Cannabis tourism in California – a women’s wellness retreat with puff love

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Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Mary Jane Smokewear”, a woman with long, grey pigtails crawled towards me, offering a hit off a balloon bag inflated with marijuana vapours. I was sitting cross-legged under a Ganja Goddess Getaway-branded gazebo on a perfect California afternoon and it was the umpteenth time that day that a stranger had come over, unprompted, to share their weed.

The bag was just one way my fellow ganja goddesses were getting high. Plates piled with spliffs, giant blunts, laced caramel-pecan candies and fruity mocktails enhanced with pot-infused tinctures also made the rounds. At one point, I was handed a wizard pipe packed with a “tiramisu”. Where a domestic goddess might use cream and ladyfingers, a ganja goddess gets “baking” with alternating layers of green and hash.

This is a canna-holiday, California-style. After new laws permitting recreational marijuana use came into effect in the state on 1 January, canna-visionaries wasted little time integrating their product into the region’s aspirational aesthetic. You can tour the “sun-grown”, “craft” cannabis fields of the north’s Humboldt County while in Los Angeles marijuana chef Chris Sayegh plans to open the city’s first “high cuisine” cannabis restaurant (working name: Herb).

‘Mama’ Sailene Ossman, one of the getaway’s co-founders serves edibles as part of the retreat
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 ‘Mama’ Sailene Ossman, one of the getaway’s co-founders serves a weed-laced sweet treat.

The women-only Ganja Goddess Getaway bills itself as a wellness retreat with a (herbal) difference. The retreat itself is in the woods near the coast at Pescadero, about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco. At the end of a long dirt track, in a meadow surrounded by redwoods, I found about 135 “goddesses” engaged in a ritual of “puff and pass”. Twentysomething girls sporting cannabis-leaf-motif leggings shared bongs with middle-aged women dressed in loungewear. Others passed spliffs around the hot tub, lined up for henna tattoos, or got cannabis oil massages. Two friends who had “followed” the pungent aromas all the way from Chile snored peacefully through a Laughter Yoga class.

The getaway’s five co-founders are a diverse mix: CEO Deidra Bagdasarian is also the entrepreneur behind award-winning cannabis confection company Bliss Edibles, while event co-ordinator Trish Demesmin was an administrator at Oakland’s cannabis business college, Oaksterdam, and is now president of a medical cannabis delivery company. “Mama” Sailene Ossman is the company’s head of public relations and attributes her nickname to “being famous for bringing the food and the weed”, while married couple Kelli Valentine and Ciera Lagges complete the quintet, the former as in-house filmmaker, the latter as chief creative officer. Together, they all preach cannabis as a “meditative and spiritual” plant.

Bagdasarian’s vision for the getaway has changed since it launched in 2016 (when only women with a medical marijuana card could attend).

“In the beginning, I just wanted it to be a good vacation, like a stoner-girl slumber party,” she told me. Soon, however, she noticed the women were undergoing “transformational” experiences, “So I wanted to foster a space where women can use cannabis as a tool for self-improvement.”

Deidra Bagdasarian, co-founder and CEO of Ganja Goddess Getaway
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 Deidra Bagdasarian, co-founder and CEO of Ganja Goddess Getaway

This makes the retreat less a group slump in front of Netflix and more a series of wellness seminars wherein the crowd passes weed around while listening to talks with topics such as Give Plants A Chance. During this, Bagdasarian recounted the inability of Prozac to assuage her depression. She railed against accepted norms of big pharma, sugar and a culture of chemicals. But cannabis, Bagdasarian said, was a healer. Everyone was paying attention until a butterfly flapped into the gazebo, drawing an en masse, distracted “woooah”.

It’s true the women I met here weren’t just in it for the giggles. They all talked about how cannabis had helped them with ailments and conditions, such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Many had travelled solo, from “non-legal” states including Nebraska, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida and they formed fast bonds, sharing in-jokes over breakfast and doing morning meditation together.

“No one’s judging,” said a 35-year-old from Sacramento, when I asked what the appeal was. “This is two days where I get to just be myself and focus on me.” Like the majority of women I spoke to, she asked to remain anonymous, for fear of what her workplace, family and friends would think.

Ganja Goddess Getaway, California. from https://www.facebook.com/ganjagoddessgetaway/
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 ‘Organisers must also be dextrous around legalities: they can’t sell cannabis but they can give it away. Hence the getaway’s “all-inclusive” ticket, encompassing unlimited food and weed.’

A lot of Americans are in the “cannabis closet”, Bagdasarian said. But here, they can meet “their tribe”. And cannabis, she added, is a useful facilitator. “It lets you take your mask off. Women like being vulnerable and connecting. We give them a safe space where they can do that.”

“Safe”, however, is a relative term given the United States’ tangled cannabis laws. In January, attorney general Jeff Sessions announced he was giving federal prosecutors carte blanche to go after cannabis growers, sellers and users who are violating the nation’s rule of law. The shock memo defied Obama-era policy to leave states that had legalised the drug alone. President Trump, however, recently promised to respect states’ rights on legal pot. More states are discussing “going recreational” this year, including Michigan, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Such ambiguity has stalled many California cities from writing rules that would grant cannabis tourism a “green” light. It’s frustrating for Bagdasarian, who cites finding venues as her biggest challenge. Few places permit open consumption and cannabis businesses are blocked from promoting themselves on social media. Ticket seller Eventbrite recently cut ties with the getaway, citing federal law.

For this reason, the getaway is limited to private retreat centres, where camping is the most practical accommodation. In Pescadero, attendees shared 12-person bell tents or brought their own; there were also more comfortable, though higher-priced options, of a shared yurt with wood-burner and cots and dorm-style rooms in the main lodge. Organisers must also be dextrous around legalities: they can’t sell cannabis but they can give it away. Hence the getaway’s “all-inclusive” ticket, encompassing unlimited food and weed.

‘Mama’ Sailene Ossman turning a papaya into a hash pipe.
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 ‘Mama’ Sailene Ossman turning a papaya into a hash pipe

The tenor of the programming was, for me, often too earnest: there’s nothing like yet another speaker weeping into the mic over the miracles cannabis had worked for them to kill your buzz. Though I was glad of some comic relief when “Mama” led the final seminar, Canna-hosting, which came off like a stoner parody of a cooking demo. Even Mama sounded surprised when she successfully turned a papaya into a hash pipe, crying: “It totally works, dude!”.

As the assembled gathered for a goodbye group hug, the girls joked how different the getaway would have been with unlimited booze. “We’d have been, like, don’t puke in the yurt!” laughed one mother from Monterey. Instead, the entire retreat was sound asleep by 10pm.

 Laura’s stay was provided by Ganja Goddess Getaway. Events are held at locations around California throughout the year. The next Bay Area getaway is 24-26 August. All-inclusive, two-night tickets (unlimited cannabis, accommodation, snacks and meals) cost from $210 (£155)

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