Are ‘California sober’ nuptials the latest wedding trend?

On a sunny May afternoon inside a waterfront wedding expo in Richmond, Margo Flitcraft, 31, and Austin Gavin, 32, were pondering an appetizing selection of pastries — financiers, cookies and madeleines — that they hoped to incorporate in their wedding next year.

But each of the treats was missing a secret ingredient, at least for now: cannabis.

Flitcraft, a video editor, and Gavin, an auto glass repairman — both of whom live in the Sonoma County community of Cotati — said they knew that cannabis would be a part of their wedding next spring in one form or another no matter what. They were considering edible party offerings and hiring a budtender too.

That conviction — couples wanting cannabis at their weddings, even if their guests didn’t quite understand — resounded all throughout the expo room, and appears to have grown stronger during the pandemic.

Jennifer Salazar (center) and Michelle Martinez (right) talk with Geraldine Mae Cueva, founder of Art & Times of Chill, at the 7th annual Cannabis Wedding Expo in Richmond. Salazar and Martinez are engaged and visited the expo to get ideas on how to incorporate cannabis in their wedding celebration.

Kristen Murakoshi/Special to The Chronicle

“(We want) to share with our family and loved ones something that’s been a big part of our lives,” said Flitcraft, who said she and Gavin have been partaking for more than a decade now — to help with pain and stress management.

“Our dog always looks at us super judgmental — he’s not about it at all,” said Gavin. “He’s looking at us like we’re degenerates, but he doesn’t understand.”

The pandemic, which was for many people both an isolating and reflective period of time, gave way to a huge boom for the cannabis industry across the U.S., according to data from BDSA, a research firm focused on the cannabis industry. In 2021 alone, cannabis use in California increased by 25%. The state legalized recreational cannabis in 2016.

San Francisco’s cannabis industry in particular flourished during the beginning of the pandemic — its Office of Cannabis approved more permits for cannabis-related businesses in 2020 than in any previous year, and dispensaries receiving an “essential” classification during the pandemic helped increase sales, much from first-time customers.

“People were home more, and they wanted something to help them cope with the anxiety,” said Johnny Delaplane, president of the San Francisco Cannabis Retailers Alliance. “People also (had) less options for entertainment.”

Whitney Adrian, of Empire Glassworks, shows one of the company’s custom etched water pipes, which doubles as a centerpiece that can be used at weddings or other events.

Whitney Adrian, of Empire Glassworks, shows one of the company’s custom etched water pipes, which doubles as a centerpiece that can be used at weddings or other events.

Kristen Murakoshi/Special to The Chronicle

More than two years into the pandemic, the situation is now more complicated, Delaplane said, adding that factors like inflation, an expanded entertainment landscape and an overproduction of wholesale cannabis statewide have led to an overall decline in sales.

One area that has become increasingly attractive for customers is in the wedding space. With so many couples who had to put their nuptial plans on hold — and many of whom have become even more passionate about cannabis throughout the pandemic — the new landscape is fertile ground.

“Where we see the excitement today is the opportunity for a young couple or older couple to actually have a ceremony on a cannabis farm, with a cannabis arch,” said Mark Guilds, a hotelier who was representing Benbow Historic Inn, a hotel in Humboldt County that is also home to a cannabis farm called Huckleberry Hill Farms.

The prospect, he said, seems exciting to young people both because of the novelty and because in many places it’s still difficult to find a cannabis-friendly venue.

Irie Weddings & Events, a cannabis bar service, has seen an uptick in interest from people who want cannabis at their weddings. These services are similar to bartending, but instead of alcohol behind the bar, it’s cannabis — rolling joints and giving out edibles, CBD products and more.

The company began in Colorado in 2014, and in the past few years has seen interest in it soar across the country, and particularly in California, where it has expanded operations into San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“We’re getting three inquiries a day — we used to get one to three a week,” said co-owner Madlyne Kelly, in between offering samples of CBD Arnold Palmer to expo attendees. Kelly can relate to her customers; on the day of her wedding some years ago, she hotboxed her friend’s car while wearing her wedding dress. She smoked another joint in her parents’ backyard, where the ceremony took place.

