On January 1, flavored tobacco products — including blunt wraps — will be banned in the state of California. San Francisco has a similar forbid in 2017, and flavored tobacco is no longer legally available in the city since July 27, 2018. Whether such bans are justified is hotly debated, with proponents pointing to research suggesting bans curb smoking rates among young people and opposition arguing that such bans are excessive or infringe on their personal autonomy. What is less clear, however, is what this ban will mean for the blunt smoking culture.
For years, blunts have been synonymous with the intersection of hip-hop and cannabis. Whether you’re looking at publicity photos from Notorious BIG or selfies from Andre Nickatina’s feed, blunts are ubiquitous.
As is the case with much of hip-hop’s heritage, there is no clear answer as to where the practice comes from. However, there is enough anecdotal evidence suggesting that the tradition of wrapping sticky buds in the stripped husks of Backwoods, Phillies, and Swisher Sweets descends from Caribbean cigar culture.
The Population of Caribbean Immigrants in New York City swelled in the 1990s and early 2000s. Over the course of that same decade, hip-hop became the best-selling genre of popular American music, the magazine cigar lover printed its first issue, and a lanky buffoon known as “Kramer” would regularly rave about the quality of his illegally obtained “Cubans” in the popular NBC sitcom Seinfeld. Entering the word “bot” into Google Trends indicates that national interest in the cigar and cannabis fusion grew steadily from 2004 (the furthest back you can search on the platform) until around 2018, when it started off to take.
Considering all of the above information – and balancing it against the fact that the word “blunt” is used only once, while the term “joint” appears five times in the Luniz’s iconic weed-smoking anthem from 1995, “I Got 5 on It” – and you have a strong argument that historically black neighborhoods in New York City, like the Bronx and Harlem, have been the American home of tobacco-rolled cannabis cigars.
In California, the blunt culture has taken on a unique tenor. NorCal cannabis consumers have a long-standing reputation as “purists” and choose products that bring them as close to the plant as possible, without any bells and whistles, such as flavor additives or branded packaging. NorCal natives who participated long before legalization – and especially those who discovered cannabis in the free-spirited ’70s – are usually well aware of this reputation, if not proud of it. So when Gavin Newsom signed a bill in late August to ban flavored tobacco statewide, sources spoke to… SF Evergreen didn’t think it would be particularly disruptive to Bay Area cannabis culture. Especially for those old stoners, blunts are just a fad for the kids.
“I believe it’s a matter of age,” says Melodye Montgomery, The actual master of ceremonies of Oakland First Fridays. A legend in the local cannabis community, she says she doesn’t see many blunts – let alone those with added flavors. “I haven’t noticed many seniors smoking them, and it’s very specific to probably those 40 and under.”
Her comments, echoed by most smokers of the past who spoke to SF Evergreen, recall the anti-taste campaigns of recent years. In July 2018, the City of San Francisco banned all flavored tobacco products, say that “The tobacco industry has historically focused on the sale of flavored products, especially menthol cigarettes, to communities of color for youth.” In 2019, California infamous: sued San Francisco-based vaporizer company Juul because it targets teens and does little to prohibit underage customers from purchasing their product. The Tobacco-free CA campaign “Flavors Crochet Kids,” which has plastered bus stops and billboards across the state, urges the “tobacco industry to use flavors to spark curiosity and mask the harshness of tobacco.” Although the current research shows that young people aged 12-29 use a disproportionate amount of flavored tobacco products, critics of the bill say it unnecessarily targets black and brown adults, who are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes. However, no research has been done on who smoked the most flavored blunts—much less, specifically in the Bay Area.
Wayne Justmann, the country’s first medical cannabis patient, takes a different approach. While he doesn’t often see flavored blunts, he hasn’t noticed any difference by demographics. “It’s surprising when I hear a common statement like ‘all seniors do this’ or ‘only teens do this,'” he says. “People enjoy taste, and there’s something about a sweet tooth that we all enjoy.”
Shawn Gill, a Bayview native and local cannabis influencer who goes through @disfuckinguy on Instagram, says the way people smoke has a lot more to do with how they were introduced to cannabis than age. For his younger brother, who is in his early twenties, Gill says smoking blunts is part of “how he identifies himself to the outside world, as an out-of-town person who is very simple, no-nonsense.” But for his sister, who smokes nothing but weed wrapped in a natural tobacco leaf wrapper, blunts are much more of an exact science. “People have a very specific idea of what it means to smoke,” he says.
Gill was introduced to blunts through his high school cousins, who smoked only from natural or slightly sweetened wraps, such as Diamond Swisher candies. “Flavors, like flavored alcohol, were mostly ‘for girls,'” he says. From his experience, the assumption that flavors are a favorite among teenagers is only half true. More important is the cannabis culture people have grown up in – and in NorCal, consumers use more natural leaf wraps than elsewhere in the country.
NorCal’s affinity for more “natural” methods makes sense, especially in the context of the region’s broader affinity for crunchy-granola hippiedom. While in Los Angeles a stoner’s expertise can be judged by the brand label on their bong (I, a proud San Fernando Valley girl, grew up thinking anything less than an Illadelph was worthless), artistically blown glass is a proof of taste.
Dina Reudel, a longtime employee of Amoeba Records, says the first time she remembers Bay Area stoners who cared about the vehicle they smoked with was when Dead Heads, following the Grateful Dead on tour, put on simple hand-blown pipes. the side began to sell. from the street. “I can’t remember ever seeing that before coming to California,” she says. “The Dead were here all the time, and all the trolls went with them, dressed in their mushroom-colored clothes and laying their cloth on the sidewalk so they could sell their pipes.” Now some of the best hand-blown glassmakers in the world sell their work in smoke shops throughout the Bay Area.
Roach clips also seem to have been a big local trend. Often decorated with feathers or beads, cockroach clips had an alligator clip on the end instead of the smaller piece of cardboard now normally used as a ‘filter’ on joints. Montgomery says she still uses them. “I have a lot of clips because I’m old-fashioned,” she says.
While blunts may be bigger on the east coast and craft bongs and pipes in the west, all that seems to be fading with the rise of legal cannabis. Defining yourself by smoking preferences is going out of style, whether you declare your love for rap or psychedelic rock. Now the trend is to ‘normalize’ cannabis – instead of calling ourselves stoners, we are integrating cannabis into the benign parts of everyday life. Tech is getting smaller and cannabis more concentrated, with brand name cannabis vaporizers and on-the-go pre-roll packs dominating the market. “The stoner culture used to be all-consuming, now you can be a stoner and a businessman, you can be a stoner and a nurse, you can be a stoner and an army veteran,” Gill says.
So a ban on flavors isn’t as disruptive to the Bay Area cannabis community as some might have suspected. In the bay we keep it real.