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Why This Feminist Weed Camp Isn’t Just For White Women

Marijuana cotton candy, flower crowns, and surprising diversity. Ganja Goddess Getaway is carving a niche in the $563 billion wellness tourism industry.

“The belly dancing class will start on the great lawn in five minutes,” announces a soothing female voice over the public address system. After a pause, she adds, “I love you.”

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Ten minutes later, I see a dozen or so women slowly make their way to lawn, stopping every few feet to readjust their floral head crowns or puff on a joint. Among them: a pair of millennials in bright tank tops swaying lazily alongside a gray-haired 65-year-old in a floral housedress. When the instructor commands they position their hips forward, one middle-aged mom simply gives up and retires herself to the grass, where she sprawls out and looks up to the sky in amazement.

I am at Ganja Goddess Getaway, a women-only weed camp.

[Photo: Fanny Chu]
Here, women of all ages, backgrounds, and many income levels come together for a weekend of camping, yoga, and many, many special brownies. Nestled a half hour away from Palm Springs, women come to unwind and make new friends, but also to celebrate a habit often shunned in their own communities. I was curious to experience a new kind of wellness goal: one taking a former legally defined narcotic and using it to build a diverse community. So I packed an overnight bag for the all-inclusive two-day retreat described as a “stoner girl slumber party.”

The getaway is held on a luxury equestrian estate in the upscale resort city of La Quinta, California. It’s a sprawling, picturesque location with palm trees overlooking Mediterranean-style buildings and a white picket-fence horse ranch. It feels as much like a feminist conference as it does a laid-back party. Sandwiched in between panels on topics like female cannabis entrepreneurs, attendees are treated to a stoner’s paradise: a cannabis-infused cotton candy machine produces fluffy creations in flavors like lavender and rose petals; servers visit the pool and jacuzzi with joints on trays; a snack bar full of chips, dips, cookies, and pastries is open 24/7 to satisfy cravings. Guests are treated to goodie bags filled with over a dozen forms of pot treats, oils, vape pens, and cannabis-infused beauty products. There is everything you’d want–except for alcohol.

[Photo: Ciera Lagges]
Attendees relax in outdoor cabanas, or attend macramé, flower crown, or baking with cannabis oil classes. There are elements typical at most wellness retreats too: meditation, yoga, massage therapy, and reiki.

These women are hardcore cannabis connoisseurs, at home at the two “dab bars.” (Dabbing, it turns out, is the flash vaporization of cannabis concentrates applied to a hot surface and inhaled, or as one attendee explains to me, “It’s like a fancy bong.”) I fake my way through multiple discussions about “microdosing,” and descriptions of “fun and uppity hybrids.” Every so often, someone excuses themselves with, “My edible just kicked in,” while others nod in solidarity.

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[Photo: Ciera Lagges]

The Most Diverse Group In The Wellness Community?

But perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the retreat is the diversity of the group: nearly 40% of the women are minorities, including Latina, African-American, and LGBTQ–a rare sight at most wellness retreats often attended by white, upper-middle-class, Lululemon-clad women.

It’s multi-generational, too. In the evening, I hang out with a white retired trucker in her 50s and an African-American mom from Mississippi in her 30s as they exchange parenting advice. Women from all over the country, including Iowa, Arizona, Nebraska, and Nevada, drove in for the weekend. There are over half a dozen mother-daughter duos, numerous groups of women on “girlfriend trips,” and nearly a dozen women over the age of 60. (In fact, Ganja Goddess Getaways has had a handful of women in their 70s at every single retreat.)

At one point during dinner, I exclaimed how refreshing it was to hang out with older women in a social setting.

“The old ladies?” asked a 25-year-old woman on my right as she took a drag. “Yeah,” she said, exhaling, “they’re chill.”

Could weed camp be the most diverse group in the wellness community?

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“Cannabis draws such a diverse crowd,” explains Ganja Goddess Getaway cofounder and CEO Deidra Bagdasarian. She says that the attendee makeup is a natural reflection of the her four female cofounders’ backgrounds. One is African-American, another is Filipina, and the other two are married to one another.

“We’re legitimately part of diverse communities,” says Bagdasarian, “and so we really try to include all of our communities and bring them to the table. We take an interest in minority groups, because as women we know what it like to be disenfranchised.”

Part of attracting various backgrounds is the price: Tickets range from $100-$420, depending on the overnight accommodation package. Guests can camp out on the lawn or stay in horse stalls that have been converted into modern, luxury guest rooms. Most opted to camp, setting up their colorful tents and folding lawn chairs right next to each other. In comparison, most overnight yoga and wellness retreats start at $1,000.

Neither options have bathrooms, but there are plenty of portable potties. However, I find myself peeing into an I Love California coffee mug at 3 a.m. after a surprisingly powerful caramel leaves me completely incapable of finding the front door to my room, let alone an outdoor toilet 100 feet away.

