Weed Is Trending, But For Whom?
02.13.18

Is it just me, or is everyone suddenly obsessed with weed? Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed marijuana increasingly being positioned as a chic lifestyle choice, marketed toward the sort of women who shop at Everlane, splurge on Byredo and have very little in common with the basement-dwelling stoner bros Judd Apatow managed to build an entire career out of. The prevailing stoner aesthetic — novelty glass bongs and rolling papers with unsubtle leaf motifs — has been supplemented by an explosion of incredibly stylish brands and businesses that cater to (and are often run by) women, selling everything from pipes and papers to magazines and, of course, actual weed. Weed and CBD oil seem to be sneaking their way into everything from body lotion to wedding receptions, to the point where this feels like it could be the defining lifestyle trend of 2018.

Everywhere I look, evidence of the Glossier-fication of cannabis abounds: Gossamer, a newly launched media brand “for people who also smoke weed,” entered into the public consciousness via a rolling party at anointed cool-girl hangout The Wing, while brands like Tetra, an online shop and lifestyle brand “dedicated to elevating the aesthetics of the smoking experience,” ply their trade in classy marble pipes and prettily packaged rolling papers. Their websites — and in some cases, lookbooks — sport an aesthetic by now familiar to millennial women the world over: floral still-life arrangements accompanied by minimal sans-serif fonts and everywhere, of course, an abundance of pink.

Flipping through Broccoli, a recently launched print magazine that explores cannabis culture from an art and culture perspective, I’m drawn to features on artisan candle-makers and lush travel photography that wouldn’t look out of place in more mainstream women’s titles. An extremely on-trend (albeit weed-themed) ikebana image adorns the cover of its inaugural issue, and much like Gossamer, weed is merely the entry point from which to tell other, non-weed-related stories. The connecting thread: a desire to “shine a light on interesting women,” according to Broccoli creator Anja Charbonneau, formerly creative director of aesthetes’ favorite Kinfolk.

I ask what she makes of the “mainstreaming” of cannabis — and, more to the point, what she thinks is driving the trend. “I think it really is just the shift in legalization,” she says, referring to recent shifts in the legal status of cannabis in many states, with Canada likely to follow suit in 2018. “People want weed to look like something that fits into their life. As soon as they don’t have to hide it anymore, they want it to look natural and beautiful.” With spending on legal cannabis estimated at $9.7 billion in the U.S. in 2017, it’s unsurprising that recreational cannabis is getting the same treatment as so many other consumer goods — that is, an influx of “lifestyle” brands that cater to women who want their cannabis consumption to fit in with the carefully curated aesthetic standards they apply to the rest of their lives.

Of course, within any industry, the real power generally lies in having a stake in the means of production — although thankfully, the women ‘n’ weed trend is starting to stretch beyond consumers to encompass executives and entrepreneurs, as well. Women currently hold 36% of executive positions within the cannabis industry (compared to an average of 22% across all U.S. businesses), with entrepreneurs like Jane West — dubbed “the Martha Stewart of pot” because of her eponymous cannabis lifestyle brand — setting up platforms like Women Grow, an organization dedicated to fostering female leadership within the cannabis industry.

So far, so good. But even as the cannabis industry opens its arms to one previously overlooked minority, it continues to exclude others — namely, the black community. For decades, drug laws in the United States have disproportionately targeted black people, who are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people (even though their marijuana use is roughly equal). Black people with drug-related criminal records are now finding themselves shut out of the so-called “green rush,” barred from obtaining the business licences that would allow them to operate legally even though many of the offenses they were convicted for are no longer illegal. Little wonder that only 1% of storefront dispensaries in the U.S. are black-owned.

It’s something that comes up when I speak to L.A.-based journalist and podcasting doyenne Ann Friedman, who I call on account of an article she wrote five years ago about the exclusion of women from the cannabis industry. “I think these days there’s more of a racial disparity than there is a gender disparity when it comes to consuming and selling cannabis, or becoming part of the industry.” She posits that seeing more cannabis-related lifestyle content might bolster legalization efforts: “If it’s being normalized through lifestyle brands and publications and that somehow leads to more legalization efforts, I’m all for that. I do think there’s a correlation between the cultural and the political when it comes to this.”

