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Major Hotelier Joie De Vivre Courts the Cannabis Curious

August 15, 2018
Hotel Kabuki debuts 'The Herbal Trip' — Joie De Vivre's offering to cannabis tourists (Courtesy/Hotel Kabuki)Diplomatic Immunity: Hotel Kabuki's $31 million renovation promises to entice cannabis tourists. (Courtesy/Hotel Kabuki)
Some serious diplomatic intrigue must have gone down here in the 16th floor, corner penthouse of the former Japanese consulate in Japantown, San Francisco.
I’m way high up in the fog, on a tiny patio, overlooking the roof of the Chinese embassy, watching a ripping ocean breeze push my Banana Punch #9 smoke a safe distance out over the rolling cityscape. I assume it’s the Chinese embassy across the street. It’s the only office building with a razor wire perimeter and a Chinese flag. I try not to stare too long.

My partner and I are here to blend in at the newly renovated, $31 million Hotel Kabuki. Press handlers likely monitor us as we take the hotel’s brand new, cannabis tourist-aimed theme package, The Herbal Trip.

It was going to happen somewhere first, and it was going to happen here on the West Coast.

For the first time, a major national US hotelier is marketing a themed tourist package centered around cannabis. Heads will call it cornball, but beginners will flock to the novelty.

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Your Herbal Trip Kit, Should You Chose to Accept It

  • Late check-out at 2 p.m.
  • Deluxe City View King-size bed and status.
  • “Going Green” flyer with all the local cannabis attractions and pairings.
  • Care Package of essentials: Glasses. Visine. Mints. Chapstick. Chips and candy.
  • Optional upgrade to a ‘SF Dispensary 101’ walking tour, which holds your hand and escorts you to nice, 21+, recreational cannabis lounges. … Yes, bona fide, legal parlors to smoke or vape it.

If The Citizen in Sacramento can pounce on hype for the film ‘Lady Bird’ with merch, a room, and a walking tour, San Francisco can pounce on legalization. We invented this schtick.

Herbal Trip rooms range from $250 to $500 per night, there’s no cannabis sold, and don’t even scoff. This is boutique luxury hotel brand Joie De Vivre, not some natty North Beach hostel.  Cannabis remains a federally illegal schedule 1 narcotic. It ain’t exactly a gift shop curio.

Yet weed tourism demand is as massive as it is nascent. There’s hundreds of thousands of cannabis-curious visitors to California this year. Sixty percent of US herb consumers would be more likely to visit a place with legal ganja than without, said Jessica Lukas, consumer insights vice president at BDS Analytics — a leading industry analytics firm. Hotels are unlearning stoner stereotypes, realizing cannabis fans average 40 years old, employed, with kids, she said. Dad’s puffing flower after work. Mom’s hitting the vape pen before yoga. And they travel.

California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Las Vegas are hot, she said.

“I know the Vegas market is really trying to figure out how this all works,” Lukas said.

Other data points:

  • The Standard in Hollywood has been selling Lord Jones CBD topicals.
  • The St. Regis in San Francisco offers CBD massages.
  • A California Cannabis Tourism Association has formed.

“[Hoteliers] are curious about best practices, opportunities, and how the cannabis tourism niche will impact the greater travel and tourism industry,” said Brian Applegarth of the CCTA. “It is exciting times, full of innovation and collaboration.”

Three Cannabis Couriers to Order from in San Francisco

  • SAVA — Get the artisanal edibles like Garden Society Bright Blooms and Kiva Terras.
  • Proven — Get the Pax Era vape pods for maximum discretion.
  • Ganjarunner —take 25% off first orders.

Hotel Kabuki Balls Out

I could live in hotels like the Kabuki. With its 19-foot ceilings and textures of wood, steel and books, business travelers and locals killing time will want to hang out and co-work in the modern, bohemian MARKZEFF Design lobby. Koi fish flop around in the zen pond outside the lobby bar, focusing on Japanese whiskeys and sakes.

Upstairs, the guest rooms sport huge LG flatscreens, and all-new custom wood furniture. Graphic prints inspired by ‘30s and ‘40s imperial Japan and ‘60s US counter-culture stare down from the walls, conspiratorially. It’s all very hip and knowing.

The morning after, I wonder aloud: “Do you think there’s old microphones in the walls, from the spy days?”

“I just assume everywhere is bugged,” my accomplice says, and hits the running machines and yoga in the 3,000 square-foot fitness center.

On the news, the Today show does a segment on CBD.

The Come Down

News of the Herbal Trip is still trickling down from the hotel marketing department, it seems. Upon check-in, the front desk didn’t know about the special 2 p.m. check-out, which was fine.

But two confused cleaning service people didn’t seem happy about it at noon.

“Two p.m.?!” the second one said. Her eyes widened.

I grimaced, shrugged, and closed the door.

What kind of monster checks out so late? A monster who stayed up smoking The Village, and eating cha shu ramen noodles, Echigo Japanese stout, and dark chocolate Raisinetes. Sorry, come back at 1:59 p.m.

The bar is still a work in progress: stunt drinks miss ingredients; the millennial bartender and barback sulked a bit. And really — a “Peony-Butan-Bravery”, $28, that tastes like a minty, vodka Peet’s Coffee? . . . . (OK, I kinda wanted it.)

The local eats are world-class, but still, I longed for full-blown room service.

Green Light, But Slow Speed

Special mention goes to the Going Green flyer the Hotel gives you. It’s about time chic handouts mapped metro cannabis lounges, munchies and chill zones.

The Dispensary 101 walking tours are led by San Francisco tour veterans. Neophytes might ask, ‘why can’t we bring the fun fully into the hotel?’

California legalized cannabis in 2016 under Proposition 64, and commercial sales began 2018. But it hasn’t been fully normalized. By law, you can’t legally sell pot in a hotel or use it there. Only licensed retailers can sell cannabis, and those licensees can’t share an address with a liquor license holder.

California anti-smoking laws also ban burning pretty much anything in a hotel.

So San Francisco-owned Joie De Vivre is pushing the envelope in the limited ways it can. And we’d gladly take The Herbal Trip again.

Strains Mentioned In This Article

The Village via SouthSac Care Center “Banana Punch 9” (Purple Punch X Banana Kush)

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David Downs's Bio Image

David Downs

David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as the California Bureau Chief for He's written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard, and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the author of several cannabis books including 'Marijuana Harvest' by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns

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