Culture

A love letter to rolling and smoking joints

By Jackie Bryant Jan 13, 2021
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Jackie is a freelance cannabis and culture writer and journalist living in San Diego. In addition to WeedWeek, she has written about cannabis for Forbes, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sier...
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Jackie is a freelance cannabis and culture writer and journalist living in San Diego. In addition to WeedWeek, she has written about cannabis for Forbes, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sierra, Eater, Playboy, Healthline, Yoga Journal, Cosmopolitan, CannabisNow, San Diego CityBeat and many more. She writes a newsletter about cannabis culture called Cannabitch (cannabitch.substack.com) and also hosts a podcast by the same name.
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During my sophomore year of college, I discovered my dad was an absolute pro when it came to rolling joints. 

One day, he gave me a baggie with two front row tickets to see Bob Dylan. Later, I realized that the baggie also held two immaculate joints. Dad knows what many weed smokers do: few things are as satisfying as sparking up a jazz cigarette at an open-air live show on a balmy summer evening. I remember the joints pulling perfectly, even though the weed inside wasn’t good. Suffice it to say that my dad is the best, even if he still smokes old white dude stoner schwag. 

15 or so years later, my dad is still one of just a few people I know that regularly rolls and smokes their own joints. Like cursive handwriting, payphones, and encyclopedias, rolling joints have become somewhat a relic of the past, especially if you’re not hanging in hardcore stoner circles. Doubly so if you’re not hanging anywhere at all, thanks to the pandemic. 

Legalization has brought the democracy of ingestion methods to consumers, meaning that vapes, dab rigs, edibles, bongs, bowls, tinctures, and more offer ways to get stoned without as much effort as it takes to roll up.

Plus, for many, times are tough, and money is tight. Joints are kind of a waste of weed unless you’re rolling pinners. Even still, bongs, bowls, and vaporizers take a supply significantly further than do joints. Any kind of ingestion method that requires combustion and burning paper, as smoking joints do, is also not the healthiest option. There will always be those for whom the lung and esophageal trauma just isn’t worth it.

But even though the practice of joint rolling faces the threat of improving technology, waning attention spans, thinning wallets, and ever-present health issues, joints are here to stay. The most intense among the OGs of stoner culture will insist that one must know how to roll to be a member of the proverbial club. In certain smoking circles, it’s not uncommon to be called out for not knowing how to roll, regardless of how much someone does or doesn’t consume. I think that’s a bit much—that attitude is a nice way to suck all the fun out of smoking weed—but it does touch on a more profound sentiment that courses through the brain of any warm-blooded pothead.

 

“There is honestly that divide of old heads, or core consumer, who roll joints, roll blunts, pack bongs and, you know—it’s a lifestyle. There is a lot of identity in that. That’s fine, but I think since weed is more acceptable now, it’s totally okay to rely on pre-rolls or other ways to smoke weed,” says Nic Juarez, a cannabis writer from Long Beach, CA. He also thinks the assertion that a true stoner should know how to roll is outdated and “closed-minded.” However, he agrees that there is, “nothing like rolling your own joint and having your own.”

Juarez says that the key to knowing whether or not one should invest in learning how to roll comes down to how much someone smokes and how much they rely on other people to get that smoke in their body. If one finds themself not being able to smoke because they need someone to roll for them, that’s a good sign that it’s time to take matters into their own hands.

“Like knowing how to change a flat tire,” Juarez says. “Is it absolutely necessary? Not really. You can have AAA. But you’re going to be more empowered for knowing how to do these skills—you’re not in a bind or relying on someone else.” Juarez says that since it’s a luxury or indulgence item for most people, while a good skill to have, it’s not necessary to know how to roll.

I agree that joints are an indulgence when it comes to smoking weed. First of all, smoking a joint with a proper amount of weed in it—about a gram or so—will take some time, whether it’s to the face or in a circle of friends. So, right off the bat, there’s a commitment to spending a moment focusing on just this one act. I think anyone who regularly makes things with their hands can appreciate how the act requires such attention that it’s impossible to focus on anything other than the task at hand. In a world with far too many distractions, this is a welcome diversion.

