Let’s Talk about Privilege, Cannabis, and Fashion

Fashion is complicated… and weird.  It evolves.  It stagnates.  It excludes.  It embraces.  Lately, it’s embraced cannabis, a flower with its own brand of weird symbolism: rebellion, unity, mass incarceration, euphoria, creativity, xenophobia, the DEA, mother nature, healing, addiction, implicit bias, and spirituality comprising only a portion of the plant’s symbolic profundity.

As cannabis settles into the mainstream, it becomes a safer, more marketable icon fashion designers can incorporate into their clothing lines and the luxury industry can commoditize.  For example, Cheryl Shuman, owner of the designer pot distributing company, Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, has been enormously successful in rebranding cannabis and designer paraphernalia as luxury items.  The Club sells golden-wrapped pot at $700 an ounce and $15,000 diamond vaporizers.  And why not?  If the market exists, it’s smart thinking to give it what it wants.  As celebrities make their support for cannabis more well known, this luxury market will only expand. Who knows, maybe soon we’ll be seeing White Widow strain products from Chanel.

Fashion Forward Pro Cannabis Celebs

Rihanna has similarly showcased her affinity for cannabis in clothing and photo opps.  She was even reportedly banned from a hotel in her home country, Barbados, for heavy smoking years ago. Emily Blunt wore a dress to the premier of ‘The Five Year Engagement’ back in 2012 that gave everyone pause with its spray of cannabis resembling green leaves.  Vanessa Hudgins and Kristin Stewart have been spotted donning more cannabis and fashionsubtle cannabis attire, Stewart wearing tie-dye socks with white pot leaves and Hudgins rocking a chambray top with a golden cannabis leaf patch on her breast pocket.

Some of the clothes these celebrities are wearing come from cannabis-specific clothing brands like Helpsy, The Personal Stash, and Revolution Riche.  But cannabis fashion isn’t exclusive to these marijuana-specific businesses.  Cannabis motifs have made appearances in the designs of Jeremy Scott, Alexander Wang, and Baja East.  These brands and designers have taken the leaf a long way from its gaudy neon green ancestor, using cannabis motifs to add drama or color to sophisticated, trendy clothing.  The images are at once provocative and comical, revolutionary and throwbacks to one of the most retro flowers on the planet.

Luxury Fashion and Cannabis

The increased acceptance of cannabis in the luxury market, fashion industry, and pop culture is creating a self-feeding cycle.  The more celebrities who come out of the cannabis closet, the more incentive there is for the fashion industry to take the risk of including cannabis-related images in their lines, the more acceptable it is for cannabis to be marketed cannabis and fashionas a luxury item.  This rebranding cycle is totally transforming the way that people see and talk about cannabis.

That’s because the name of the game is legitimacy.  The delegitimization of cannabis has its roots in xenophobia and racism.  Although hemp has been cultivated in North America since the colonial era, the narcotic version of the plant became popular during the 18th century when Mexican refugees fleeing the violent Mexican Revolution entered the United States and brought marijuana with them.

The reason Mexicans were accustomed to the narcotic use of cannabis?  The plant had been used quite regularly in South America as a way to pacify slaves.

Pots potential for generating tax revenue made its use prevalent, so by the Mexican Revolution, it was pretty entrenched in culture, especially among the impoverished

Now, the United States has never been known for embracing brown people for anything other than labor, and so, quite predictably, it used marijuana as an excuse to label Mexicans and their “marijuana menace” as dangers to society.  And so began the centuries long, unscientific but systematic process of cannabis prohibition that has culminated in a prison industrial complex fed by disproportionate numbers of blacks and Hispanics arrested for marijuana related charges.

Is Fashion Helping Legitimize Cannabis?

What does that have to do with high fashion?  Again, legitimacy.  The more appearances cannabis makes in popular culture, the more cultural capital it accumulates.  And let’s be real.  When it comes to cannabis, that cultural capital—that social legitimacy—is the legalization movement’s strongest weapon.  I mean, science doesn’t matter to the federal government.  Science screams about and points to the medical value of cannabis, but the feds say cannabis has none.  This shouldn’t be a surprise since cannabis has been stigmatized because of its associations with what society regards as illegitimate.  Namely, poor folks and people of color.

And that’s why we can’t pretend that the assimilation of cannabis into high fashion isn’t also an elitist thing

Not everyone can walk around wearing cannabis leaves, regardless of how unconventional and chic they are, on their clothing.  The level of pigment in your skin, your profession, the neighborhood you live and/or work in are all variables that can either buoy you with the privilege it requires to wage war on prohibition (or simply make a provocative statement) with your clothes or anchor you in a much less tolerant reality.

The Future of Cannabis and Fashion

So while cannabis’ emergence in the fashion industry is exciting, it’s important to remember that the leaf is not just a symbol of unity, healing, and revolution.  It is for many people a symbolic icon of society’s power to Cannabis and Fashionperpetuate propaganda to the detriment of entire populations.  And if anything, the drive to eradicate the myths born from that propaganda legitimizes the flower’s acceptance and celebration in pop culture, high fashion, and the luxury industry.

Those with the privilege to wear cannabis shouldn’t stop or feel guilty for their ability to do so

And given the plant’s federal status as an illegal substance, regardless of your race, profession, gender, or any other classification, it’s a bold move that comes with some risk.  What that privilege gives those who have it is the ability to alter someone else’s perception of cannabis in ways that may protect the marginalized.  The conversations started by those outfits don’t have to end with who designed them and their cost.  They can evolve and unpack the baggage they carry.  Coupled with the visual rebranding of cannabis, those conversations have the power to change policy.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.