When the Hollywood Strain Premiere Party initially launched in the summer of last year, it was the place to be when it came to weed in Los Angeles. For an event that had no public advertising and for which the address and method for entering were a secret, attendance was regularly packed. Smokers looking for the best top-shelf weed mingled with industry insiders, all talking about the latest hot strain drops.
Doja Exclusive founder Ryan Bartholomew is no stranger to creating events and buzz. His brand has been at the bleeding edge of strain trends in California for years now. As far as hype in the industry goes, Doja is one of the biggest names out there. Originating from Sacramento, the brand is now based in Hollywood, California, aka the center of the weed world.
In a sense, both the pop-up model and selling directly to consumers harken back to an earlier time when excitement around legalization made the Prop 215 medical marijuana era in California a constantly buzzing scene of seshes and pop-up events. For Bartholomew, this approach to sales and marketing is just one part of a larger plan for Doja Exclusive to circumvent traditional retail as much as possible.
For the most part, Bartholomew said, the dispensary is a fading concept that is becoming increasingly impractical for marketing weed. He says that few people these days are excited to go shop at a dispensary. Most importantly, getting fresh product on the shelves has become a huge challenge. The supply chain to the dispensary shelves can be slow and, after testing and distribution, the product often arrives less than fresh. If it doesn’t sell out immediately it languishes for months. For Doja the situation was unacceptable.
“The shit was old inventory and I’m thinking this isn’t good for what I do. I’d rather just let people know where I have the latest drops and then let them come out and get it directly from fresh batches that I’ve recently QC-ed and feel comfortable about,” he said.
It led Bartholomew to conceive the idea of a direct-to-consumer sales event, which manifested as the Hollywood Strain Premiere Party. The idea was simple: “Let’s do something where consumers can come grab new flavors and meet me in person. The weed will be good every time. We make sure of that,” Bartholomew said.
The event also allows Bartholomew to build hype around the new strains that Doja is bringing to market.
“I wanted to do something a little different since we had constant new phenos that we were rolling out with JBeezy [of Seed Junky Genetics] at the time. We also had the project in motion with Duke of Erb and some new strains dropping with Fiya Farmer,” he said.
Part of the early buzz of the event was that you could try new genetics that weren’t yet widely available, hence the “Strain Premiere.” It became the only place in the world to get the freshest and latest in Cali genetics.
“We had new genetics that no one else had,” Bartholomew said. “We were one of the few brands to put out new staples last year, so it was dope to be able to have a curated menu of flavors that were new and unique.”
Doja premiered strains such as Permanent Marker and Push Pop, and has released multiple phenotypes of Giraffe Puzzy so that fans can see the process of isolating a new strain. Doja has also dropped exclusive clones and seeds at the event, as well as street inspired merch that quickly sells out.
In 2021 Bartholomew held several industry-only mixers in cities such as Las Vegas and Miami, which were well attended by his many industry acquaintances. Last year he wanted to expand on the concept, but this time to create a space that was partly for the industry and partly for the consumer.
“I felt like I needed to focus more on connecting with the people that actually buy the product, not just other people in the industry. One of the ways that I knew I could get people out was to have these Hollywood events where I invite my industry friends like Wizard Trees, Sourwavez, Don Merfos and Gerb, Fiya Farmer. But at the same time, everyone else can come too,” he said.
“So now smokers can talk to Wizard Trees and be like, ‘Yo, I really fuck with what you’re doing.’ That was always the idea behind it. That’s why from the very first one, I invited all those people.”
The spot has always been a place to sight weed industry insiders and celebs. Big players like Sherbinskis, Terphogz, Mr. Gelatti, Super Dope/Fear of Boof, TenCo, Fiya Farmer, Wizard Trees, Fidel’s, Freddie Biggs, Ray Bama, and culture makers like Desto Dubb, Lil Meech, Lupe Fuentes, and Jewice have all been spotted there.
For Bartholomew, the success of the event shows that it’s time to start thinking about what comes next.
“We can always keep a consistent amount of people in there but we’re not looking to keep a consistent amount of people. We’re just looking to touch and go. We want something hot, new, fresh all the time,” he said.
Doja Exclusive has done direct-to-consumer pop-ups all over the U.S. and Europe, and he says that Hollywood is one of his smallest, crowd-wise. But it has gotten the most buzz, including regular press coverage.
“Does it help sales? Yes, it does boost sales all over the board. There are people in New York that are buying the product because they’re like, ‘Damn, those guys are having the Thursdays in Hollywood,’” Bartholomew said.
As for why his Hollywood event gets so much buzz, Bartholomew said that it’s all about the legacy and reputation of California weed.
“I think there’s just a fascination with Cali weed,” Bartholomew said. “We’re from the most influential place for cannabis. It’s like if you’re a fashion designer and you’re from Milan or a sommelier from Bordeaux.”
This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.