“Snoop’s not finished getting his hair done.”
The phrase, whispered from one of his marijuana brand employees to another, is half-audible to the 15 fans shivering outside Snoop Dogg’s dressing room stairs at an outdoor concert venue in Denver. It’s 4/20 and the—mostly—Colorado natives have won the chance to meet him face to face. Some are cradling big joints, hoping to get lifted with the man who does it best. Others, like an older couple from Georgia, have brought gifts. In this case, presents from an Allman Brothers museum the two help run back home.
“Does he like the Allman Brothers?”
“Not sure,” the older man says. “But I think he’ll appreciate it.”
The temperature is quickly dropping and the group of fans is now nowhere near the actual stage, where widely beloved rapper Future is currently performing. Still, 30 minutes into standing, everyone is all smiles. Perhaps it’s the potency of the marijuana that’s been permeating the outdoor amphitheater since 4 p.m., or the thrill of winning a backstage pass. Or perhaps, more likely, Snoop Dogg is just that charming.
For love of the Dogg, they wait.
It’s Wednesday, April 20, pot’s high holiday, and the 44-year-old is in town to headline his own show, sponsored by Merry Jane, the cannabis media platform he co-launched with Ted Chung. The “Merry Jane Wellness Retreat” includes performances by Future, Kevin Gates, Tory Lanez, and Raven Felix as well as information booths about cannabis, stations with “monster sausages,” and Lagunitas beer.
Snoop is set to perform last so when the event opens at 4 p.m., the line to get in is small. It’s a motley crew of stoners, an interesting look into Colorado’s legal weed scene. There is a girl in heavy eye-liner wearing an “I Woke Up Like This” shirt, a waif-like tween couple holding hands near the fries. There’s a group of hardcore fans donning old school Snoop gear, and four Southern-sounding baby boomers who don’t love rap.
The early birds collect on the green lawn behind the seats, the grass still wet from the six inches of snow that employees had to shovel out of the amphitheatre at 6 a.m. Preppy guys in faded flannels stand shoulder to shoulder with big groups of men wearing flat-brimmed hats and diamond earrings, all of them smoking as one.
Down in the hunter green seats of the theater, which are hardly full, two old school hippies are nodding their heads to Tory Lanez, the current artist on stage. Linda and Jeff Wise aren’t here to see Tory, but are enjoying him all the same. The two Colorado-natives, with graying hair tucked behind baseball caps, chuckle at the suggestion that they’re unlikely Snoop fans.
“It seems kind of odd to me that I’m a fan, but I am,” says 60-year-old Jeff smiling, his long white beard strewn across a navy button up. “I don’t know why I love him but I do,” he adds. Then, as if having a revelation: “Doggystyle got me hooked! I love every single song on that album.” His wife smirks, mumbling, “Yep. 1992.”
Back up on the lawn, the crowd has gotten bigger and, by definition, smokier. It’s clear the thousands are lighting up, but most do it semi-discretely. Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2013, but smoking in public spaces is still prohibited. What exactly qualifies as a public space seems negotiable. These people, and many others, appear to be happily living in the gray area.
A crowd of young guys on the lawn is not as enthusiastic about an interview as the hippies—two, upon my arrival, instantly walk away. “Haha, they’re scared,” one says. “Are we being audited?” asks another. Ranging in age from 25 to 29, they’re all middle-school friends from California who are either visiting the area for 4/20 or living here full time. King, a 25-year-old who makes it immediately clear that he likes talking, claims to know Snoop the best.
“I met him when I was 2,” says King, rubbing the black bandana that’s tied just below a head full of tiny dreads. “My mama brought me to the club. She wanted to meet Snoop and Ice-T, so she snuck me into the club.” Dressed in a short sleeve floral denim shirt, buttoned to the top, he breaks a smile before revealing the obvious end. “We got kicked out. But I seen Snoop. I remember that day. Long ass ponytail with barrettes, I remember.”
“He’s the reason I grew braids,” King’s friend Dupree, 29, chimes in from the back. In a white-and-navy blue patterned T-shirt, he’s now sporting a cleanly shaven head. He doesn’t seem happy about it. “I had to cut my hair for a job,” he says. “But I liked it.” Nearby he sees someone with Snoop’s braids—“see, that looks just like him.”
Although the friends say they came to see “everyone,” at the show they’re most excited for Future and Snoop. Snoop, they say, is a no brainer. A legend. What would these devotees ask Snoop if given the chance?
“Who’s in the illuminati,” King says near instantly. “Snoop knows everything.” The others are more measured. Dupree is interested in the after party and who’s going. Kevin, another friend, wants to know the first person he smoked with. All three express doubts that Snoop would answer anyone’s questions at all, which inspires King’s (best) and final one:
“How’s it feel to be untouchable?”
As the performers continue on, the crowd gets bigger—notably so when Kevin Gates, who some say made the best rap album of 2016, takes the stage. Back in the VIP section, the sun is starting to go down where Merry Jane’s executives have intermittently been taking breaks. The show, aside from a few sound hiccups, seems to be going well—the company they launched in September does too.
