Legal cannabis has spawned a litany of new and interesting careers, which is something writers are always in need of. One of the first scribes to see openings created by the plant was Katie Shapiro, known as "the world's first marijuana style writer," whose work has been featured in the Denver Post and Forbes; Shapiro also helped produce the documentary Rolling Papers, which followed the Post's pot writing during Colorado's first year of retail weed in 2014.
We caught up with Shapiro after she participated in a panel discussion about cannabis sustainability to learn more about her interesting career path, and how the style, fashion and overall culture of cannabis has evolved as the plant becomes more accepted by the mainstream.
Westword: When did get into writing about cannabis? You've been in it for a while.
Katie Shapiro: Right after the Cannabist launched, which was the Denver Post's dedicated online vertical and helmed by Ricardo Baca. Before that, I had known Ricardo for a few years through the media scene in Denver. It all started for me in 2014, while I was working on a documentary film project called Rolling Papers that featured him as the main subject. So as I was following the historical moment of legalization so closely as a producer, I saw an opportunity for me to start covering it as a writer, as well.
How did the fashion and style opportunity arise?
We had just wrapped shooting a scene at a bar. Over drinks, I asked Ricardo if he had anyone covering cannabis style yet. He had the foresight to make the Cannabist into an all-encompassing, go-to resource for an entirely new part of our culture. I guess my initial idea was specific to fashion, but it quickly expanded into cannabis as an overall lifestyle — especially with people becoming more open to talking about their own consumption post-legalization.
What does cannabis style mean now when you cover it in the news?
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Six years [after legalization], it’s completely different. Cannabis is now accepted and endorsed among mainstream fashion labels and beauty brands. A countless number of luxury lifestyle and accessories companies have emerged specific to cannabis, too. There's a lot more to write about.
When you talk about cannabis style, what does that entail? Does it just include clothing?
I think in the beginning, it was very obvious in terms of the fashion industry. It was more about people just putting pot leaves on things. But it's truly evolved. I report on the post-legalization new normal of cannabis culture, and have covered everything from pot leaf sightings on the runway, smoking etiquette and pop culture moments to product reviews, artist Q&As and dispensary design. With such a fast-changing industry as more states legalize, my beat has morphed along with it. And the CBD category has definitely been the biggest beauty-and-wellness trend and sub-industry to emerge in the past two years.
It’s meaningful to talk about paraphernalia. Before legalization, it was something that was always stashed away and never highly designed. Now there are so many beautiful pieces to proudly display and enhance the smoking experience, which contributes to erasing the stigma and elevates the communal culture of cannabis.
How can cannabis companies prove to customers that they're operating sustainably?
Communicate what you’re doing behind the scenes. I think it goes well beyond just packaging and not using plastic, which is a huge industry issue (and not just in cannabis). Just how green is your greenhouse facility?
I think it's about sharing the different things your company is doing to do your best, because as we discussed at the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium, it’s kind of impossible at this point to be 100 percent sustainable. Our panel touched on this, too. But also, aligning yourself with sustainability-minded industry organizations like the Cannabis Certification Council and Cannabis Alliance to help push this movement forward is important.
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And when it comes to a successful cannabis product, which areas are important for new cannabis companies to focus on?
First and foremost, legalization and regulation, which are essential to reaching a more sustainable industry. I think authenticity and transparency are also key.
What do you mean by authenticity and transparency?
I believe authenticity is having your own, genuine voice and values, and staying true to those through whatever message you're putting out on behalf of your company. And transparency is just being completely honest with your customers. Cannabis is a new substance for a lot of consumers who are experimenting with different brands. They’re looking for companies who can provide education and safe, effective products that they can trust.