How Cannabis Became a Staple of Awards-Season Swag Bags

From CBD facial treatments to THC edibles, the stigma around weed has gone up in smoke at Hollywood’s biggest events

Awards season brings with it the usual dose of glitz and glamour. Bespoke designer wear, exclusive afterparties, the latest “it” couple showing up with hands interlocked—it’s all part of the pageantry. Then there are the swag bags. As dependable as the longwinded acceptance speeches are the freebies gifted to high-profile show biz denizens. Oscar nominees in particular get it real good. A-listers receive a $100,000-plus parting prize that has included spa treatments, luxury cruises, diamond jewelry—and top-shelf sativa.

That’s right. Conspicuous (and complimentary) weed. And it’s not just in the goodie bags. It’s being passed around the parties, rolled up in gifting suites, and served in some of the celebratory cocktails. As cannabis continues to shuffle into the mainstream, the red carpet is turning green.

The Grammy Awards were among the first to spearhead the trend. Shortly after California legalized the plant in 2018, gift bags were given out to musicians that included membership to a cannabis subscription service called Lucky Box Club. Although it might have shocked some at the time, it was a well-measured move—capitalizing on the hoopla of a new era without including any actual goodies in the goodie bags.

Proving that cannabis stigma was slowly but surely dying off, the Oscars went full flower the following year. Well, sorta. In its 2019 gift bags, the Academy dispensed handmade chocolate truffles and bath bombs laced with THC. Also included were high-end facial moisturizers containing cannabis sativa seed oil. Distinctive Assets, the L.A.-based company responsible for assembling the baskets, plans to pass out more of the same at this year’s ceremony on February 9.

Although participation can run upward of $50,000, startups in the weed business are tripping over each other to get in on the action. “As an L.A.-based company, we are keenly aware of the impact of the entertainment industry on pop culture and trend setting,” explains Tim Toll, CEO of Irwin Naturals, maker of HydroCanna CBD skincare products. “We currently have inclusion in an Oscars gifting suite as well as VIP bags for celebrities attending Miami Fashion Week.”

More than just a random handout, many of these products strive for a relevant tie-in. Toll selected his product because of its intended effects on the skin. “For celebrities who are filmed and photographed in HD we know how important feeling beautiful can be,” he adds.

At this year’s Golden Globes, gift bags included a slew of CBD-infused goods; a cream for muscle relief—for those svelte celebs spending so much time in the gym—and a high-potency serum, purporting to relieve stress.

Despite this newfangled saturation—and legality—cannabis is still denied equal footing with alcohol. Matt Landes knows this better than anyone. His company, Cocktail Academy is the bar team of choice for most celebrity-attended award parties. “The events that are high profile, hosted events with lots of public photos, there’s still trepidation [about cannabis],” he observes. “But at the pre-parties, and once you get to the afterparty—after people leave Vanity Fair—it’s everywhere. You see a joint tray going around just like I would tray pass a cocktail.”

He’s often tapped to design some inventive beverages incorporating CBD, a non-psychoactive derivative that’s now legal everywhere in the United States, as long as it contains less than .3 percent THC. A cocktail they recently concocted blended the oil with Szechuan peppercorns to create a mouth-tingling effect. But when it’s time for the mind tingling effects of its more regulated counterpart, THC, sanctioned events balk. To put it bluntly: you won’t be seeing cannabis cigars at the Governor’s Ball anytime soon.

Meanwhile, at the gatherings you’re not seeing on social media—teeming with Hollywood insiders—vape pens are now a regular party favor. Bud-tenders and rolling stations abound. An industry professional who wished to remain anonymous confirmed the presence of such at a prominent agency party hosted earlier in the season.

And it’s not as if this is all some guarded secret. Stephanie Shepherd, the former assistant to Kim Kardashian, held a celebrity soiree after last year’s Grammys where trays brimming with buds were walked around the room. The scene was well documented on Instagram. And it was no more or less lawful than the CBD lip balm and massage oils passed out earlier in the evening at the official Grammys gifting suite.

“Nowadays, you have an alternative—a way to get a buzz one of two ways,” says Landes. “That’s what’s trendy and cool.” Just as long as they aren’t handing out schwag bags.

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