At this point, she said, the company has done weddings, birthday parties, baby showers and even celebrations of life. A bar service can range from $1,200 to $2,800, and that doesn’t include the actual product, which customers would go to a retailer to buy.

The service also includes something called an “adverse reaction kit,” which, Kelly said, they’ve had to offer more than once for guests who took a little more than they could handle. The toolbox is a homeopathic selection of three remedies: CBD, vitamin C and black peppercorns.

But for most couples at the expo, cannabis wasn’t something they planned to — or were worried about — overdoing. In fact, many said they were worried alcohol posed an issue for their guests.

Shannon Murachanian, 29, who was attending the expo with her soon-to-be sister-in-law Marisa Flores, 27, said the amount of alcoholism in her family — and the fact that she doesn’t drink alcohol — was just one of the reasons she wished she could have had cannabis at her wedding almost 10 years ago.

“I feel like it’s better to be smoking than to be drinking alcohol,” said Murachanian, who lives in Fairfield. “People are more levelheaded, they’re calmer, they’re not going to fight.”

Though, there have been reports of weddings with unmarked cannabis-infused food that caused guests to feel sick.

Terms like “sober curious” — questioning one’s relationship with alcohol — and “California sober” — eschewing all substances except for cannabis — have risen in popularity over the past few years, especially as people took a deeper look at how they may have been using drinking, or other habits, to cope during the pandemic.

Miya Sindle, 35, and Melissa Hines, 42, said they are considering moving away from hard liquor at their wedding, which they plan to have in the Bay Area. The Sacramento couple is, however, considering a cannabis bar — and maybe including a few homegrown cannabis nugs into Hines’ bouquet.

“Moving away from hard alcohol I think is smart, just because of the impacts on the body afterwards,” said Sindle. “You wake up and you feel like you’ve been run over by a train. I don’t care how much cannabis I smoke, I don’t feel like that the next day.”

Hines, who has been using medical cannabis for 22 years, agreed — and said a series of reshifting priorities and introspection over the pandemic only made that more clear. “My relationship with cannabis deepened,” she said.

A booth farther back in the expo room, Bouquet Blendz, was taking Hines’ double entendre to new levels. Representatives from the Oakland-based company said in an effort to destigmatize cannabis, they were taking a different approach — one that would, hopefully, highlight the plant’s aesthetic value.

Ashhok Umashankar (left) and Noah Brozosky, owners of Bouquet Blendz, a full service cannabis catering and delivery service, use fresh and dried cannabis in their centerpieces and bouquets.

Ashhok Umashankar (left) and Noah Brozosky, owners of Bouquet Blendz, a full service cannabis catering and delivery service, use fresh and dried cannabis in their centerpieces and bouquets.

Kristen Murakoshi/Special to The Chronicle

The company, co-founded by Ashhok Umashankar, has been making smokable and decorative bouquets for weddings and other events; marijuana strains like Sherbacio were arranged alongside colorful arrangements of other flowers, such as orange spray roses, palms, protea, carnations and purple larkspur.

The company offers its guests a choice between cannabis flowers — stems that have not yet been dried or cured and remarkably resemble an emoji — and the actual smokable stems, dried out and crispy-looking nuggets of weed that guests can pluck, grind and smoke at an event.

Like other companies, Bouquet Blendz saw its sales go through the roof during the pandemic, Umashankar said. Part of that is behind the concept of the bouquet — to see cannabis for what it is at its core.

“The concept of the bouquets also takes away the stigma of cannabis itself,” said Noah Brozosky, his business partner. “Because it’s also just a gorgeous flower that we’ve put this awful veil of crime and whatnot (on).”

And over the next few years, Brozosky and Umashankar hope cannabis will soon become integrated more and more into every facet of life as the tides turn, perceptions change and access grows even greater.

“Realistically, any wedding (these days), it’s going to have alcohol,” Brozosky said. “That’ll soon be cannabis as well.”

Annie Vainshtein (she/her) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annievain