, and the band for winter will be a cool, crooner, jazz trio.
Cannabist: The legality of these consumption-friendly events is still somewhat nebulous in Colorado. How difficult is it to find a venue to host them?
Norris: Even though I come to (potential venues) with lots of recommendations and referrals from other venues we’ve used and legalese from our attorneys, people are not all that willing to open their spaces up to an event like this. I’ve found three farms in Boulder County that will work with us and several art galleries in Denver that will work with us.
Cannabist: What other conversations have you had about keeping these events legal?
Norris: I’ve made some close alliances (in the marijuana industry) and before the holiday I sat down with them for lunch and talked these things out. One of them asked me, ‘Why aren’t you selling tickets to these?’ and I told them I didn’t think it was a possibility. And so we talked about how that could happen — and how we could also keep the format the same, making it available for people to pick up their (cannabis) pairings in the licensed facility on their way to the event. We don’t distribute any cannabis at the events, so everything you see there is purchased and bought by each individual … It also matters how we talk about the events in public. Everyone has to receive an invitation from us. If I were to invite you and you were to invite your friend, they’d have to contact us in some way and request an invitation. We’ve done a lot of vetting, but we’ve also been lucky enough to know almost every person who has walked through the door in some way. This is a brand new thing for us — people requesting an invitation — and I look at who the request came from, and if we approve it we send them a link to the Eventbrite site with a password, and they go in and purchase their tickets.
Cannabist: That’s a roundabout way of buying a ticket. I’m guessing you’re looking forward to the day when you can link directly to a ticketing page and people can make the purchase without those added steps?
Norris: Yes, that would show that there’s continued movement and that demand is requiring that we make adaptations to the current regulations that fit what people want and need and what will serve the community and industry. But for us, we’re still small enough, and these dinners are only 50-60 people, so it’s manageable for us now.
Cannabist: I’ve been to your first two events, and I rode the shuttle — picking up from a Denver Light Rail station — both times. What percentage of attendees use the shuttle?
Norris: I’d like to see more people do that. But based on the two we’ve done, about half the people take the shuttle. And they tend to take it more for dinner than yoga, which I can understand. Dinner people know they’ll be drinking more, but obviously we book shuttles large enough for the entire group of people to take them, and we’d love to see more people take them. The shuttle is part of the experience. You get on there and you can chit-chat with your neighbor, and I’ve always felt like shuttling people to dinner is as much about the experience as arriving and finding your seat and then eating.
Cannabist: Mason Jar throws non-marijuana events, too, but these are your passion projects. Why are they so important to you?
Norris: The normalization of cannabis is so important to us, and being able to have conversations with your kids, your colleagues, your family, whomever, about getting comfortable with your own cannabis use and talking about coming out green has been a big driver behind these as well. My own family didn’t take this all that seriously until I started sending them press links about what we’re doing. This is not a group of stoner kids. This is a group of professionals who just want to come together and use cannabis instead of having to do that in their car before going into a restaurant or a yoga class, so that’s a big driver for us.
Cannabist: What’s next for Mason Jar?
Norris: I’d love to see us continue to refine these two event series (yoga and dinners). I’d like to see us add more event series, all being cannabis pairing events that are pushing that normalization forward. I would love to do a large-scale yoga and music festival in 2017 … We want to continue to bring people together around food and cannabis and yoga and music and all of those things, and I’m not completely sure of how that’s going to look, but I know that this is a great start for us.
Mason Jar’s upcoming Winter dinner is private and not open to the public. For additional information contact Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org.