Marketing

I smoked a $660 cannabis cigar to learn about the emerging cannabis luxury market

Behold The Godfather, Xiaolin’s ‘cannagar’ wrapped in 24kt-gold rolling paper.
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Made in Xiaolin CEO Chris Louie/Andrew Adam Newman

4 min read

Long illegal and associated by some with the counterculture, cannabis may not appear to lend itself to luxury branding. But as cannabis retail evolves, some are targeting consumers who want a luxe experience rather than just scoring a half-ounce.

In New York, Gotham, which opened in 2023, modeled itself after stores including the former Parisian boutique Colette, and Gotham’s founder Joanne Wilson told Retail Brew the brand combined “edgy” with “luxury.”

One brand aiming to—in every sense—fire up the luxury market is Made in Xiaolin, which produces a line of premium cannabis cigars called “cannagars.” Unlike cigars, cannagars contain no tobacco, just cannabis.

A lot of cannabis. While a typical pre-rolled joint sold in dispensaries is 1 gram, Xiaolin’s top-of-the-line cannagar, The Godfather, contains 10 grams of cannabis and another 2 grams of cannabis concentrate. The rolling paper that encases it gleams with 24kt gold, and it burns for as long as three hours.

In New York, where Xiaolin recently entered the market after being available since 2018 in Colorado, the wholesale price of The Godfather is $382.50. At the time of publication, at the nearest dispensary to me, the Lower East Side’s Conbud, it retailed for $660, while at the Upper East Side’s Lenox Hill Cannabis, it was $495.

What makes the company believe there’s a demand for such a luxury offering? What’s the retail strategy for selling a cannagar? And what’s it like to light one up?

I decided to find out.

A close up of someone holding Made in Xiaolin's cannagar, a cannabis cigar.

Made in Xiaolin

Sowing seeds: On a recent spring afternoon, I met Chris Louie, CEO of Xiaolin, on a patio tucked behind a tenement building in New York’s East Village. Louie, who grew up on Staten Island, got into the cannabis business in New York about a decade ago.

“I was actually hustling on the legacy market,” said Louie, using a term for the pre-legalization cannabis trade. He says he started selling unprocessed cannabis flower, then partnered with a pastry chef and sold edibles.

“I was doing something that made me happy,” he said. “[But] I didn’t want to watch my back anymore. I didn’t want to be shady about it.”

In 2015, Louie and his wife, Chongsi Chang, moved to Colorado, where recreational cannabis had been legalized three years before. After discovering other cannagar brands, Louie bought cigar molds and other tools and co-founded Xiaolin with Chang in Colorado in 2018.

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Today its cannagars are available in more than 150 stores in Colorado, and the couple recently moved back to New York with their children to expand in New York, which legalized cannabis in 2021.

Louie is the first to admit that cost is a hurdle when pitching prospective retail partners.

“Our biggest resistance is the price tag,” Louie said. “I’ve been laughed out of stores.”

But others “understand it right away” when they compute how much cannabis and resin are in a cannagar, Louie said. (There are 10 grams of cannabis in The Godfather and Gotham—which sells Xiaolin cannagars—sells 7-gram jars of cannabis for as much as $100; the cannagar also has 2 grams of concentrate and Gotham sells 1 gram containers for as much as $90 each.)

“You could go to a concert and not roll 10 different joints,” said Louie of an occasion where someone might splurge. “This is the whole concert. This is the party plan.”

Like cigars, cannagars could be part of celebrations like weddings, bachelor parties, housewarmings, or golf outings, Louie said. There are cheaper options, but...

“You could buy a Honda Civic,” Louie said, “or you could buy a Mercedes Maybach.”

Speaking of which, the test drive was about to begin.

Made in Xiaolin CEO Chris Louie passes a cannagar toward the photographer.

Andrew Adam Newman

An offer I couldn’t refuse: On the patio, Louie opened the fancy red and gold cardboard box, then pulled The Godfather from a sealed plastic tube. It was almost four inches long, with gold bands at either end and green cannabis showing through the clear rolling paper in the center.

He lit it, drew on it a couple of times, and passed it to me.

The Godfather is packed tighter than typical pre-rolls, and Louie explained that when it’s loaded in the cigar mold, there’s a skewer down the center, leaving a hole in the middle that allows drawing even though it’s so dense.

I went to smoke it like a joint, lips pursed like I was kissing my aunt on the cheek. Louie intervened.

“If you hit it like a joint, it might burn your lips,” Louie said. “Wrap your lips around it and smoke it like a cigar.”

There I was, drawing on the most expertly rolled and expensive joint I’d ever encountered, wishing yet again that I had a trust fund.

“Oh, it’s really smooth,” I said, exhaling ribbons of smoke.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.