reefer blandness

How weed became a white girl thing

Shutterstock, FUSION

Her tone is glib, though she is clearly educated. She flexes a strong hashtag game, an eye for minimalist design. She is a beginner at reading tarot. She has opinions about Drake’s new album Views. She can paint a perfect cat-eye while high as fuck. She doesn’t fit the mold of the 1990s-era Spencers Gifts pothead, or the one the War on Drugs invented. She is a newish human iteration: She’s the beta stoner.

When “Broad City” emerged in 2014, it was lauded in part because characters Abbi and Ilana smoked weed frequently, but in a functioning way. It showed marijuana’s growth in one corner of society, where young white women held down jobs and personal relationships, getting high often without completely going up in smoke.

Alanna Vanacore, a 28-year-old white visual artist who lives in Brooklyn, is of this breed. She’s used marijuana for more than 10 years in some capacity. A clean, platinum bob sprouts from the top of her head, framing her face—not a mass of oily, matted hair. She says she smokes or uses a vaporizer a few times a week, usually to prep for painting or to deal with anxiety. She sleeps under a luxurious feather down comforter, tucked in an immaculate white slip. She doesn’t own one piece of tie-dyed clothing. The woman hustles, too, working a part-time administrative job in addition to selling her own work and producing shows to help peddle it.

There isn’t much in the way of an official census in regards to how many women in the U.S. use marijuana now, before, or ever, really. But if recent, frenzied media coverage (and legislative changes) are any indication, more and more women are sparking up. A boyfriend or male companion isn’t imperative to the equation. Instead, I’ve noticed more women around me attaining their own herb, and as their profile is growing they’re getting their own Instagram-ready products, too, like cutesy printed rolling papers and gold-dipped one-hitters.

On one hand, the feminization of weed can be seen as empowering—stripping the culture of its once hyper-masculine, Cheech & Chong presumptions. But there’s an inherent whiteness to this new breed. Although the state of New York still deems marijuana largely illegal, Vanacore and the girls in “Broad City” don’t run a huge risk carrying a spliff’s worth of herb or less. Almost two years ago, the New York Police Department adopted a new policy that limited low-level marijuana charges to writing tickets. But more importantly, as the American Civil Liberties Union has found, black people are almost four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. So even as weed-smoking becomes a casual, female activity, the question of who gets to visibly participate in the culture still often breaks down along racial lines.

Missy Elliott, no matter that she’s one of the greatest hustlers of our time, is still remembered for Passing that Dutch. Rihanna’s marijuana use, obsessively catalogued by fans, is referred to by media outlets as part of a party-girl behavior that’s unhinged. In other words: Everyone loves the lady-stoner, just as long as she’s white.

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The ‘90s were “more of drug rugs and dreads,” says Krystal Visions, a 32-year-old visual artist and Jill-of-all-creative-trades in Atlanta, Georgia. “It was more like, ‘That guy who smoked a lot of weed.’ Now it’s like, ‘Oh that girl is really cute and trendy and seems like she’s really fun and into herself. She also admits that she smokes weed.’” Visions is among the latter, balancing a part-time job serving with an event planning business, creating her own art, and running a burgeoning tarot-reading gig, among other ventures. She, too, admits that she smokes weed and freely references it on social media, posting stylized stoner pics to her Instagram.

But Ashley (not her real name), a 24-year-old black woman in Atlanta, says in part it’s her race that keeps her quiet about her marijuana use and fuels her wishes to remain anonymous in this piece. Her Ghanaian immigrant parents and their staunch expectations also have something to do with it, too. “The first person I actually smoked with was my [older] brother,” she says, who was in college at Emory at the time.

By the time Ashley got to college herself, she regularly got high with a white roommate who came from a wealthy family. The roommate always pushed to go on stoned grocery shopping trips at the store near their apartment. Although uncomfortable, Ashley obliged once or twice. She says while her roommate remained chill, Ashley’s own anxiety spiked. “Because she’s a young white girl from an upper-class suburb of mostly young white people, she feels like she has that freedom,” Ashley says. “But I’m a black kid, what if I get in trouble? It’s not going be the same.’”

The overarching theme for white women using weed tends to be of rebellion or some semblance of edginess.

The paranoia from smoking too much weed mixed with a legit, standing fear for her safety in a systemically oppressive legal system, Ashley says, felt debilitating. She added that if they’d ever gotten in trouble for marijuana, her roommate’s parents could easily bail her out; Ashley, however, would be stuck to clean up her own mess.

There’s a long history of such double standards in America, particularly when it comes to drugs. See vocalist and jazz musician Billie Holiday, who was notorious for indulging in a number of vices, among them weed. Following Prohibition, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics zeroed in on her and other black artists’ affinity for marijuana, envisioning a “national round-up arrest for all such persons on a single day.” The results were devastating for Holiday.

But by 1977, Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall, an educated, progressive white woman, could insist to a partner that smoking weed improved sex. To this, her white male lover, Alvy Singer, referenced the idea that “grass” was supposed to “make a white woman more like Billie Holiday.”

The overarching theme for white women using weed tends to be of rebellion or some semblance of edginess. As a symbol of outgrowing a picture-perfect prom queen persona, a very girly Molly Ringwald took a long drag from a joint in the library in 1985’s Breakfast Club. 1997 saw a bikini-clad, bleach-blond Bridget Fonda ripping off a bong, reclined on a couch in Jackie Brown, explaining she’s mostly down “to get high and watch TV.” Fonda’s portrayal fed more into the burnout trope: a bright, young thing with luster dimming thanks to weed scorching her brains and ambition.