 

But the indulgence starts well before the joint even exists—rolling each one requires selecting the nug, grinding it up, checking the kief catcher in my grinder to check on my progress, laying out the paper, and sprinkling the bud across it. My favorite part, and the most meditative for me, is rubbing both sides of the paper together, creating a little hammock for all the loose weed, which then consolidates into a neat, tight pile in the ditch of the paper.

Sometimes I linger there a little bit longer than I need, convincing myself that I’m putting necessary attention into the perfect roll. If I stay too long, though, sometimes I bug myself out, and I have to start over. Then comes the licking, tucking, rolling, and twisting. Everyone has their tricks and different styles for getting this done.

With a completed joint in hand, then comes my second favorite part: taking an unlit pull to see how good the weed tastes. Then comes the spark. Then, finally, the inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Pass, if the situation calls for it. All of this is part of an elaborate ritual that repeats each time a joint is rolled and smoked. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

 

There are joints for every situation. Like, say, the movie joint. It consists of two rolling papers (for length), premium flower, and a showing of Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now or something equally stupid. There’s also the doorman joint, proven to be a sufficient stand-in for a cash cover at many bars. There’s the car joint, which isn’t legal, but let’s face it: lots of people, this writer included, live for a burn cruise. And there’s my favorite, the post-coital joint, which should be self-explanatory. It is best paired with the pre-coital joint. There are so many others, too! The pre-flight joint. The hiking joint. The pre-feast primer joint. The post-feast digestion joint! And so on.

All of those situations could also be enhanced by a vape pen or bowl, sure. But like taking the scenic route versus the freeway, it’s about the journey. Others I asked echoed this—words that kept coming up when people described rolling included “satisfying,” “ritualistic,” “meditative,” and “accomplishment,” among others.

“I’ll start whichever Spotify playlist I’m feeling at the time and lose myself in the packing. I focus on the symmetry of the cone, the way the flower settles into it, carefully packing it (but not too much), and taking a moment to admire the finished product,” says cannabis blogger and podcaster Andy Wagner from El Cajon, CA. His sentiment echoes the peace I find in the ritual, as well.

That’s not a universal peace. What I relish most about joints—the time spent on them, the ritual, the indulgence—is precisely why some people avoid them altogether.

“I don’t mind rolling, but I also don’t care for it either,” says Alaina Dorsey, who is a cannabis brand strategist. “Some OGs and enthusiasts get really snotty about it, and it makes me wonder if this is the hardest skill they’ve ever acquired,” she says.

“I’m just lazy,” says Jill Robinson, a travel journalist based in Half Moon Bay, CA. Hers is another popular sentiment. Rolling a joint is, to put it plainly, kind of a pain in the ass. Especially when pre-rolls and glass exists. Writer Maggie Savarino says she “can’t be bothered;” cannabis industry entrepreneur Cody Stevenson says that someone else who was better at it is always around, so why not let them do it?

Travel writer and newly-minted book author Pam Mandel says that because she has “one billion and 12 edible options, she can [also] rarely be bothered to light a J.” My boyfriend said the same thing regarding edibles. He used to be a joint smoker because he liked that it hit him quickly, but he has since switched to edibles because they give him “a warmer body high” that he prefers. Like others I talked to, he also likes knowing the exact dose he’s ingesting, which is impossible to do with joints. Still, several others commented that they felt they could control their intake and, therefore, their highs much better with joints than other ingestion methods.

Many say that smoking joints is primarily a social activity for them. Since the pandemic ended all of that, so too did it end social smoking. With many relying on their networks to produce doobies, it appears that joint smoking has taken an undeniable hit (no pun intended).

“I learned to roll joints for the job, rolling joints for an instructional video,” says weed writer Lisa Rough. “I practiced by rolling a few hundred joints for a DC protest. I still know how, but I’ve always considered joints a social way to smoke and haven’t touched one since the pandemic hit.”

