SAN FRANCISCO -- At The Apothecarium, a quaintly upscale medical marijuana club in San Francisco's Castro District, the vibe is even jollier than usual this month. To boost holiday spirits, the dispensary is giving a storewide 15 percent discount to patrons who donate to its canned food drive, making year-end contributions to local charities and raffling off a seriously spiked "ganja-bread" house made with a whopping 80 "doses" of pot-infused butter.
"We have a whole bunch of decorations up, holiday music playing. It's pretty festive here right now," said Ryan Hudson, The Apothecarium's executive director. "Why not? We are just like any other business, in that regard."
Maybe it was just a matter of time. Now that using marijuana for medical purposes is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia, some of the plant's purveyors and advocates are putting a leafy slant on the winter season, a reliable sign of a maturing industry with its own customs, community outreach and commercial pull.
Nowhere is the high-ho-ho-ing of Christmas more evident than in Michigan and the five western states where storefront medical marijuana dispensaries have flourished. Despite the near-constant threat of law enforcement raids, some pot shops are stocking up on pumpkin and peppermint-flavored edibles, serving as toy and winter coat collection points, and extending a dazzlingly creative assortment of holiday specials and gift-giving options to regular members.
The Yerba Buena Collective, a club with six locations in San Jose, Calif., launched its seasonal promotions on Black Friday, when it offered hourly promotions that included up to half off the expensive, smokeless vaporizers pot connoisseurs covet like some consumers prize big screen televisions and up to 30 percent off concentrated cannabis waxes.
The dispensary, which is hosting a toy drive this season, also has put together a prepackaged $100 gift box that comes up with two marijuana strains, hash, four pot-laced treats, a hemp energy drink imported from Amsterdam and the buyers' choice of an herb grinder, a pipe or a lighter-rolling papers combination. On its web site, it advises customers the boxes are designed for "gift ideas, sampling packs, and most importantly SAVINGS!"
In gratitude for living in a state where marijuana is easy to come by, a Northern California legalization activist with a devoted YouTube following who goes by the stage name Coral Reefer organized a "Smoky Santa" giveaway for her loyal viewers. In exchange for a donation – the amounts she received averaged $13 – 110 people will receive a marijuana-themed holiday gift bag.
Reefer, 23, said she does not use her real last name because she does not want her online social network followers to know who she really is. And she did not want to disclose the bags' contents to avoid ruining the Christmas surprise.
"I feel in California we can get really spoiled with what we have, especially when I get feedback from the rest of the country how they aren't able to partake in cannabis at all," she said. "So many viewers are young people and they feel like there is no friend they can smoke with, no adult they know who smokes and has a regular job, no community they can even talk to."
Adding a charitable dimension to their operations in the face of continued federal raids is another way pot outlets build loyalty and legitimacy.
Kitty Miller, who along with her husband operates a twice-monthly cannabis farmers market in Washington state, was moved by the number of regular customers she saw struggling with illness or finances this year to give a philanthropic angle to their annual fall marijuana-tasting competition. Proceeds from the event, scheduled for Saturday night, will go toward providing Christmas dinner and gifts such as wheelchairs, children's toys and clothing for needy medical marijuana patients.
Washington residents with doctors' recommendations to use marijuana will be asked to pay $80 to serve as judges in the contest, which Miller has dubbed the "Kindness Cup." For the admission price, they will receive goodie bags filled with one-gram samples from the 11 growers who have entered the competition, tastes from the 27 entrants in the edibles category, 14 different marijuana salves, creams and cosmeceuticals, and an assortment of beverages.
"There are a lot of people who have suffered through hard times themselves, and the holidays speak to everybody's hearts," Miller said. "Harvest was a month, month-and-a-half ago for some (growers), and if at any time any of us have anything to give, it's at this time."
Reflecting the sophisticated tastes of experienced medical marijuana users, Millers' market is selling 58 different holiday food products that come with an extra kick. The line includes peppermint chocolate bark, mint and gingerbread flavored cocoa mixes, and "medicated" gingerbread house kits.
For $15, the most indulgent users can buy fortified turkey or ham dinners that come with stuffing, a choice of mashed or au gratin potatoes, green bean casserole or yams, and one of four kinds of pie, although Miller cautions that anyone who eats one will feel more like heading for bed instead of decking the halls.
Lanny Swerdlow, a Southern California medical marijuana advocate who hosts a local talk radio program and writes for a statewide cannabis culture magazine, devoted his column this month to holiday traditions and gift recommendations. Along with decorating a marijuana plant with lights and ornaments, he suggested readers spend their money on such items as marijuana-themed art, books and naturally, marijuana itself.
But Swerdlow confessed that with federal officials in California having launched a campaign this fall to close dispensaries, his own holiday mood resembles the Grinch more than Kris Kringle.
"Most patients aren't going to be in a celebratory mood with what's going on. They are kind of down. They are kind of depressed. And if it wasn't for cannabis, they would be even more depressed," he said.