By Brooke Edwards Staggs
The Orange County Register
Reality dating shows like “The Bachelor” and “The Millionaire Matchmaker” have made it a familiar scene: Attractive singles gather in a chic location to toast cocktails, exchange banter and — so the story goes — find true love.
Dating expert Molly Peckler believes such scenarios can spark meaningful relationships away from the TV cameras. But she feels there’s always been one missing ingredient: cannabis.
“I’m very focused on moving past the stigma of cannabis and showing that it really is something that can make your life and your relationships so much better,” she said.
As a longtime marijuana enthusiast herself, Peckler, 32, is an advocate of both the plant’s ability to act as medicine and to help people bond in a warm, friendly environment.
She offers dating, career and life coaching services aimed at high-earning cannabis consumers through her Los Angeles company, Highly Devoted Coaching. And she recently began hosting marijuana-themed mixers for singles, with an event coming up at the end of January in Huntington Beach.
Her main goal, she said, is to give people who happen to use cannabis the confidence to come out of the “green closet,” and to help them to be open about who they are and find success in life and love.
“I talk to a lot of people who have faced stigma when it comes to dating and finding someone who accepts them for their cannabis consumption,” she said. “It is really important that whoever you’re with doesn’t judge you for it, and accepts you for how it enhances your life.”
FINANCE TO DATING EXPERT
Back home in Chicago, Peckler worked in finance for a while.
Armed with a degree in psychology, a talent for connecting with people and powerful inspiration from her parents’ 50-year marriage, Peckler switched gears and joined a large matchmaking agency in the Windy City.
She spent the next few years helping high-end clients find love. But always, at the back of her mind, was her passion for cannabis.
The plant has been part of her 11-year relationship with her husband from day one. She thinks it’s one of many reasons why they’re compatible, since she believes cannabis consumers often tend to have similar values.
“It’s really just about finding someone who has as much in common with you as possible,” she said.
Though she believes shared consumption can add depth to a relationship, Peckler said partners don’t always have to bond over a mutual love for cannabis. But it can be a deal breaker if one partner loves marijuana while the other hates it. Or if the consumer’s fear of being discovered means they aren’t honest with their partner or themselves.
“If you always feel like you can’t be yourself in front of someone, you can’t completely let them in, then those insecurities will just continue to grow,” Peckler said.
“It may not be the death of a relationship, but it certainly won’t be as fulfilling and productive as it otherwise would be.”
Peckler spent some time at a cannabis consulting firm to get to know the industry before launching Highly Devoted Coaching in Chicago in June 2015.
Medical marijuana is legal in Illinois. But she said the scene — not to mention the weather — is nothing compared with California. So last year, she and her husband relocated to Venice Beach, which now serves as home base for her growing cannabis coaching business.
Peckler holds face-to-face coaching sessions with locals and Skype sessions with singles around the world, offering advice on how to stop counterproductive dating habits and forge new connections.
Some of her clients work in the cannabis industry. But many more are entrepreneurs, technology experts or other professionals who want dating advice but also happen to enjoy marijuana as their intoxicant of choice. And with prices for coaching services that range from $1,000 to $3,000, she acknowledged she’s catering to a “more sophisticated clientele.”
Since regular cannabis consumers can’t necessarily be identified on sight, Peckler said the biggest complaint her clients have is how tough it is to find fellow enthusiasts. So The Single Speakeasy was born. Last year, she organized singles meet-ups on rooftops in Los Angeles and Denver; she’s expecting up to 60 people at a mixer slated for Jan. 28 in Huntington Beach.
Guests don’t speed date or play awkward games at her mixers, she said. Instead, she tries to create a fun gathering that gives single people who are serious about finding love an opportunity to connect over their mutual passion for cannabis.
“When you find out that someone is a cannabis consumer, you feel like you can be yourself,” she said. “There’s that feeling of warmth. It’s a welcome energy. And when you have a smoke sesh with someone, it’s a great bonding experience.
“I thought that was a perfect way to spark the romantic connection, too.”
She opens with a 10-minute dating workshop. Then guests can sample from marijuana vendors hosting a vaping area and bud bar, with carefully selected sativa strains and THC levels to give guests the “social lubricant” they might want without making them too high. There’s also food, drinks and music. The Huntington Beach event will feature a live glass blower and a caricaturist.
Guests go home with a goody bag full of products. And they often email Peckler after the fact to get help connecting with people who sparked their interest.
DEFYING THE STEREOTYPE
The rule at her mixers is the same one she preaches in life: Everything in moderation.
“If you use cannabis in a way that it does kind of suck the motivation and drive and ambition out of you, then that’s never a good thing,” she said.
She aims to keep proving that not all cannabis consumers are lazy stoners by expanding events for successful singles across the country. She also hopes to launch retreats for like-minded couples and networking events for industry professionals.
With recreational consumption being made legal in a growing number of states, Peckler believes the stigma surrounding marijuana is starting to fade. But she also believes the one thing that will completely remove that stigma — and the attendant legal problems cannabis use poses when it comes to getting things like life insurance or advertising a pot-related business on a media platform like Facebook — is federal legalization.
Her hopes for that took a hit in November, Peckler said, when president-elect Donald Trump named noted pot opponent Sen. Jeff Sessions as his pick for Attorney General.
For now, she said the marginalization of cannabis enthusiasts remains a very real concern for many people who work in the industry, or any user who wants to be open about their consumption.
“I talk to so many people who have said, ‘I ended this relationships because of marijuana’ or ‘I didn’t start dating this person because of marijuana,'” she said. “We’re moving in the right direction, but the stigma is still there.”