Alexi* steers her silver Honda into the traffic of L.A.’s Glendale Boulevard. (“Welcome to my office!” she'd joked when I climbed in.) Alexi is a slim 25-year-old with ombré brunette hair and a flawless, long white manicure. In a typical workday, she spends eight hours driving around greater L.A. delivering medical-grade marijuana.
As we ascend the winding hills of Silver Lake, one of her two white iPhones rings. “DGLA,” she answers, and switches to steering with her elbows as she whips out a clipboard and pen and starts scribbling down client information. “First time or returning patient? What’s your address? What’s your rec number?” — recommendation number, provided by a prescribing doctor — “What did you want to order?” she continues, and jerks the Honda into a left turn lane with her knees. “Did you look at our Weed Maps menu?” Weed Maps is like the Yelp of pot, an online ordering guide for dispensaries. “We don’t really discuss too much over the phone. You should probably just look at the menu. What are you looking for? We actually do have really good hybrid — how about Maui Lite? The eighth of that is $45. Credit card? We’ll be there in an hour and a half to two hours.”
Alexi’s three-month-old business, Dope Girls LA, is a female-owned and operated marijuana-delivery service. The basic mechanics are familiar to anyone who’s ever called a dealer — but here in California, the land of “legalize it,” DGLA is operating in a quasi-professional ecosystem. And along with strategizing to grow her business and develop her brand, Alexi wants to change the way women fit into the industry, both as customers and entrepreneurs. “A lot of girls smoke,” she says, and yet, “more guys are still paying for it or ordering it. Girls love the bud — don’t get me wrong — but they seem to let men buy it more. “
On the other side of the transaction, women are often hired to serve as window dressing. For every one (and there really is just one) Dr. Dina, who was the model for Nancy Botwin of Weeds as well as Snoop Lion’s supplier, there are armies of sexy bud-tenders at dispensaries, or booth babes at weed-centric events, like the Cannabis Cup.
“There are more women working, kind of,” Alexi says, “but they’re managers of shops” — not owners — “or, like, making edibles. We’ve been trying to work with mostly women. Our edibles come from MILF ’n’ Cookies. I’ve tried to find a female grower, but I can’t, really.”
The Dope Girls LA brand is made up of pretty ladies who are also weed experts. “At shops, they hire a cute girl who doesn’t know anything about the strains,” Alexi says. “We’re not just like, Uh, here’s some weed; look at my boobs,” she continues, slipping into Valley Girl–speak. “We’re pretty, and that helps, but we’re all about knowing the business.”
Alexi and Vicky (her best friend and employee) make deliveries, meet with suppliers and growers, and maintain their web presence. Branding is everything. This month, a conservative figure based on tax filings put the number of pot shops in L.A. at 450, but other estimates are much higher. DGLA has the shiny bait of being owned and run by women, but beyond that, Alexi works hard to set them apart. Besides just delivering weed to a cross section of L.A.’s card-holding pot smokers, she tries to bring a sense of style along with their 27 strains of bud. The company Instagram is a carefully curated selection of “high-fashion” weed photography: artful nudity and bongs, edgy women with their faces obscured by smoke and bongs, bongs. Alexi designed a marijuana-leaf jewelry line that they offer on the site. Perfectly rolled joints go in woven hemp bags along with a free edible and some flavored rolling paper. It’s about the details.
Alexi has been involved with the weed industry for about four years — from making runs up to Northern California to get product to balancing the books, she touched all parts of running a shop before striking out on her own. She started out at an Orange County dispensary. At that time, she wasn’t much of a smoker, but weed seemed more lucrative than the other jobs she was juggling at a hair salon and an accounting firm. By the time she got pushed out of that position (where, at one point, she was making $6,000 a day and managing two shops), she was able to start from scratch to build up her own operation. She has plans to open a brick-and-mortar store in the next six months. For now, though, she keeps her selection in Mason jars at home, and, when on the go, swipes credit cards using Square.
“When I started this, DGLA, it was just about building something for me and my girls, that’s it,” she explained, pulling an illegal U-turn into oncoming traffic. We find her next client (a late-twentysomething, European guy in a blue poncho and beanie) outside his luxury apartment building, and Alexi tells him she’s going to pull the car around the corner, since she just saw a police officer. I ask her later why she’s avoiding the police, if medical marijuana is legal.
“This whole industry is like a big loophole,” Alexi explains. Colorado might be three months into a recreational-weed honeymoon at this point, but federally, pot is still illegal. So regulations are tricky. In California, medical marijuana requires a recommendation from a doctor and a card to prove it. If you want to handle weed, work in a shop, or go in a shop, you need that card. And even if shops are okay, deliveries are basically regarded as drug dealing. Right after she started DGLA, Alexi got pulled over on a delivery. She spent 14 hours in jail, an experience she now describes with a combination of dread and glee as “kind of fun.” She’s currently awaiting trial, but suspects she’ll just get probation.
Our next stop is in Sherman Oaks, and after driving lazily past gated mansions, we pull up to a house at the end of the street. A tall black guy in a red cap and shirt slips into the backseat, removes his hat, and shows that he’s pretty attractive. A brief exchange reveals that he’s got friends in common with a DGLA employee, and he lingers, eyeing Alexi — like maybe if I weren't there, he’d have asked her to hang out. Eventually, he slips back out, product in hand, after promising to order again.
“He was cute,” I say.
“Ha, yeah,” she responds. “He was. Huh.”
Alexi, whose switchblade dangles from her key chain at all times, won’t engage personally with clients — cute guys or not.
“I try to be friendly but give off the vibe that this is just business,” she says. “We’re not going to sit here and chat and smoke together. Men are used to women as sex symbols in weed culture, not really as the ones working.”
* Name has been changed.