There are some signs of progress on the scene, with the arrival of collectives such as The High Ends and the Seattle-based Women.Weed.WiFi, two platforms that counteract the frequently whitewashed profile of the industry by focusing more on women of color. Ashley Brooke and Tahirah Hairston, co-founders of The High Ends, voice their frustration at a prevailing narrative that often pushes a “white-centric image of what a ‘functioning weed smoker’ looks like while simultaneously feeding into negative ones of people of color.” In creating The High Ends, which functions as a community (and soon-to-be content platform) for women who want to explore their relationship with weed, the duo are keen to change perceptions of what “women who smoke weed” look like.

That there’s a responsibility on the part of the women-friendly publications springing up to take an intersectional approach to their stories is something that Gossamer’s co-founder Verena von Pfetten is well aware of. “We’re a lifestyle publication, not a political one, but the reality is that cannabis is inherently political — the ‘lifestyle’ we speak to and about very much depends on white privilege and the unfair protection it offers us and much of our audience. As two white people starting a business in this space, that’s something we never stop thinking about. We can’t speak to experiences we haven’t lived, but we can help to amplify the voices that need to be heard.” The brand’s first two events — the aforementioned Wing social and a panel discussion at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival — focused on the need for racial diversity within the cannabis industry. And interview subjects in their debut print issue (published in March) include the likes of attorney Tsion “Sunshine” Lencho, founder of Supernova Women, an organization for women of color in cannabis.

While creating original and thought-provoking lifestyle content remains central to their aims, both Gossamer and The High Ends are focused on the politics of weed. “We’re laying the groundwork for long-term partnerships with organizations that are fighting not just for legalization, but for legalization and criminal-justice reform to be intrinsically linked, as they should be,” von Pfetten tells me. Her focus on criminal justice reform is echoed by Brooke and Hairston, who cite laws in Oakland, California, that offer reparations to those previously criminalized for selling weed as instructive for other states. The city’s medical marijuana license system also prioritizes those from lower income backgrounds, or from Oakland neighborhoods affected by the war on drugs — many of whom happen to be black.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with cannabis being granted the glossy sheen of “lifestyle trend,” but it’s problematic when those doing so fail to consider the sociopolitical dynamics of an industry that’s been plagued by systemic racial injustice. Take last year’s Vogue.com article on cannabis and the wellness movement, which blew up on Twitter for all the wrong reasons — in particular, its focus on an aspect of cannabis culture contingent on a generous amount of (white) privilege. Though cannabis has been enthusiastically adopted within fashion and wellness circles, there are still serious limitations around who can comfortably consume it without fear of penalty and who gets to access the business opportunities arising from recent cultural and legislative shifts. To ignore that — and to paint people of color out of the new narrative around cannabis — will only reinforce the structural imbalances of an industry in desperate need of reform.

Collages by Louisiana Mei Gelpi. 

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  • Julia

    I’ve been thinking about this so much recently! A week ago I listened to Jesce Horton speak about a minority populations being left behind as weed growers and business owners: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/15/legal-marijuana-industry-racism-portland-jesce-horton

    • Aydan

      it is so real and yet so little attention has been paid to this disparity.

  • Ana

    Thank you, thank you Otegha! This was so excellently written and mirrors so many conversations on this topic I’ve been having with family and friends recently.

  • Stefanie Amezcua

    As an active weed smoker in Texas, a state that will likely take years to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, I find this article to be so SPOT ON with the thoughts I have on the daily, while I toke. If people are going to start branding and cultivating an ‘aesthetic’ that fits their rich woman lifestyle, they need to take a step back and think of how lucky they are that they don’t risk getting arrested. I’m happy to hear most privileged people have an aware of the social injustice, but there’s still SO MANY OF THEM that overlook this because it doesn’t concern them. Or it has nothing to do with them because it will never affect them. How far we have come from looking down on potheads, to wanting to be amongst the elite of tokers. Call me crazy, but maybe even 45 should roll a J, sit back & really reconsider what the f*ck he’s doing in Office.

