Atlanta has not exactly embraced weed, despite the city passing legislation in 2017 that decreased the penalties for being caught with less than an ounce of weed and a new state bill passed this spring that allows a handful of private companies to grow the plant in Georgia and distribute low-THC oils to medical cannabis patients. But even without legalization, Atlanta is not impervious to the green rush flooding the rest of the country. Yesterday, I literally passed five signs boasting CBD for sale on my evening commute. If cannabis still has an edge even after Martha Stewart puffed on about loving a good blunt, it may now be considered both smoothed and shellacked.
So it was only a matter of time until a business saw the opportunity in Atlanta and cashed in, quietly waiting until the plant becomes federally legal so they could really rack up. Higher Standards, a high-end weed product line turned brick-and-mortar with its flagship in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market, opened doors its at a second location in Ponce City Market in April.
Sasha Kadey, Higher Standards cofounder and creative director, says that, because Chelsea Market and Ponce City Market both fall under the luxury retail company Jamestown umbrella, the second shop was a no-brainer. Walking into the space, the thought behind its careful curation is immediately apparent. Wary Meyers candles—stocky in milk glass containers—lightly perfume the air even when unlit. Modern furniture designer Jonathan Adler has pieces everywhere, including a $98 tray (a giant pair of parted red lips revealing a golden front tooth) and a porcelain “ganja vice canister” ($98). Of course, there are also plenty of smoking devices, from $40 glass spoons not unlike what one could find at Lollapalooza to a $1,000 Cool Hand Suuze Windstar Glass rainbow bubbler. Also, CBD offerings a-plenty.
Several employees perch behind the glossy counter, eager to help shoppers. That’s really where Higher Standards feels different from the lonely, seedy smoke shops of yesteryear—more than the Malin+Goetz skincare products and the fact that they play Drake. On a recent visit, I overheard a clerk explain to a fellow customer how she prefers to smoke weed. In most strip mall head shops in fellow nonlegal states, there are typically a slew of signs enforcing “pipes for tobacco use only,” and even the most burnt-out cashiers adhere to some sort of unspoken wink wink nudge nudge rhetoric. Frankly, the openness feels refreshing. No one has to pretend they’ll be packing a bowl with pipe tobacco.
Higher Standards isn’t the only spot to score a smoking device that won’t embarrass you should company randomly drop by—not even the only spot in PCM. Upstairs, Coco + Misha boast ceramic pipe offerings, some even shaped like cute kitty cats. And even more classic smoke shops like EAV Smoke and Vape are constantly adding sleeker gadgets to the standard balloon animal-esque smokable inventory.
Still, Higher Standards’s move to Atlanta seems strategic, as they establish themselves as the mature spot to score. “We chose Atlanta . . . because the nature of our business allows us to operate in geographies that don’t yet permit plant-touching dispensaries,” Kadey says, “and as such, that gives us an opportunity to build a relationship in the community without much noise around us, and be a brand they can develop a deep relationship with, without other[s] competing for their attention.”
If they want the entire community to embrace their concept, especially a majority-black city like Atlanta, they’ll need to address concerns over marginalized populations who are disproportionately suffering from legal consequences of the very product that is the basis of their opulent business model. Though the company has no current initiatives, they did indicate interest in future action. “There are a number of great groups popping up right now, like the Last Prisoner Project [which is a nonprofit working to repair and end the hurtful effects of criminalizing cannabis], which we are looking to support,” says Kadey. “We are working on creating a fund to donate a set percentage of our proceeds to these types of nonprofit organizations and to help victims of the war on drugs, which has disgustingly and disproportionately targeted minority groups and devastated their communities.”