While I lament the overall loss to the culture—being in community is such a cornerstone of being a pothead—I have to admit I don’t miss puff, puff, pass as much as I thought I would. I’ve written here that, while I smoke everywhere and all the time, smoking is often a solo endeavor. I don’t mind being stoned on my own. I love it—I can focus on what’s happening in my mind and body without needing to be bothered with anyone else’s thoughts or commentary.

Suppose I’m properly auditing my smoking memories. In that case, there are far more times where I’ve used stepping out to smoke a joint as an excuse to relieve myself from having to be social in a myriad of situations, rather than using weed as an excuse to socialize more. I’m finding this is how I’m feeling about socializing post-pandemic (whenever that will be), in general. Maybe it’s my age—I just turned 35—or maybe moving through the trials of the pandemic has finally given me the sense of self and confidence I needed to seek less validation in socializing, overall. With that, I’m more comfortable than ever smoking joints solo.

Juarez, the writer from Long Beach, agrees that it’s not necessarily for the worse that some things have changed. He thinks a necessary loosening of what he calls a “death grip” on cannabis culture has occurred.

“It’s a new age. The pandemic, like with all things, accelerated all things and weed culture is one of them,” he says. “We have this cultural habit that is, honestly, unsanitary! I think about how many times I shared a joint with complete strangers. While that seemed completely normal, I wouldn’t share a beer with a stranger. I’d just get my own. Like, ‘Hey, do you want a swig of my drink?’ No!”

Juarez says that because cannabis was and continues to be in many places illegal, sharing used to serve more of a function. “It was an act of compassion to share your weed with people,” he says. He argues that because cannabis is more acceptable and accessible than ever, we should be more open-minded about customs changing as a society. This includes many long-held, old school stoner habits, like “puff, puff, pass,” which Juarez suspects may be one of those “antiquated rules that nobody knows why we do them, we just do.”

“Now it’s an even more intimate ritual, I’m only sharing joints with my partner so it’s an extension of ‘fluid-bonding,’” Cannabis cookbook author and writer/editor Elise McDonough says that sharing joints is more intimate than ever for her—she and her partner view it as an extension of “fluid bonding.”

“I always liked the Rasta custom of everyone having their own big spliff….back in the day at the Cannabis Cup, everyone would come down with ‘Cup cough’ and the sharing of joints definitely drove illness. I was always worried that we’d inadvertently create some type of wook-bred superflu,” McDonough says. She adds that she used a “chalice” hold for shared joints—placing a joint between her first and second finger and hitting through cupped hands so as to not place her mouth on a joint. “Later, I just stopped sharing joints with anyone I didn’t know very well,” she says.

Though I am not sharing joints with others anymore, either, I’ve adapted “puff, puff, pass” for my own much smaller pandemic-and-beyond life. I still regularly roll my own joints and buy what I consider to be good pre-rolled joints (Lake Grade and 3C Farms are two of my favorites in California—Jay-Z’s Monogram hand-rolled OG Pre-Roll is a nice splurge, too). As I mentioned, my boyfriend no longer smokes joints—he’s an edibles guy—and since I’m an everything-that-has-weed-in-it kinda gal, that’s okay with me.

A month or so ago, we drove out to Anza-Borrego State Park (a desert, for the uninitiated) to see a meteor shower. I had given him hemp joints high in CBG, which don’t get you high but have a nice calming effect and taste like weed well enough.

He took one out of the package and asked if I’d like to share it with him. It wasn’t until we passed it back and forth between us a few times, with actual meteors shooting overhead in a speckled night sky so vivid and close-feeling that I had to hold myself back from reaching out to touch it, that I realized how much sharing this joint with him meant to me.

Rolling and smoking joints is a big part of my life, however much of a punchline that may sound like. It’s also an act that is now reserved only for the most intimate of partners. I can’t even share a joint with my beloved dad if I wanted to. Hell, I haven’t even been able to see the man in the past year. None of it is safe anymore. My boyfriend and I decided we were mutually worth the risk and effort several months ago, a decision that feels increasingly defiant, intimate, romantic, and hopeful in the face of a virus whose chief goal is to exploit and attack closeness. Sharing joints is just another deceptively simple ritual that we can use to try and stay human together.