    • Jessyca Taef

      THIS.

  • “There’s nothing inherently wrong with cannabis being granted the glossy sheen of “lifestyle trend,” but it’s problematic when those doing so fail to consider the sociopolitical dynamics of an industry that’s been plagued by systemic racial injustice. ”

    Thank you for this.

    • Adrianna

      On a similar note, I’ve always found it frustrating that people who worry about organic food and single origin coffee are not concerned with their weed comes from, and whether people were exploited for that marijuana along the way.

      • It’s really really really hard to know the origin, unless you grow it, or live in a legal state. Another reason to fight to legalize it!

  • Alicia Abbaspour

    I feel like the content on Manrepeller has been SO good recently! This article included…so thoughtful of all the different dialogues happening around one issue. Thank you to the team!!!

  • Sarah Porter

    I have nothing against people who smoke weed. I do, however, have something against the affects weed can have on a person and their life. It’s addictive, dangerous, and to be frank, all around a bad idea. Say what you will, that’s what I know. Now here’s my opinion, and you can disagree here. Just, please, don’t do anything you’ll regret. There’s nothing classy about being stoned.

    • Lil

      Marijuana isn’t addicting. It hasn’t had negative effects on my life so far. There’s different strains, you just have to be responsible and know which is the best for you. And like anything that brings pleasure, you gotta use in moderation. Just like how you probably shouldn’t eat a dozen cupcakes at once because you’ll puke from all of the sugar.

      • Adrianna

        It’s pretty silly to make a super generalized statement about addiction just because you and your friends aren’t addicted to that specific substance.

        • Lil

          I meant that marijuana isn’t physically addictive like tobacco products

        • Lil

          Also it’s possible to make the case that anything can be addictive. I think society should place more importance on recognizing addictive behavior in people rather than placing so much blame on the object of addiction.

      • Suzan

        Oh please realise that cannabis is definitely an addictive substance! There’s no physical addiction (like how other drugs or alcohol can cause withdrawal), but there can definitely be a mental addiction, so be aware of that!
        I think you can definitely use cannabis in moderation like you state, just as how one can enjoy a couple of drinks on the weekend. But stating it’s not addictive is simply not true. I think that with these kind of substances you have to be very aware of the moment that you start thinking “I’m having fun, but this would be so much more fun with [insert substance of choice]”. Or when you can’t wait to go home so you can light one up. Stuff like that seems innocent but can slowly take over your life. Regardless what strains you smoke.
        So have fun, but be safe and aware!

        • Lil

          Yup that’s what I was getting at. Marijuana isn’t physically addictive like tobacco products. But also it’s possible to make the case that anything can be addictive. I think society should place more importance on recognizing addictive behavior in people rather than placing so much blame on the object of addiction.

    • Adrianna

      I’m all for legalization, but I also never found it appealing or attractive. It’s a symbol for people to signal that they’re progressive or cool in social situations. I know a night is about to get lame and that it’s time for me to go home once someone takes out a joint. I recognize that it can be a better alternative to pharmaceuticals and, that plenty of functional adults can use weed recreationally. But as you pointed out, I also know people who have spiraled out with marijuana use.

      • Jennifer

        It’s pretty silly for you to generalize that weed is a symbol for people to signal that they are progressive or cool. This comment is thick with your insecurities and judgmental mindset and I’m sure I’m not off base to assume that people are relieved when you FINALLY leave those social situations.

        • Exactly what I was thinking Jennifer! Bloody hell people are sooo judgemental!

          Unless you are teetotal you have NO leg to stand on when it comes to how “dangerous” weed is.

