Verena von Pfetten was at a dinner party when the idea for Gossamer, a media brand dedicated to cannabis culture, started to come together. “The woman next to me was probably 20 years my senior, and she said something about how she and her husband had smoked a joint the night before and watched something on Netflix,” she tells us. “And I was immediately like, ‘You are my people.’ Not only because she smoked, but because she said she did.”
Von Pfetten continues, “I was like, that’s awesome, because you either don’t care if I’m going to judge you, or you looked at me and said, 'This person isn’t going to judge me for saying that.’” That sense of intimacy and connection is what she wanted to bring to Gossamer. “I want to build a community of people, and I want to build something that speaks to that community in the way that helps change the conversation around this. I want everyone to feel like they can tell someone at a dinner party that they smoke weed, and that’s okay.”
The ability to do just that is becoming easier and easier these days, as cannabis is a big part of our national cultural conversation, what with the rolling legalization of marijuana spreading across the country. According to New Frontier Data, medical marijuana sales are estimated to grow from $4.7 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2020, while recreational sales are set to jump from $2.6 billion to $11.2 billion by 2020. It’s a growing industry with lots of money to be made—and women are cashing in on this crop, making up around 36 percent of cannabis company heads compared to comprising only 25 percent of leadership roles in the rest of the business world.
Still, though, there's no doubt that weed's image is often associated with stoners in hemp necklaces—the commonly considered aesthetics of weed are not, how shall we put it, aspirational. But that couldn't be further from reality. And it's this skewed view of cannabis culture that women like Von Pfetten, as well as Anja Charbonneau of Broccoli magazine, are hoping to change, by softening that image and making it, let's face it, more Instagrammable.
Charbonneau, for one, is ready to do that; her prior work at Kinfolk, a magazine known for its covetable aesthetic, leaves little doubt that Broccoli follows a similar formula. The first issue, which is free of charge and ships in January, includes a “balance between fun and educational content that is specifically about cannabis and other content that just sort of fits into the spectrum of what that reader might like,” Charbonneau tells us. So, a piece about Japanese ambient music made by women in the ‘80s will be seen alongside a stunning editorial spread of weed floral arrangements. “We're bringing a polished look, and I think that we're recognizing that the design acts as a really safe entry point for people who are curious about cannabis,” Charbonneau says. “Like, they are afraid of it until it looks pretty. So, there definitely are people out there who need that helping hand, and if the design can help them get there, then that's really helpful as a whole for normalizing cannabis. And it's fun for us because we love design and art and photography.”
Von Pfetten has a similar approach for Gossamer. She wants weed to be the entry point, but it doesn’t have to always be the focus. “We say we are covering things of interest to our audience—travel, culture, art, food, design—through a green lens,” she says. Going back to the dinner party analogy, she wants to highlight people who you’d want to end up sitting next to at the table. “That has nothing to do, honestly, with whether they consume cannabis or not—they could be a designer, a photographer, an engineer, a scientist, a lawyer,” von Pfetten says. “But some people are just sort of curious and captivating and incredible conversationalists.”
Another aspect of this approach is to remove weed from any sort of reductive partying narrative, and recognizing that many people use it in the same way they'd drink a glass of wine. “A lot more people are consuming cannabis to relax and to check out and to turn themselves off and disconnect for a little bit,” von Pfetten says. Many also use it to help with work, cure anxiety, alleviate pain, help them sleep, or feel social.
But it isn't just the magazine industry getting disrupted, television, too, is seeing a weed revolution. Already a key part of shows like Broad City and High Maintenance, weed takes center stage in the new talk show Queens of the Stoned Age, which is produced by Tara Aquino and aims to feminize the televised weed space even more. Described by Aquino as “an edgy version of The View with weed,” the series, co-created by Snoop Dogg, highlights everyone smoking from the grandmas to the gamers. “The goal of the series is to remove the stigma of cannabis and get rid of the taboo surrounding it,” Aquino says. She does so by bringing successful women who regularly smoke into the narrative. “We want women to feel free to come out of the cannabis closet. We want them to feel safe to discuss their own ways of healing… we see the cannabis conversation as a jumping-off point for delving into larger topics, such as mental and emotional health, body image issues, gender and racial inequality, and the broken criminal justice system.”
When Ashley Brooke, co-founder of The High Ends, a community for women smokers, first Googled “women and weed,” the images that came up were ladies in bikinis smoking bongs, sexualized girls with tattoos, or "boho" women. “It was all about how women are ‘supposed’ to look smoking weed in the minds of men,” she says. And save for a couple images of Rihanna, the women were all white. And, while it’s important for all women to carve out a space in the industry, it’s doubly important for women of color to do so. As Brooke outlines:
We're often the ones marginalized, imprisoned, unrightfully and aggressively prosecuted and judged for our relationship with weed. There's this idea that black and brown people who smoke look or act a certain way—a way that's unacceptable, unprofessional, unmotivated, and uncouth. As it becomes legal, and the industry grows, it's SUPER important we have a piece of it as we're the ones who are paying the heavy price—legally and socially. It takes more POC, and women of color specifically, in the industry to help turn the stigma around and show stories and lifestyles that are actually more relatable and truthful.
But while many states have recently passed laws diminishing and totally eradicating restrictions on marijuana, the prospects of national legalization are still up in the air. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has voiced his disapproval of the plant many times and the federal government believes it has a “high potential for abuse” and “no medically accepted use.” So the fact that ladies are at the forefront of this cannabis movement feels like an especially loud and hearty “fuck you” to an administration that regularly demeans women. The key, then, is to keep the momentum going. Brooke’s ultimate goal is to repopulate that Google image search box with shots of “women behind desks, women in their creative spaces, women being real… We want to continue telling their stories and growing our community... kinda like a cypher! The blunt gets passed, we take a hit, and pass it to the next with a lil’ knowledge and insight along with it.”