Take a good look around, and you’ll be hard-pressed to escape those pretty bastards out there relishing in the buzz that has, over the past two decades or so, made getting tattooed socially acceptable for upstanding law-abiding members of society. Everyone from fat-cat, corporate executives to police officers—you know, the so-called pillars of the community—are now white-knuckling it through augmentations of the flesh in an attempt to show their peers that they are edgy, gosh darn it, and should be, at least in some regard, revered as one of the cool kids.
Inked appendages are long gone. They were once badges of badass that could be carved into bodies of bikers and sleazy performers, but not anymore. Pop culture was influenced by punk rock, and they gave rise to a love child with a bright-eyed red eye that is a lot like yours!
Within America’s bizarre movement to express itself, however, where everyone and their momma is inked-up and sleeved out, there exists an absolute legion of hell-raisers, outlaws, and die-hard stoners forever scarred with various pot-related pigmentations that none of these well-dressed specimens of modern fashion would ever be caught dead with—not in a million years.
In the ’70s, the marijuana tattoo, most commonly represented with a shoddy-looking cannabis leaf that appeared as though it resulted in a gnarly staph infection, was perhaps the official symbol of rebellion. The people with the cannabis arms were opposed to popular opinion. None of them bought into any of that “religion will save humanity” crap, and they damn sure weren’t about to go to work for the man. They didn’t subscribe to all of the BS being forced down their throats by the frightened servants of authority. Instead, they lived by their own rules. They were not subject to the ongoing cultural brainwashing that was being applied to them, and gave the middle finger when it seemed appropriate.
“From the very first time I smoked weed, I understood why the government was trying to turn the population against it,” Steve, a 65-year-old from Springfield, Illinois, tells The High Times.
“Marijuana helped me see through all the lies I was told in school and in the church, which made it clear to me from my early teens that the people of this country would need to fight for it.”
Steve has a tattoo of a very small and barely legible marijuana leaf on his left forearm. Steve remains an advocate for pot and is not afraid to pledge his support for it. Although his ink appears to be total dog shit, this is his honest admission.
“I was like 16, and this dude who had just gotten out of prison was giving people tats in the kitchen at this party,” Steve recalls. “He told us that’s how he made a living in the pen, so we thought he’d do a good job. He didn’t. Mine’s all faded now, and people always say I need to get it covered up. Please give me some grace. The paperclip was used as a pen, and the ink pen. You’d expect it. To me, it symbolizes how far this plant has come.”
Cannabis Ink Makes It Mainstream
To the supposed do-gooders of society—the ones putting on their best face regardless of how miserable their life by the rules has become—a pot leaf tattoo It was the mark of the hippie, long-haired loser. Anybody spotted wearing one was considered to be a heathen. Working-class Americans were baffled by the tattooed stoner culture. It was hard enough to not listen to The Grateful Dead for long enough to find a job.
Since then, cannabis tattoos have become more acceptable as the modern world has tamed its monsters. Cannabis-related inks have emerged from the remnants of subcultures and gained some mainstream acceptance. Scott Campbell, a well-known tattoo artist who owns the Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn (New York), says people are as likely today to be inked with the ink in professional studios than prison cells.
“Obviously, with us being in the middle of marijuana legalization, having a pot leaf has less outlaw biker connotations than it did in the ’80s,” says Campbell, who, throughout his career, has inked a number of celebrities from Heath Ledger to Penélope Cruz.
Campbell admits there’s been a radical shift in the type of person he sees literally wearing this passion for pot on their sleeve.
“There is still a bit of illicit excitement when I see people with pot leaf tattoos. It’s not so much, ‘That guy kills people,’ but more like, ‘That’s the guy in the PTA meeting I want to sit next to,’” he says.
Advocates use Ink
This type of body modification is still a testament to the rowdy. There are many people still using homespun ink to pay tribute to this lifestyle. Some cases are a result the hard work done by cannabis advocates in places where it is illegal to possess marijuana. Benjamin of Bryan, Ohio told us his first and only cannabis tattoo. It was a marijuana leaf that he had placed on his right side after an event to legalize marijuana possession.
“I was standing on a table downtown with a guitar in my hands singing Legalize It over and over again when this mother came to sign up and said she loves what I’m doing for the cause,” Benjamin tells us.
The woman’s son, a local tattoo artist, eventually showed up to extend his support and offered Benjamin some free ink as a token of his appreciation. Of course, he kindly accepted the gent’s proposition because, duh.
“I closed up and went over to his house and walked away tatted up,” he says.
Ink in the Industry
In the west where capitalism and advocacy have collided cannabis tats can sometimes be seen as the industry’s calling card. Kelly, an Oregon grower aged 53 years old, says she created it in the spirit and tradition of the age-old slogan: “Sex Sells.” In a higher state of mind, she decided to get inked and move to Eugene (Oregon) to enter the cultivation sector. Location is key in business and marijuana is no different. Kelly decided to give Kelly a gift as a thank you. She pulled on her shirt, and wrote her commitment to the doobs in her boobs.
“I had [my artist] tattoo weed leaves on my breasts because, in Eugene, it is legal for females to go outside and be free to be topless,” Kelly tells us, adding that she thought it was a sure thing from a marketing standpoint. “Any advertising is good if it’s nipples and weed!”
Although they would love to have their brand pay homage to this herb, some refuse to do so with just a pot leaf. Gayle, a Greenville advocate, feels that the traditional design is too general. Rather than the leaf or even the molecular structure of tetrahydrocannabinol, arguably the next most popular breed of weed art, she opted for one that portrays the beauty of the cannabis plant under a microscope.
It’s a clandestine nod to the nug. To untrained eyes, the tattoo doesn’t appear to have anything to do with cannabis. It’s just a bunch of red, blue, and teal orbs affixed to some slime green squiggly ribbons emerging from torn flesh. There’s no way it could ever be used by law enforcement to establish reasonable suspicion.
“One day, it just hit me that cannabis, from a scientific view, was the tattoo I was supposed to get,” Gayle told us. “It’s different from the average pot tattoo.”
Badge of Honor
However, there are occasions when tattoos that date back to our youth can become embarrassing indiscretions. They are often cruel reminders that we’re getting older and, of no fault of our own, have outgrown the things we once adored and thought were cool. They are symbols of our lost love and political alliances. Perhaps even cartoon characters. It is not a good idea to ink nostalgia. It informs all who see it that there’s a corpse out there. But we’ve lived and learned and, the devil willing, we’ll live some more.
But the ink of yesteryear can withstand the floods. Perhaps this is the reason why tattoo removal industry will reach nearly $800 million by 2027. Everyone wants proof they are ever so foolish. The stoner with the marijuana tattoo, however, isn’t one steeped in regret. This badge remains the highest honor, no matter its style or quality, probably from now on.
“I can honestly say I have never covered up a pot leaf tattoo,” Campbell says. “Anyone who was brazen enough to get it tattooed before the current cannabis-friendly climate is probably enjoying being able to wear it without having their bag searched every time they go through customs.”