Jim Baudino, VP of Business Development, describes the first six months of Merry Jane as “crazy, but fantastic.” Wearing a gray sweatshirt, dark jeans, and Oakleys, he’s straight out of Silicon Valley, and talks like it. Educated at University of California Los Angeles, he became interested in the marijuana industry because of what he—and others on his team—saw as a hole in the market: one single place for cannabis lovers to go for information and fun.
He says the company has taken a “multi-pronged” approach to outreach that, based on the exposure they’ve gotten thus far in the media, is working. “It’s exciting because it’s not just two guys in a garage,” Baudino says of the venture. “It’s something that’s in the public eye since the beginning so we have to do things right.”
Snoop and co-founder Ted Chung launched Merry Jane together at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF 2015 Conference last September, describing it as a “cannabis lifestyle media platform” for all. “Merry Jane aims to be the premier media destination for all things cannabis, much in the way ESPN is a go‐to network for all things sports,” said Chung. “[It] will be at the forefront of all cannabis-related news, content, entertainment, and pop culture.”
Indeed, six months in, the website boasts wider coverage than any other cannabis-related one on the Web—and a notably different approach. The simple black-and-gold website, designed exclusively by women, is sleek and professional, a purposeful departure from the stigmatized “stoner culture.” Among the site’s features thus far: culture stories, news posts, food recipes, style guides, original videos, buyable goods, and store locators.
There’s a story on the health benefits of juicing pot leaves, the fashion value of tie-dye, and Pennsylvania’s decision to legalize medical marijuana. There’s a video of cannabis legislation in Uruguay, THC-infused lubricant, and a strain called “Granddaddy Purple.” Just six months in, the company already has 11 original series, including a cooking show Smoke in the Kitchen, comedy bit Rolling with [Seth] Rogen, and original mini-series Highly Productive.
Highly Productive is aimed at changing the narrative around the typical stoner, something head of business operations Scott Chung says it’s a key selling point. “One of the missions here is to breakdown the stereotype of stoner culture, that idea that smoking cannabis means you can’t become successful,” he says. “We find that incorrect. Some of these people aren’t just productive, they’re at the top of their industries. They’re making breakthroughs, discoveries.” Chung points to the most recent episode of High Achievers as a prime example, one that ends with Lagunitas Brewing Company CEO Tony Magee declaring that he “wakes and bakes” every morning.
The sentiment seems like one that’s close to Snoop’s heart too, one he elaborated on at the September launch. “There are so many people in the closet, and we are giving them an opportunity to come out of the closet and just admit they like to smoke,” he said. “I’m a smoker, my name is Snoop Dogg, and I’m a stoner.”
Back in line for Snoop, the group is finally ushered down into a green room. “Can we smoke here?” one person asks, looking into the small room. “Yes, smoke! Smoke away!” someone replies. Snoop is apparently in another room, but this one, in which smoke swirls around a huge bottle of Hennessey, seems a good precursor.
Off to the side is a basket of snacks that, ironically, align with the problematic stoner image: Doritos, barbecue chips, and oatmeal creme pies. Thickening the plot, no one touches them. One girl in a sequin skirt reaches for a large plate of fresh fruit instead. “So good,” she says, biting into a piece of pineapple. Some laugh nervously.
Eventually a group of 10 is taken to see Snoop. A few minutes later, the final few are taken inside. This room is bigger, with a large leather sectional on which two fancily-clad women are sitting. Hip-hop plays over a speaker as a cloud of smoke fills the room. In the center of it, an exceptionally tall man in gray sweatpants and oversized sunglasses is swaying to the beat. He’s smiling, smoking, singing—the three things Snoop does best.
His hair, tons of tiny braids tied up in a ponytail, seems like it was worth the wait. His mustache, thin and long, is another story. Wearing a navy coat and gold chain with cannabis leaves, he appears euphoric. At peace. In his element. Or perhaps, just super stoned.
Some of the half-dozen or so people around him appear to have no other job than to be in his presence. The rapper, who once famously spent two years as a real pimp, rolls with a big crowd. So rarely is he alone that one time when a Merry Jane executive saw him on a couch by himself in the office, he thought it was a prank. Before I approach, someone rises on tiptoes to whisper something in his ear.
When I do, he hugs me with one arm and takes a hit with the other. He smiles at the news that I’m writing a story and mumbles something like “cool baby” so softly it’s almost inaudible. Outside his dressing room, those who’ve met him are glowing. Fifteen minutes later when he takes the stage, everyone else is too. It’s an odd and seemingly unique talent that Snoop has, to captivate those around him with no explanation why. To convince them, perhaps, that not everything—in this case, marijuana—is as it seems.
Leaving the venue, I remember a quote from Baudino, who said that part of the company’s model was trying to figure out “what works.”
Luckily for them, Snoop does.