Now, 11 years after Nancy Botwin used her whiteness to make her first sale on “Weeds” in an affluent gated community, it’s hard to argue that an affinity for pot is indicative of a remotely “alternative” lifestyle—though of course Nancy’s race helped her deal more or less undercover. And this fall’s Snoop Dogg-produced show “Mary + Jane,” which follows two 20-something white women in their L.A.-based “ganjapreneurial” adventures, leverages their race to whitewash the business and get some laughs.

161017-woman-smoking2Elena Scotti/FUSION

As with anything with an increased consumer demand and a well-defined demographic niche, there are endless opportunities to personalize weed culture and associated gadgets to buy. These days, a design company can effectively make, market, and sell products like a 22-karat gold– or silver-dipped one-hitter for $75.

Catchtilly, a brick-and-mortar in Austin, sells hand-held glass pipes painted like peaches. It’s a distinctly feminine vibe that really endorses its tagline: “A head shop for the babe that’s down.” Creating a space for the woman stoner was the biggest motivator for Amanda Farris and Laura Uhlir when opening up shop.

“Our shop looks like a boutique,” Ulhir says. “It doesn’t look like a dingy man’s shop—no offense—but it’s clear who we’re speaking to. We try to do it through our branding. We have lady lips smoking a joint. We have cute flowers. We’ve got a lady as one of our logos.” Their customer base is one that has 48 disposable dollars for a peach pipes, one of Catchtilly’s more budget-friendly smoking devices.

Smoking accessories online shop Tetra kicks up the luxury a few notches. Started by a trio of friends mostly based in New York in California with backgrounds in editorial and fashion, the emphasis on beauty in everyday objects—in this case, shit that will get you high—is paramount. Tetra stocks products from many designers, ranging from pastel Zippo-style lighters from New York boutique Project No. 8 ($45) to a geode-like Andrew O. Hughes lighter and ashtray set ($1,250).

Kristen Williams of Missouri designed, co-wrote, and edited the book Cannabis Cleanse. One section, “Comparing Cannabis and Alcohol,” graphically breaks down the average calories of five generalized drinks, asserting, in cheerful yellow lettering: “Put simply, people who choose cannabis are losing weight because they aren’t trying booze.”

Weed’s increasing visibility as a white lady thing, if history is any indication, will likely erase the weed-smoking cultures that preceded it.

Williams speaks scientifically about her relationship with marijuana: “I think ‘cannabis’ is the best way to refer to it, because it has a more scientific value to it—rather than ‘weed,’” she says. But her Instagram reflects not only a designer’s meticulous approach to the social media channel, but a penchant for the Kinfolk approach to weed. One shot frames a backlit Williams sprawled on a dock, curly brown hair piled in a loose bun, as she takes a dab. The caption reads: “I wish you the fattest of dabs this fine 7.10,” followed by a party horn and smoke cloud emoji.

There’s an internet prowess uniting many of these young women. An openness, too, in their use of marijuana, despite state laws where they live. Visions says she doesn’t think twice about what weed-related content she posts online. Hence images like the one of her rolling a jay in hella twee strawberry-patterned paper, across the screaming ‘90s cover of a novel called Witch. Vanacore is in the same boat, with a video of her lighting a one-hitter with an ornately long match. All their accounts are public.

It’s possible the three may be flexing a subtle form of white privilege in freely uploading such content sans fear of repercussions. Ashley seems to think so. “I’m very much public versus private [person],” she says. “And [using marijuana], I think, is something I want to stay private…But if I were a white woman, I probably wouldn’t feel the same way.”

Certainly arrest rates are up for young Latinx in states like Colorado, where adults are otherwise allowed to use the herb. And legalized weed is leading to dispensaries that contribute to further gentrification in cities like Seattle as Mimi, a 29-year-old Arab-Canadian who prefers a pseudonym because of her PhD candidacy, points out: “I think there’s something to be said about affluent folks buying up storefronts in states where pot is about to be legalized knowing that they’re about to make fucking bank off a soon-to-be legitimate business where poor—and largely black—folks have had prison sentences and ruined lives instead.”

But with the Urban Outfitters-style expansion of marijuana culture, it may be only a matter of time until we see more than a $24-bottle of face wash literally called Pass That Dutch. We could start seeing actual paraphernalia in mainstream stores soon … But would that be the worst?

“If American Apparel can sell pro-LGBTQ tank tops and then we suddenly get legalized gay marriage, maybe there’s something to be said for Urban Outfitters selling decorative glass pipes,” Mimi says.

Still, the gentrification of marijuana has created some tension. It’s great we’re starting to accept the idea of (mostly white) women rolling cute-ass joints with girlfriends and lighting up; however, weed’s transformation is making the associated culture inaccessible to some groups of people. Its increasing visibility as a white lady thing, if history is any indication, will likely erase the weed-smoking cultures that preceded it. In the meantime, it seems safe for these women, at least, to continuing talking about their marijuana use openly in-person and on social media, even when they live in a state where the herb remains illegal.

“There’s very much that mentality among young, white, upper-class pot smokers, where it’s like, ‘I’m just doing what I want, I’m free, I can do what I want, and you don’t have to get upset about it. We’re all just people, why can’t we all just be equal, and smoke pot and just be mellow?’” Ashley says.

“But they don’t examine everything else around their pot smoking. It’s never just them smoking pot.”