By Valli Herman
Katie Partlow wants to show the softer side of cannabis.
As the founder of the Los Angeles events company The Black Dahlia, Partlow is fast building a nationwide reputation as she blends entertainment and information at her weed-centric private parties.
By bringing a cross section of cannabis vendors, activists, and educators into a diverse mix of guests, she aims to stretch the demographics and knowledge of marijuana.
“I take a lot of my own personal experience and interests into consideration when I am developing the concepts,” said Partlow, who uses her performing arts background to curate the entertainment roster.
Previous events have combined cannabis vendors with art, food, live music, sound baths, burlesque, and drag. Her first public event, the February 2016 Comedy, Cake and Cannabis, featured stand-up comics and a mirrored maze of rooms decorated like oversized wedding cakes in a downtown Los Angeles art gallery.
Her latest Los Angeles event, called Mothers, was billed as “an interactive journey through the [John] Sowden House, celebrating the beauty, healing properties, and ecological importance of (mother) plants.”
At its heart, the Sunday afternoon party in late May 2018 was a gently subversive, taboo-busting exploration of the ways women, and particularly mothers, can use cannabis products.
Even the setting was full of intrigue. Sitting high on a hill, the John Sowden House was designed as a neo-Mayan mansion for open-air gatherings in 1926 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s son Lloyd Wright. Dan Goldfarb, the founder of the the hemp nutraceuticals company Canna-Pet, bought the home for about $4.7 million recently, in part to establish a “cannabis oasis” where guests can experience pot privately.
Small groups of women of all ages were led through the rooms, most featuring sessions on female-leaning topics and products. Using a vagina puppet, sexuality educator and “cannasexual” Ashley Manta explained how female anatomy and THC such as that in sponsor Quim Rock’s intimate oils, can help women find “our hell-yes energy” and avoid unpleasant effects of intercourse.
Infused edibles, such as Lizzy Tish shortbread tea cookies and Kikoko herbal teas, were available in microdoses, while Kiva Confections displayed its mints and chocolate bars. Guests made flower crowns
— fresh marijuana leaves optional — with The Flower Daddy, or relaxed through an abbreviated tea ceremony and session of Lit Yoga, currently California’s only cannabis-and-yoga studio.
Each session illustrated how cannabis fits into a responsible, wellness-focused lifestyle.
“I limit the amount of brands. I don’t want people to consume too much, and if there are too many brands, you lose track of which ones you like,” Partlow said. “I want people to come, mingle with like-minded people, and learn about different brands so they can go to dispensaries and know what products work for them.”
Her creative approach was born of dissatisfaction with pot’s stoner dude culture.
“I worked in cannabis industry when I moved here almost seven years ago. I went to a few cannabis events and I felt they were really awful. There was always really loud music. The spaces were awkward, like warehouses,” said Partlow. “I felt they were appealing to the teenage boy market.” As she mentally righted every wrong she experienced, she began laying the foundation for her distinct 420-friendly events.
Her events’ wellness themes were further inspired by Partlow’s mother, who found pain relief in cannabis, guided by her daughter’s knowledge.
“My mom turns 69 this month. She came to visit me and saw the dispensary I was managing. I introduced her to different topicals to help her with her arthritis. Now when I go home she is open to trying small-dose edibles. I always keep her in mind when I’m planning events. Now my barometer is, ‘Would my mom come to this event?’”
Vendor Doreen Sullivan, founder of My Bud Vase, used her decades of experience as a marketer and single mother in Charleston, South Carolina, to bridge a gap she identified in the cannabis market. Because most bongs are awkward, obvious, and phallic, the Los Angeles native began making decorative bongs from flower vases that bring a feminine, and discreet, look to the paraphernalia.
The bong vases aren’t about hiding, she said, but about making healthy choices in your life,’” Sullivan said. “You feel like you can guide [younger generations]. I know what it’s like to be a mother and I know how hard it is. When you have your private time to relax, it’s a nice way to reset yourself for another intense day.”
At Partlow’s events, which are invitation only — you can sign up for the guest list on her website — the goal isn’t to glamorize marijuana, but through sampling and educational conversation.
“Teach how to use cannabis and sort of normalize it and remove the stigma,” she said. “We can make it OK to empower the moms who empower everyone else.”
This post has been updated to clarify the details of Partlow’s first event.