The cover of Gossamer’s debut issue features a mouthwatering image of orange juice being poured into a glass dotted with beads of condensation. Inside there’s an article about books as home décor status items, a Q&A with writer and director Janicza Bravo, and a fashion spread featuring the clothing lines of Rosetta Getty and Gabriela Hearst.
The magazine’s tag line and de facto motto, “High Quality,” is opaque enough to not raise any red flags to narcs, but also serves as a winking reference to its connective thread and defining subject matter: marijuana.
In Broccoli’s fourth and most recent issue, between advertisements for the cannabis body care brand Apothecanna and the weed delivery service Eaze, there’s a profile of the women who founded an “ungendered skatewear” brand and an advice column from Emily Post concerning how to “tactfully talk about weed.”
And at Miss Grass, you’ll find a recipe for cucumber, tomato and CBD salad; a three-step how-to on rolling the perfect joint; and a guide to Los Angeles’ best cannabis-friendly attractions. Miss Grass’s slogan? “High Minded.”
“We wanted to create something that reflected how we engage with cannabis on a daily or weekly or monthly basis in our personal lives,” said Verena von Pfetten, who, along with David Weiner, started Gossamer magazine last year. “Everyone uses it for a different reason: to relax, to sleep, to have fun, to go out to dinner or on a hike. It’s about the experience you do after. It was important for us to create a lifestyle publication that sat between cannabis and all the other interests of the consumer.”
Anja Charbonneau, the founder and creative director of Broccoli, and formerly of the hipster lifestyle bible Kinfolk, felt similarly. “There’s this huge swath of people who use marijuana in a considered way, it’s not their life’s focus,” she said. “Because it can touch so many different parts of life, like food, creativity, politics and science, it’s important to situate it in that bigger picture of lifestyle.”
Set against a backdrop in which marijuana legalization slowly works its way across the United States, cannabis culture is being reframed thanks, in part, to independently run magazines with modest press runs but impressive coffee-table presence.
They are helping the archetype of marijuana smokers as shaggy-haired, bloodshot-eyed burnouts evolve into one of cultured, luxury-designer-wearing members of the creative class. For a certain upper-middle-class demographic, overwhelmingly white, pot has all but been transformed from illicit drug to wellness item or indulgence akin to a fine wine or cigar.
A new generation of users are more likely to read Goop than High Times, the stoner bible, and publishers see an exciting opportunity in a marketplace that could reach $23.4 billion in consumer spending and employ a half-million Americans by 2023, according to the cannabis data firm BDS Analytics.
Print media is going up in smoke. Could weed, of all things, be its savior?
A Budding Industry
“We’ve both worked at larger companies,” said Weiner of Gossamer, referring to himself and von Pfetten. “But working on something that we could build from the ground up in a growth industry and that speaks to our peers and which people want to spend time with — to me, what else would I be looking for in life, at least at this point?” (He is 33.)
Von Pfetten, 35, said: “The cannabis space is obviously popular and buzzy, but it’s nowhere near at capacity. We’re still very much at the nascent stages.”
For Kate Miller, the CEO and a founder of Miss Grass, “it’s about building the brand.” Miss Grass’ first issue came out last year.
“Hopefully we’ll have our own product line, do more events, partner with more cannabis and nonendemic brands,” Miller said. “The big question is how to destigmatize and normalize this industry.”
While the market is still small, other titles are seeking to capitalize on its future growth. There’s Dope Girlz, a scrappy zine out of Atlanta, and Toke Kitchen, a foodie pot magazine out of Chicago. Online, there’s Estrohaze, which focuses on minority women in the marijuana industry.
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“Living in Portland and seeing all this creativity that went along with legal weed was really exciting,” said Charbonneau, who is in Oregon. “While there was a lot of evolution going on, the media side felt pretty stagnant, very industry focused, male dominated. There was nothing for people like me who are casual but dedicated about their cannabis use.”
“People have responded to it overwhelmingly,” she said. “A lot of work has been done in just this year in terms of normalization, so now it’s like, how do we continue that narrative?”
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Au Revoir, Stoner Bro
“This is a sign that the stigma around cannabis is starting to disappear,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “As that stigma has started to erode, we’re starting to see that cannabis consumers come from a wide variety of walks of life.”
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Fox, who started working in the field a decade ago, remembers seeing issues of High Times on magazine stands wrapped in plastic and placed near pornographic titles. Today, cannabis magazines are sold at trendy bookstores likes McNally Jackson and the Strand in New York, or offered in-room at hip boutique hotels like the Ace in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
Miller started her cannabis career while working at a medical marijuana shop in downtown Los Angeles during college. “At the time, everything we were selling leaned in to that stoner bro stigma,” she said. “It had giant weed leaves on it and Rastafarian signs.”
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When it came to her personal use, Miller saw a stark divide between reality and media representation. “The way that my girlfriends and I were speaking about, consuming and integrating pot into our lives felt so different than how it was portrayed, not only in pop culture, but within cannabis culture,” she said.
She had the foresight to buy the web address for Miss Grass at that time, in 2008, not yet knowing how she would put it to use.
“There was a demographic that everyone was speaking to that was old and tired, it was these stereotypes and clichés,” Weiner said. “We felt like a lot of brands and media companies weren’t taking into account the realities of sophisticated consumers and readers and how they act and what they think about or what they desire in the world.”
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The Politics of Pot Pages
Still, there are challenges. Marijuana is recreationally legal in only nine states, and medically legal in 31. Because of this legal limbo, there are Byzantine rules and regulations regarding how weed can be marketed, including a ban on online advertising.
Many cannabis companies, however, are making a lot of money and want to use some for promotion, and perceive that an aspirational lifestyle magazine is the ideal product in which to promote their products.
“A lot of brands really want to be a part of this evolution of the culture,” Charbonneau said. “They want to support others who are doing interesting work and lifting up interesting people in the community.”
With their playful aesthetics and generally lighthearted stories, these publications may appear blissfully oblivious to certain political realities of the drug. But staffers were careful to indicate to “check their privilege,” to use the lingo of the day.
“We always say if you’re not thinking of the social justice aspect of this and you work in cannabis, you’re doing it very very wrong,” Weiner said. “We wanted to be upfront and thoughtful about the social justice component about cannabis, as well, when you think of how many people are allowed to participate and how many people are still in jail for minor cannabis-related offenses.”
Charbonneau said she plans on donating a portion of profits from sales of Broccoli’s fourth issue to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, which helps people who are jailed for minor offenses and are unable to pay for bail.
“A lot of what we do is about educating consumers on how to use the product, but also educating them on how we got here,” Miller said. Much of the content of these magazines may be trendy and apolitical, but Miller noted, as well, the importance of acknowledging the harsher history of pot — namely the “victims of the war on drugs,” she said, most of whom have been minorities.
The new magazines, their editors say, also reflect the groups forged by pot smokers in real life.
“David talked about going to weddings as the plus-one and you go outside and see people smoking weed and you’ve got a community for the night,” von Pfetten said. “When we thought about content, it’s like, how do we put people forward?”
She mentioned “Conversations,” a feature of monologues with attractive product shots. “These are the types of people you meet and you don’t talk about weed the whole time,” she said. “It comes up peripherally and it’s something you connect on and share your favorite products or experiences, but the person is so much more than that.”
Von Pfetten added that she wants Gossamer to be a “global brand” that people who are into cannabis can relate to. “What that looks like? Who knows,” she said. “The industry is literally changing on a month-to-month basis.”