The inaugural issue of High Times features the profile of a woman, her face washed in blue ink and tipped upwards as she delicately studies, what one can safely assume, is not an average mushroom. Next to her, a set of cover lines in a sleek font are tucked neatly into the corner. There’s not a cannabis leaf in sight.
That first issue, published in 1974, was a remarkably quiet affair. But in the decades following High Times’ debut, weed magazines shifted towards a more stereotypically “stoner” aesthetic—leaves, smoke motifs, and beauty shots of buds. “We’re basically like weed porn” says High Times’ culture editor, Mary Jane Gibson, whose real name is, yes, Mary Jane.
There’s nothing wrong with weed porn. For decades, magazines like High Times and Skunk have satiated the desires of cannabis lovers with their glossy photographic spreads. They’ve balanced ostentatious design with serious writing that’s pushed the conversation around legalization forward. And as a result, they’ve made way for a new crop of cannabis magazines that are paying homage to High Times’ more subdued past.
Publications like Broccoli, a triannual cannabis magazine for women, and Gossamer, an online platform and biannual magazine, are approaching cannabis through a ‘lifestyle’ lens, and in the process are redefining what a weed magazine looks like.
Anja Charbonneau knew from the start that she wanted Broccoli to look and feel a little bit strange. “In the beginning we wanted to make a really conceptual magazine,” says the former Kinfolk creative director, who founded Broccoli with a small group of women. She and her designer, Jennifer James Wright, toyed around with illegible typefaces and colorful paper. They wanted to channel the adventurous design of magazines like Flair, a 1950s fashion magazine known for its experimental die cuts, folded pages, and scented paper.
For Charbonneau, a cannabis magazine was an opportunity for more sensorial reading experience, where imagery is just as powerful as text. “We’re trying to find ways to tap into the sensory part of an altered state,” she says. The cover of Broccoli’s first issue shows a sparse Japanese flower arrangement called ikebana that uses hemp leaves in place of more traditional plants. Wright designed the magazine’s woozy wordmark to appear crimped and distorted—just glitchy enough to prove its point. “We didn’t want it to be set in stone,” Charbonneau says. “It’s more like it’s set in smoke, I guess.”
Inside, the magazine simultaneously feels sparse and lush. It’s filled with stories that circle cannabis culture: an essay about the nun-turned-designer, Corita Kent; a photo spread on paper sculptures; a piece that touches on cannabis alternatives to medicine. Each piece is set against liberal white space, with hazy photographs and muted sunset hues that make the magazine feel like a distant drugged-out cousin of Kinfolk’s unrelenting staidness.
Like Broccoli, Gossamer has managed to turn smoking weed into an Instagram-ready aesthetic. Its founders, David Weiner and Verena von Pfetten, chose a color palette of rich greens, yellows, and oranges to evoke the hippyish, drug-tinged decade of the ‘70s without leaning too heavily on the past. Gossamer’s visuals, with designers Kristina Bartošová and Verena Michelitsch behind the design, are bolder than Broccoli’s, with geometric illustrations and saturated photographs that make pixels feel like they have some texture. “We were really adamant about not being like whatever else was out there,” Weiner says. “We didn’t want the palette du jour, which was the whole painted white brick wall thing.”
Weiner and von Pfetten describe Gossamer as lifestyle media brand for people who just happen to like weed (its tagline: “For people who also smoke weed.”) “When we talk about the audience we want to reach with Gossamer, we talk about it almost as a mindset,” says von Pfetten. The founders explain that Gossamer readers are curious and nonjudgmental. They definitely smoke weed—maybe even a lot of it—but it’s a hobby, not a defining characteristic.
The distinction between casual hobbyist and enthusiastic aficionado is important. When Tom Forçade founded High Times in the ‘70s with the money from his dealing operation, it was meant to celebrate the subversiveness of drug culture. “He really wanted, as an anti-establishmentarian, to stick it to the man,” Gibson of High Times says. It’s an attitude that, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety.
Today, though, cannabis is going mainstream, and publications like Gossamer and Broccoli, have a vested interest in making weed culture feel less like a members-only club. Both magazines consider their elevated design a way to normalize the conversation around weed. In many cases, their visuals are evocative a feeling rather than descriptive of the drug itself, which makes it less scary for those weed-shy readers to engage.
Of course, normalization has always been the goal of cannabis publications, regardless of their preferred aesthetic. Today you can have an issue of High Times next to Broccoli next to Gossamer, and if you ask any of the publishers they’ll tell you the more diversity the better. “The idea that there’s a specific look for people who enjoy cannabis is part of that problem,” Gibson says. “I’m excited to see some of these design-heavy magazines come out and push that boundary. There’s so much room for everyone—there are a lot of seats at the green table.”