    • I am all for the sentiment behind your first sentence, so thank you for saying that. I’ll follow that with this: I think the world would be better off if we were better able to determine when it’s appropriate to say, “Hey, this isn’t for me, but it will be for somebody else whether I like it or not. So what’s the best way for me to either deal with that fact, or make it safer for all of us out here?”

      Studies have shown that on a chemical level, marijuana has little to no addictive qualities. Most things with which we interact in the modern world have addictive potential because of how we USE them–not to everyone, not even for them all the time, but to people with genetic predispositions who have a flare-up of bad mental health, are put in environments that don’t help that, and don’t have other coping mechanisms/treatment to make that better (it’s no coincidence that this is often the case with those in lower socioeconomic strata, who are most likely to be demonized and criminalized for using/carrying/selling marijuana). I have known people addicted to pills, gambling, shopping, even food, and alcohol (which for the record, many people have been altogether replacing with marijuana as a less addictive and healthier alternative). It was tough enough to get help for their compulsive behaviors; they never would have if the mechanism they’d been using was illegal or they’d be labeled as dangerous for it.

      Legalization is vital for so many reasons–so we can free the countless POC overcrowding the prison system for minor, nonviolent drug offenses; so people with cancer and living with chronic conditions can live pain-free with few side effects; and so we can have these conversations and eliminate misinformation. I hope this was helpful in some way.

      • Jennifer

        Well fucking said! Ugh. Thank you.

  • Thank you. Yes. This was such an important take. Too few of the weed lifestyle movements and brands happening are doing anything to support those who are disproportionately punished and imprisoned for weed related activities. A great podcast on the topic: https://one.npr.org/?sharedMediaId=551878709:552249300

  • Jennifer

    AMAZING article, through and through Otegha. Thank you for this!
    I’ve had some of the best experiences while high: hot baths, sex, walks through a park, conversations with friends, reading books, afternoon naps, days at museums, apartment cleaning sprees, the list is endless. Weed simultaneously opens and alerts my mind while relaxing and grounding me. I love and appreciate the perception it gives me. It truly feels like a gift from Earth. I’ve been able to ween off Zoloft because weed has undisputed calming effects that HEAL my anxiety and depression, along with mindfulness and exercise. It’s really a fucking shameful disaster how much pain and suffering WHITE MEN have caused to millions by making this natural resource illegal. I really really hope those greedy, evil bastards have an amazing time in Hell. Lastly, children and teens SHOULD NOT smoke weed. The frontal cortex needs to be fully developed but that doesn’t happen until the mid-twenties. Consult a doctor. Use responsibly. Light it up. Be well.

  • Stacey

    I think legalising cannabis for medicinal use will be very beneficial for many people that require it.

    My brother has schizophrenia and I know that cannabis use can trigger schizophrenic episodes and schizophrenia. I would not wish this mental disability on anyone. Ever. I would never use the drug nor would I encourage anyone to use it unless it was for medicinal use.

    • Stacey

      But I realise this is not what the article is about…

      • shuangxirose

        I am curious about this, can you elaborate?

  • shuangxirose

    I know this might be a little unrelated, and I’m not trying to start some big anti weed discussion here, just share my own experience, but an issue I have with weed is that it isn’t like alcohol where you don’t always notice it, if someone is smoking in public, you can really smell it .my issue with that is that almost a year ago I had some that must have been laced with something. I saw things, and blacked out for the night. Ever since then, my anxiety has been worse, I’ve felt more paranoid day to day about things I wasn’t as before, and I get dizzy and got bouts of depersonalization. If I smell weed for too long, I get almost flashbacks, and it’s a truly awful experience. It really worries me. I didn’t even think this was something possible, but I really hate this. It has a very negative impact on me that I know not everyone has, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning. Does anyone else know of an experience like this?

    • N

      I had a similar experience. This website might help you, as it has helped me. He talks about the link between marijuana use and depersonalization, and how it is not a rare experience. <3 http://www.dpmanual.com/testimonials/

      • shuangxirose

        Thank you so much!!!!! I am so grateful that you answered me! Thank you again! <3