I knew I was nearing the Russell Industrial Center when I smelled the unmistakable skunk-like aroma and saw the usually empty neighborhood streets of New Center crowded with cars as if the Super Bowl was in town.
It wasn’t football drawing in thousands of people to the Russell Industrial Center Saturday and Sunday, but the High Times Cannabis Bazaar — a grand gathering of marijuana enthusiasts and newbies from all walks of life.
I noticed something in the air Saturday afternoon besides the pungent odor: an exciting, yet tranquil energy. Smoking pot publicly without having to fret about trouble with the law or glares from passersby is a recent phenomenon, after all.
A sea of attendees with varying ages, races and places of residence filled the courtyard of the iconic, Albert Kahn-designed, former factory complex where hundreds of vendors sold and offered samples of cannabis everything — flower, resin, food infused with it, and merchandise promoting it — while gentle reggae and speaker-knocking rap came from every direction. (Vendors „sold” marijuana in exchange for donations, as direct recreational cannabis sales are still technically illegal in Michigan.)
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Chris Janney drove from his home in Pittsburgh with his girlfriend of seven years to spend their anniversary at the High Times Cannabis Bazaar, he told me as he sat on the pavement, leaning against a wall after he finished smoking a bowl from his Celebration Pipe — a unique piece made out of molten lava rock and plated with 22 karat gold.
He said it was his third time coming to Michigan for a marijuana event, and what keeps bringing him back, in addition to the legal weed, is the camaraderie.
“I feel welcome here,” Janney said “It’s nice that everyone can come together and create such an awesome environment. It’s just so fun.”
A younger man who I had just photographed blowing a cloud of smoke in the air was hesitant to speak with me, until he told himself out loud, “I mean, it’s legal, so, what the hell.”
Hunter McConnell, like Janney, drove about four hours to Detroit Saturday. McConnell, 21, celebrated the event with a group of pals from his hometown of Alpena.
“We were all so pumped to come here. We were here hours before the event even started because we were so excited,” he told me, ecstatically.
“We don’t really have dispensaries up there, and we really have no way to get legal weed other than to grow it ourselves or drive for hours,” McConnell added.
The “awesome and chill” event met his expectations, he told me.
“Everyone’s so relaxed. You won’t see any problems or fights here, which definitely wouldn’t be the case if everyone was drinking,” said McConnell.
And he was right, as far as I’m aware. There was continuous social interaction between attendees — a refreshing sight in our digital world — and I didn’t see a single situation escalate.
The hot box
My experience in the indoor portion of the festival differed slightly from my time outside. Spending over an hour in an enclosed space with minimal ventilation and hundreds of people constantly blowing out marijuana smoke — creating a dense fog throughout the building — a contact high was inevitable.
Now chipper and suddenly hungry, I met Khristyn Richardson, a Detroiter and an artist in the Luis Bloom Art Collective. She was painting a car hood in appealing pastel colors when I asked if I could interview her.
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Richardson told me she’s pleased with the event’s effect on Detroit
“It helps bring people to the city who wouldn’t have come here otherwise,” she said.
Out-of-towners will “explore Detroit and get to know its rich history and culture,” she said. They’ll realize that although Detroit is recognized for its auto industry and infamous for crime, also present is an admirable art scene, tremendous food and unmatched racial diversity, she added.
Derek Terenzi and Jenn Hansen — a couple who co-own cannabis delivery service Oakland Organics — say that although much of their marijuana sales during the bazaar comes from visitors to Detroit, they also gain a great deal of exposure and future clients at the High Times-hosted event.
Hansen says their selling point is that their products are organic, including their rosin vape cartridges.
“We keep it natural, organic and simple — the way it should be. I mean, it’s a plant, for God’s sake,” Hansen said.
Due to higher production costs in order to create organic products, some of the burden is placed on the consumer, Terenzi and Hansen told me at their booth as they puffed a pipe filled with marijuana and helped customers in between answering my questions. Oakland Organics charges $60 for an eighth of an ounce of organic marijuana flower and $60 for one-gram rosin vape cartridges.
The couple said the higher prices shrinks their clientele, but because of the recent vape-related illnesses across the U.S., their organic, solvent-free dab cartridges have received some favorable attention.
“People don’t want a product that could potentially kill them,” Hansen said.
Despite the long days spent managing their business and the lack of vacation days, the couple says they are thrilled with their decision to enter the marijuana industry as a mom-and-pop shop.
The stakes were high for the couple — Hansen had just graduated from Wayne State Law School and decided to abandon the profession and Terenzi left his accounting gig in order to focus on Oakland Organics.
“I couldn’t do that nine to five, man,” Hansen said. “What I do now is so much fun. I never looked back.”
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I often forgot I was on the job that Saturday afternoon, and I am grateful to work in a field where work sometimes doesn’t feel like work.
It isn’t uncommon for people to be wary of speaking with a reporter, but at the High Times Cannabis Bazaar, I was pleased to meet a slew of attendees who welcomed my questions and conversation with affection and enthusiasm, fearless of legal ramifications and social judgement.
The High Times Cannabis Bazaar began Saturday at noon and ended Sunday at 8 p.m., however I only attended Saturday. Tickets were $70 for a one-day pass.
This wasn’t the first time High Times, a California-based magazine, held an event in Michigan. The magazine hosts an annual Cannabis Cup in the state, most recently held in August at the Russell Industrial Center. This was, however, the first High Times Cannabis Bazaar in Detroit, and weighing attendee population and buzz surrounding the occasion, I would call the event a hit.
Contact reporter Omar Abdel-Baqui: email@example.com or 313-222-2514. Follow him on Twitter @omarabdelb