As marijuana becomes legalized, ganja-preneurs are growing their products 

A Budding Business

click to enlarge Doreen Sullivan learned a lot about the marijuana industry in Denver

Jonathan Boncek

Doreen Sullivan learned a lot about the marijuana industry in Denver

2016 is a crucial election year — for reasons that have nothing to do with who's the next president. Things are heating up for the marijuana industry, and there's a good chance that four states — Nevada, California, Vermont, and Arizona — will legalize recreational marijuana this year. In addition to these pot-friendly states, up to 20 more will also look to ease restrictions.

Last week The New York Times published an article, "In California, Marijuana is Smelling More Like Big Business," talking about the expected profits from legal recreational pot, noting that "out-of-state investors, cannabis retailers, and financially struggling municipalities [are] all racing to grab a piece." And it's not just the Times. Google search results yield plenty of pun-ny headlines — "Annual Pot Sales Blaze to $5.4 Billion, With Many Highs Ahead, Study Finds" — that all suggest the same thing: if it smells like ganja, it smells like money.

While South Carolina isn't in the weed business yet — on April 7 of this year a medical marijuana bill, S 672, was shut down — there is one local entrepreneur who's jumping into the pipe-making industry feet first.

"I feel like I'm standing on a cliff," laughs Doreen Sullivan, creator of the brand-spankin'-new company, My Bud Vase. Her mission: take old flower vases and turn them into high-end water pipes.

Sullivan is currently selling My Bud Vases* on Etsy and talking to a bud and breakfast in Denver about selling her products, but she wants to do more than just make pretty things.

"There's a need for a paradigm shift," she says. After years of working for other people she realized that she wanted to create something for herself. So she took her interest in antiquing and combined it with what she considers a huge growing industry. Sullivan finds flower vases and other interesting containers at flea markets, antique stores, and thrift shops. She then has a friend drill a hole in them, where she places a downstem and bowl. Voila: a vase pipe.

When you think of marijuana, do you think of a college student wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt, hot boxing his mom's minivan? Ganja-preneurs hope that when you think of places like Denver and Boulder, that's not the image that comes to mind. Sullivan, for one, wants to change peoples' minds about marijuana.

"I'm always trying to communicate change. I want to represent the underdog. I don't want people to think 'oh, a stupid pothead,' when they think of weed. You can be a successful entrepreneur," she says.

  • Jonathan Boncek

Sullivan has based a lot of her business model after Annabis, a fashion brand that creates fine leather purses that double as stash bags for wealthy women's weed. The company describes itself as moving marijuana culture "beyond the baggie." The idea for the company was formed one night when founders Jeanine Moss and Ann Shuch were giggling inside a Mercedes Benz, reaching inside their Gucci bags to retrieve their weed, and wishing they had a fancy stash bag to save them all the trouble. So, they created one.

These are the kind of pot smokers Sullivan wants to meet in her travels to states that already have legalized recreational marijuana, and those that may follow suit. "Creativity and cannabis go hand in hand," she says. "I'm creating a lifestyle that's more representative of the people that actually smoke."

Sullivan has made several trips out to Denver, and she says that the weed culture there is like night and day compared to Charleston. "People who are hiding it in South Carolina are having fun in Denver," she says, adding that she's met a lot of South Carolina residents in Colorado. Why are they there? To experience what Sullivan says is the future of pot smoking. "It's upscale, it's conversational," she says, describing the atmosphere at bud and breakfasts where guests share different strains of weed, with rolling papers, pipes, and grinders provided.

"I want to be a thought leader that turns this into something of beauty," she says. Sullivan is passionate about each of her vases, gingerly touching them, turning them around as she explains how she picked them, and even how she names them. There's the small yellow vase with a scalloped top — Buttercup. Julina is purple and looks like an old perfume wafter, while Georgette is rotund, a large white vase featuring an intricately painted pink flower.

"People see them and they have a reaction," says Sullivan. "They remind them of someone."

It's this personal touch that Sullivan thinks sets her apart from every Cheech and Chong selling a lollipop-colored tobacco pipe. These vases, as Sullivan giddily puts it, "Are for your mother." The Colorado mom that smokes or the mom who recoils at the thought — they can both enjoy a pretty vase, it just depends if the bowl is showing.

Although South Carolina isn't likely to legalize marijuana anytime soon, Sullivan hopes that she's onto something. "It's part of my personality, to find something to showcase," she says. "I was thinking about the growth of the industry. I wanted to be ahead of the bandwagon."

*You must be 21 years or older to purchase My Bud Vase. They are for tobacco use only in South Carolina.

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