As one attendee later tells me, it’s because I didn’t consume enough edibles: “If you had more, you would have slept through the entire night like a baby,” she said, before laughing. “A drugged baby.”

[Photo: Fanny Chu]

“A Safe Space”

Bagdasarian, who also owns a company called Bliss Edibles, began the company following the birth of her second child two years ago. She found herself exhausted from caretaking and wanted a way to recharge and connect with women.

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“I feel like we live in a society that requires a lot of charging ahead, getting things done, and going on autopilot in order to accomplish a lot of tasks,” says Bagdasarian. “We need this kind of a moment where you slow things down and and really just focus on yourself.”

She decided to take aim at wellness tourism, now a $563-billion global industry, in large part due to burned-out, overworked lifestyles. While overall tourism is growing at 6.9%, the wellness tourism sector grew 14% in the last two years and is now one of the fastest-growing tourism markets, according to the Global Wellness Institute. 

In fall 2016, Bagdasarian, along with four fellow cannabis entrepreneurs, threw their first retreat in northern California. Almost 50 attendees showed up for their inaugural event. Now, less than a year later, Ganja Goddess Getaway has five retreats under its belt–averaging 200 each–with plans for 10 more in the coming year.

[Photo: Ciera Lagges]
“We felt this need from the community from the very first event,” explains Bagdasarian. “We just got so much feedback about how this was something that [these women] were missing in their life . . . It started becoming this women’s empowerment cause.”

Empowerment is a chief component of the festival, with numerous speakers and cannabis advocates discussing how women can access their “inner goddess,” which seems to be a mix of confidence, resilience, and mindfulness. Bagdasarian says cannabis can be used “as a creative and spiritual tool” to help women get in touch with themselves and bond with their sisterhood. With a joint, she explains, new friends can cut down on the small talk and get to the real talk.

“[Cannabis] helps us take down our walls and be our authentic selves right from the beginning,” Bagdasarian explains. I see it firsthand as the Getaway participants divulge family secrets, embrace strangers, and take the panel stage with teary confessions. The entire event seemed free of judgment, competition, or cattiness.

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It’s hard imagining the same sort of bonding and emotional frankness with a co-ed group. It’s why, even though there is one retreat for couples in the works, Ganja Goddess Getaway is focused on women.

[Photo: Fanny Chu]

“Women Have Always Been In Cannabis”

“Women have always been there in cannabis–they’ve just been ignored in the past,” says Bagdasarian. “And women are the key to renormalizing cannabis use: Women are the moms, and we have to teach our children a new way to perceive this plant not as a dangerous or scary drug, but as an essential healing herb that belongs in your medicine cabinet and in your pantry.”

Women have taken to the cannabis industry in record numbers. Gia Morón is the director of communications for Women Grow, a networking group and leadership summit serving women in all segments of the marijuana industry. Morón cites a study that shows that women make up 36% of the industry, which is far above average. These are founders, business leaders, and women in C-suite positions.

Some of these cannabis entrepreneurs attend Ganja Goddess Getaways to meet fellow founders or speak on panels scheduled throughout the conference.

But while the atmosphere at the Ganja Goddess Getaway can feel utopian, outside of the camp are many barriers to entry for would-be entrepreneurs. The costs of operating licenses varies state to state, and Latinos and African-Americans are often victim to a criminal justice system that disproportionately penalizes them for minor drug charges. Bagdasarian says that the U.S. generally still has a long way to go in terms of normalizing the plant for women, too. On several occasions throughout the weekend, for example, I heard attendees say they told their husbands or families that they were on a meditation or spa retreat instead of, well, weed camp.

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“[Cannabis] used to be a normal thing in our culture,” says Bagdasarian. “We live in a state of prohibition right now.” That’s why, she adds, her company offers a way for women to celebrate its use. “It’s a safe space,” stresses Bagdasarian. “Until it is as normal for women to have a joint at the end of the day as it is for them to sip on a glass of wine, there is a stigma.”

Until that day comes, Ganja Goddess Getaway is witnessing significant growth. With 10 getaways planned in California and Oregon in the next 12 months, the team is focused on how to scale up without impacting intimacy or affordability.

“I’m hoping we can continue with [our price point],” says Ganja Goddess Getaway cofounder Sailene Ossman, an industry trailblazer who ran the first all-female cannabis delivery service in California. “We always plan on keeping it tiered.”

Most challenging, says the team, is securing locations that can grow with the company and accommodate larger-scale events. At the same time, the company plans to expand with a nonprofit to educate women about the potential healing uses of cannabis.

Hopefully, says Bagdasarian, the company can set up shop in more states, once those states legalize marijuana use. So far, they already have requests from abroad, in countries where it’s been legal for years. But their real passion is expanding their cause throughout the U.S.

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“We see ourselves going national because women need us from everywhere,” says Bagdasarian. “All women are in need of sisterhood and a safe space.”