In a scene from last month's ITV show Gone to Pot, Pam St. Clement (EastEnders' Pat Butcher) took a slow, nonchalant drag on her joint. Sporting her trademark, bleach-blonde crop and black eyebrows, she looked incongruous among a group of nuns; nuns who also happened to be her suppliers for the day. She was joined by a squad of TV and ex-sporting stars for an American road trip that explored the weed scene in US states where cannabis has been legalised.
St. Clement’s gung-ho attitude – smoking with nuns, trying a bong at a puff, pass and paint class, and joining a police raid of an illegal cannabis farm – was kind of empowering. But it was, of course, also pretty hilarious, thanks in part to the drug’s illicitness back home. Cannabis is still an illegal, class B drug in the UK, and both dealing and possession can carry hefty custodial sentences and fines. But a soap star puffing on weed could be one step towards normalising its mainstream image; it's certainly a welcome change from male stoner films such as Pineapple Express.
Of course, for many, cannabis is not a topic to be taken lightly – from a medical, as well as legal, perspective. The NHS describes cannabis' potential to be highly addictive and lists a number of possible negative effects alongside the other effects some users might seek (eg. feeling relaxed). But a closer look at those who use and sell the drug, and at how places other than the UK deal with it, can challenge our preconceptions and open up discussion.
Overhauling stereotypes around weed is one aim of the women running lifestyle, cannabis-focused magazines in the US. Take Anja Charbonneau, who recently founded independent print magazine Broccoli in Portland, Oregon – a state where cannabis has been legal for over-21s since 2015. Charbonneau, 34, is the former art director of Kinfolk magazine and will be publishing Broccoli – named after a slang term for cannabis – three times a year. Charbonneau says there were few publications speaking to women as casual consumers. “Women who are getting the magazine are hard workers and really creative and driven. It really has nothing to do with the [stoner] image we’ve been sold for a really long time,” she says.
The first issue’s cover image is a weed plant styled in a Japanese ikebana floral arrangement. Inside, articles include an essay on little-known but brilliant women of art history, and profiles of women carving a living from weed, from an ice-cream maker to a weed dispensary founder.
Charbonneau explains that in Oregon anyone over 21 can show their ID and buy weed from a dispensary (although it’s important to note the drug is still illegal under federal law): “I have a lot of friends who will go shopping at dispensaries with their co-workers at lunch,” she says. But there is still some stigma and to reduce this is Charbonneau’s first aim. She also seeks to champion the scene’s growing number of female entrepreneurs.
Entering the weed industry is tougher for women, suggests Verena von Pfetten, cofounder of new cannabis lifestyle media brand Gossamer. She and her business partner David Weiner, who have been friends since working together at Huffington Post over a decade ago, knew weed was a part of each other’s life and, like Charbonneau, saw a space in the market for a lifestyle media brand that covered cannabis.
But von Pfetten, 34, and based in New York (where recreational cannabis use is still illegal), says she had to think carefully about launching Gossamer. “Being associated with cannabis is going to be a part of my resumé forever, which can be trickier for women than men, and can be trickier depending on what your race is.” But her desire to bring the community together drove von Pfetten forward.
Gossamer’s biannual print magazine launches in 2018 and a website is forthcoming, but it already has a presence through its newsletters and social media. The print version will cover cannabis, but also the ways in which the drug relates to travel, food and culture. Von Pfetten says it will have an inquisitive and humorous tone. As a taster, recent Gossamer newsletters have featured an essay on the significance of the humble alarm clock and an interview with the founder of a Portland-based retail business.
Since it inspired a career move, how does weed fit into von Pfetten’s personal life? “It informs a lot of my decisions, but in my friend group and larger community there are some people who consume it and some that don’t. I think what everyone has in common [among the readers we want to reach] is an open-mindedness, a curiosity and a bit of a sense of adventure.”
Another weed-focused magazine born from a brainstorm between friends is Atlanta-based Dope Girls. Launched in April 2016 by Beca Grimm, Rachel Hortman and Katie Campbell, Dope Girls’ take on weed culture is geared towards a slightly different readership than Gossamer’s.
“So much of cannabis culture was hyper-masculine or sleazy,” says Grimm. “I wanted to see more visibility of these people: femme [a traditionally feminine woman], or otherwise not masculine, hardworking, ambitious, soft, tough, hustlers.” Another aspiration that’s driven Grimm is women’s reproductive rights – any money made from Dope Girls goes to Planned Parenthood Southeast. Dope Girls’ articles have so far included a discussion of vaginas post-pregnancy and an argument for the existence of straight, male sex workers.
Meanwhile, over on the West Coast, the women behind Push Mag are championing the weed industry’s women entrepreneurs. The founders are based in Washington State and California, both states where weed is legalised. Abigail Ross, 28, is the editor-in-chief. With the help of their team, she and chief digital strategist Khara Krawczyk, who is based in Los Angeles, run a quarterly print magazine and website. Covering topics such as intersectional feminism and off-the-grid artists, they too seek to challenge stereotypical perceptions of weed smokers: “The mainstream media still sees [the weed scene] as a joke. The more women whose stories we can get out there, the more that can change the face of what the industry is.”