Cannabis & Social Justice: An Interview with Playboy

You may not know it, but Playboy has been a fervent supporter of cannabis freedom for almost half a century.

Conceived in 1953, Playboy was considered a radical magazine in its time, and was dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure in its many forms. It is of course most well-known for its erotic centrefolds and provocative nude images of women, yet in its lifetime it has also been an advocate for cultural change and social justice, using its platform to promote community awareness and enact political reform.

The phrase, ‘I buy it for the articles’, is rooted in more truth than we usually afford, with Playboy having an impressive literary legacy. The magazine has published words by some of the world’s most prolific thinkers, writers and activists, including Margaret Atwood, Vladimir Nabokov, and Chuck Palahniuk, as well as interviews with the likes of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Beginning with a $5000 contribution to NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) in 1970, Playboy continued to financially support the not-for-profit organization in their fight to reform cannabis laws, at one point, donating as much as $100,000 annually to the organization. So it’s not altogether surprising that they’d weigh in on the emerging cannabis landscape.

Last month the Playhouse held a special cannabis pop up forum, The Fight for Cannabis For All, a series of events and conversations that examine equality, freedom of speech, gender and sexuality in the emerging cannabis space.

We interviewed Ariela Kozin, Cannabis Culture and Features Editor at Playboy to hear more about the work they’re doing on the intersection of cannabis, social justice, and of course, the pursuit of pleasure.

Photo Credit:  Getty Images for Playboy

Photo Credit: Getty Images for Playboy

Playboy has been the catalyst for many social shifts. What are the changes you’d like to see when it comes to shifting the perception of cannabis?

As an advocate of pleasure for all, Playboy has an important role to play in shifting cultural perceptions around cannabis, and in driving the conversation towards the mainstream.  We want to help people understand the variety of benefits cannabis can provide, and to demonstrate that there are so many ways to incorporate cannabis into your lifestyle. This is why no matter how playful or provocative a Playboy cannabis story may read; it is always rooted in the idea that education and celebration will lead us to a place where cannabis is recognized as a beneficial part of our culture.

We also know that changing culture requires real policy change. This commitment to achieving genuine change is what inspires me most about Playboy’s legacy.  Playboy has supported marijuana reform for decades. In 1970, a grant from the Playboy Foundation is what kick-started the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) helping to make it the country’s premier pro-Cannabis legalization advocacy group.  Today, we are building on our legacy of advocacy and pushing for real reform and policy changes that will not only destigmatize but also decriminalize cannabis.

Photo Credit:  John Sciulli Getty Images for Playboy Playhouse

Photo Credit: John Sciulli Getty Images for Playboy Playhouse

What was the main goal behind the The Fight for Cannabis for All forum? Do you think it was achieved and will Playboy continue to use their platform to host important conversations about cannabis?

Our Playhouse panel was meant to spark real dialogue around cannabis and its intrinsic connection to pleasure, while raising awareness for the fact that the way cannabis is treated federally today -- as a schedule one drug -- is limiting our basic pursuit of pleasure, and having disproportionately negative consequences on communities of color.

We were excited to bring together a range of thought-leaders in the space -- educators, activists and entrepreneurs -- to discuss policy, the importance of education, and how and why cannabis and pleasure intersect.  The panelists spoke on how layered and complex the cannabis space is today, and, while acknowledging the many obstacles that lay ahead in this fight, they emphasized that the future of cannabis and its role in pleasure, health, wellness and equality, is a hopeful one.

This panel was just the start of many conversations about cannabis and culture that we intend to host.

There is a spotlight on the racial inequality and lack of diversity in the emerging legal cannabis marketplace. Why is this a conversation that playboy wants to be a part of?

Playboy’s mission is to create a culture in which all people can pursue pleasure.  This means that no matter who you are -- no matter your race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic background, physical capability, and so on -- we believe you have a right to experience pleasure.  For us, advocacy for cannabis as a portal to pleasure must include a conversation on social justice.

As a lifestyle brand with media that reaches millions of people every day, we believe our role is to raise awareness that inequality exists, and to rally our audiences to advocate for social justice reform with us.  We also see an opportunity to spotlight the lack of diversity within the cannabis industry today and to ensure that cannabis entrepreneurs of color are getting the media platforms they deserve to help grow their businesses.  

There is a strong relationship between cannabis and sex - two things Playboy is known to advocate. What is the intersection between cannabis and sex and why this is something we should be talking about.

Cannabis can have a positive impact on a consumer’s physical and mental health. One aspect of that is of course in sexual experiences -- where research has shown that cannabis can help reduce anxiety as well as heighten the senses to make sexual experiences that much more enjoyable.

Of course, it would be dangerous to claim that cannabis is a sexual cure-all because, like any drug, it affects people in different ways, and many factors are at play with each individual’s arousal and satisfaction. But we believe that the intersection of cannabis and sex is 100% something we should be studying and experimenting with more. In fact, I’ve enlisted a many of my writers to experiment with new cannabis-tinged sex products and they’ve never reported results short of...orgasmic!

Photo Credit:  Getty Images for Playboy

Photo Credit: Getty Images for Playboy

Does Playboy have any plans to enter the cannabis market? Might we see a Playboy product line in the future?

We are always thinking through how our products, content and experiences can help build a culture where all people can pursue pleasure. With cannabis in particular, we’re very intrigued by the opportunity to create for the different need states that various cannabinoids can meet. Providing a platform for dialogue about cannabis is obviously rooted in our DNA and serving audiences with products could be a natural extension.

Depending on who you speak with, Playboy is either touted as a publication serving to empower women or objectify them. As a woman how do you view Playboy's legacy towards the empowerment of women.

I would’ve never signed on to be a Playboy editor if I didn’t fervently believe Playboy empowered women. Now that I’ve worked here for almost two years, I’m passionate about teaching people about Playboy’s feminist roots. Of course, 65 years of history is loaded; there is plenty of room for error and, at the same time, misrepresentation.  But this is a brand and a company that believes all people have the right to pursue pleasure and that advocates for freedom for all - no matter how you identify. And that’s something that makes me very proud to work here.

Can cannabis learn from Playboy? Playboy itself has a certain cultural stigma attached to it, I’m curious as to how this has affected the evolution of the brand, and whether or not you see cannabis as being subject to similar cultural taboos.

That’s an interesting point. To me, what made Playboy relevant in society 65 years ago is the same thing that makes it important today -- a commitment to continual cultural progress rooted in core values of freedom of expression, equality for all and the idea that pleasure is a fundamental human right. As cannabis moves from being taboo into the mainstream, it will be crucial for cannabis advocates to remain steadfast in their commitment to pushing cultural progress and social justice even further.