Anja Charbonneau Explains How to Make a Beautiful Magazine About Weed

Talking about why weed became chic, blacklights, and Marcel the Shell with Broccoli founder Anja Charbonneau

Weed, in case you hadn’t noticed, has become very hip lately. Anja Charbonneau was creative director at Kinfolk — a magazine that couldn’t be further from stoner aesthetics — before she started Broccoli, a lovely new weed-infused magazine that ties cannabis culture into art, good writing, and dreamy photography. If your mom saw the cover on newsstands (unless she’s 420-friendly or a D.R.A.M. fan), she absolutely wouldn’t connect it with weed. An exquisite minimal floral arrangement decorated with covert marijuana leaves graces the cover, and the magazine’s title waves out delicately over the top-left corner.

broccoli seeking arrangement

What inspired you to start Broccoli?

Living in Portland, we’ve seen a really exciting uprising of creative cannabis companies — really great brands, really great dispensaries — and seeing that there was room in the media space for something beautiful like Broccoli to come in. I knew we could pull together a team from our background in publishing and make something that was really special and new.

What was the process like of finding who you wanted to work with? Was it an idea you had been bouncing around with other people?

So there are five people on our team, and the first three of us used to work together at Kinfolk, so we knew each other really well and had a super-strong base of creative trust and general coworker trust, which is really important. We found two amazing editors that I hadn’t worked with before, but we all just meshed really, really well together right away. Even though we’re all in different cities, we had this strong team right from the start, and I feel so fortunate for that.

It was funny to be cold-calling my current editor via email. It was just a shot in the dark like, “Do you want to be part of this weed magazine?”

broccoli_mexican candle making

A great question to ask!

[Laughs] I saved that for the body of the email and made the subject just like, “A New Project” just in case.

Did you find her online or friend of a friend?

I don’t know if you read this website that Leigh Patterson makes called The Moon Lists. It’s these really sweet musings from different creative people — they have certain cues you can sort of reflect upon and then she shares peoples’ thoughts. I found Stephanie [Madewell, Broccoli’s editor] through there, of all places.

We’ve got an all-women team, and then all of our contributors are women or non-binary people, and we’re excited to have that as part of our story for sure. For any media company I think that’s rare, so for something in the cannabis space, I like that we’re leading the charge with that.

Yeah, absolutely! There’ve been so many cool things, in general, popping up involving female and non-binary-ran cannabis-related things

Because it’s so new, it feels like there’s room to try to start something different, from the beginning.

broccoli mag counter culture

I feel like weed culture has become this very chic and hip thing, but also I feel like it’s being embraced as this strong, feminine thing. I was curious as to why you think that is?

I’m sure that there are people who have always been open about cannabis use, but legalization has really made it comfortable for people to talk about — or is starting to make it comfortable, at least. For people to be able to say, “I can go and buy weed, and it’s no different than going to the store to buy a bottle of wine,” that’s really opening up a lot of comfort with the topic. Naturally, once people are open to it, then they say, “Let’s make it look good. Let’s make this look like it fits into our normal lives.”

For a long time, there was a look and a feel to cannabis visuals and the old-school pot culture stuff, and it just doesn’t feel very modern or very representative of the women who are using cannabis as a part of their lives. It’s not their 24/7 focus.

Definitely. It was a slacker aesthetic that was cool in its own way, but not necessarily what you want in your everyday life.

It was all men, too. You picture the high school stoner boy with his video games or something.

Photo courtesy of the Corita Art Center

Yeah, or blacklights.

Totally. And, like, let me say, blacklights have their time and place [laughs]. It’s really interesting to try and analyze which elements of classic stoner visuals can still feel interesting and fresh. It’s so interesting to work with different artists who are touching upon those visuals — like the psychedelic ‘60s era — and seeing how they’re twisting that into a modern way.

Are there people who you’re working with right now, or people you admire who are doing that?

Well, there’s this artist that I’m really hoping to work with. Her name is Aleia Murawski; she is my favorite right now. I go nuts each time I see one of those scenes she makes with the snail. It’s the perfect combination of strange but pretty, mood-lighting and these little scenarios — I love it. Bringing in the visual of something that’s a little bit familiar but has always been strange, and then making it even a little bit weirder.

That’s my M.O.

Totally. We’re trying really hard to balance out the weirdness with kind of easily acceptable beauty. If we made it too weird, then some people would be alienated by it, and we’re really trying to make this an accessible magazine. We’re speaking to the weirdos but also to the people who are just dipping their toes in.

broccoli holy rollers

I totally respect that. It’s good to make it accessible to people — even the fact that it’s free is amazing and makes it even more accessible.

Definitely. That was a big part of our earlier conversation, making it free. On the business side, you choose who you’re going to spend your time selling to, either partners who can advertise with the magazine and get their brand out there or the reader — a lot of magazines do both. I think, in order to normalize cannabis, we really need to make it so accessible for people to have a conversation about. If the magazine were 15 dollars, only people who are already into it are going to buy it.

The nice thing about having something with the floral arrangements on our cover — you might not notice at first glance that they’re pot leaves. So you might put eyes on it without even realizing that it’s a magazine about weed. That’s kind of the fun part of it. My editor’s mother showed it to someone — they live in Ohio — and this man in his forties, she said he got kind of teary-eyed, and he said he never thought he would see something like this in his lifetime, which was amazing.

What’s your own personal relationship with weed? What made it part of your life to where you wanted to start a magazine about it?

I’ve always been a casual cannabis user, and of course, I’ve accidentally benefitted from any health benefits it offers. Since I was maybe 20, it’s been part of my life, but it never felt like something that was really accepted or something I would be open about. It’s been interesting to see that this community is way bigger than I ever thought it would be.

Who would be a dream interview for Broccoli?

It’s interesting because there are only a few women who are publicly open about cannabis. The most obvious ones would be Rihanna or the Broad City ladies — they’re really figures in cannabis culture. Or Jenny Slate, she would be an amazing interview. She definitely talks about cannabis, and I think she has a very magical brain, and I would love to talk to her about literally anything, probably not even about weed. Have you seen her videos Marcel the Shell?

Yes, oh my gosh, I have!

Maybe we could interview Marcel the Shell. Marcel the Shell, there’s my answer.

broccoli pipes

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