Cannabis and Instagram are a perfect fit – something about thumbing mindlessly through pictures and short videos works so well with the brain vacation that is actually being stoned. Yet the parts of Instagram that are specifically about weed rely, for the most part, on puerile tropes: so-so jokes, scantily clad women, pop-culture nostalgia, endless cat memes. Wade deeper, past the thirsty souls vying to take the biggest possible hit, past the bulbous bushes bursting with buds – past the self-styled "extract artists" who make hash oil with lighter fluid, documenting how they spend their cash with drug-lord braggadocio – and you'll discover handful of social media stars who have managed to transcend the cannabis clichés and consistently provide unconventionally compelling images worth double tapping.
Some come in Insta-ready forms, like the drop-dead gorgeous model and video vixen Madzilla. She has nearly 700,000 followers, but if you catch her IRL, she is almost ridiculously humble. She's known for her look – high-end skater style, pierced dimples, tons of tattoos – and for provocatively smoking blunts in music videos with Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Major Lazer. Back when the great TreeHouse Social Lounge was still open in Los Angeles, Madzilla and I spent a glorious afternoon hitting the kind of pristine bong that only exists when a professional weed lounge staff is around to clean it for you. She told me how she'd spent many hours in front of a mirror with a vape pen, teaching herself how to do her signature sexy smoke-billowing-out-of-her-mouth trick, and recounted how her mother's meth and heroin addictions prompted her to become self-sufficient and leave home at the age of 14. Somewhere between the lowest lows and the highest highs, Madzilla picked up a refreshingly open-minded but honest attitude that she called "never faking the funk."
Then there's the occasional woman who's like the goddess Earth mother you always wished you had. On a warm evening in Venice beach last spring, I was standing outside of yet another meeting about how Los Angeles still makes it impossible for marijuana businesses to operate legally, when someone handed me a fat and fragrant joint. I looked up, and it was Mama Sailene, the nurturing and cheery feminist cannabis guru of Southern California. She's run a weed delivery service, hosted a cannabis cooking show and helped organize one of the most exclusive pot social clubs in Los Angeles, but her Instagram account – a fantasia of uplifting sayings, goofy selfies, and brightly-colored buds – is the best way to keep up with her non-stop hustle. Her 44,000 Instagram followers seem to pick up on the fact that what she really specializes in is making sure everyone else is having a wonderful time – and always has enough weed.
But every once in a while the Internet produces a unicorn, a relatable stoner who creates art that will not only delight you when you're high, but also potentially could get you there, too.
In the past decade, Tony Greenhand, 27, has become famous for rolling joints and blunts in pothead-friendly shapes and colors: Pikachu, Harambe, a taco, a dinosaur, Spiderman, a life-sized, half-pound AK-47. Every few weeks, he'll drop a photograph of a mind-blowing piece of "smokeable art," and his 259,000 followers will go apeshit with likes, comments, DMs and jealousy. These complex constructions are all fully functional and range from the size of a tennis ball to the record-busting, punch-bowl-sized watermelon blunt containing about $10,000 worth of weed. It's not uncommon to see a few hundred people getting high off of a single Tony Greenhand original at a festival.
"Rolling a joint is complex already, and for me to be making, like, Sonic the Hedgehog?" he told me. "Everybody has drawn a stick figure, but when you look at something that's really overdone, like the fucking Sistine Chapel, you're just like, how did that happen?"
Greenhand's visually stunning work might draw fans in, but his quintessential smoking-buddy vibes are just as vital to his success. The guy has shoulder-length brown hair, a broad smile and dresses like the teenager behind the counter at a beach town ice cream shop. About 70,000 people watch his Snapchat stories every day, looking for a peek into his world.
Greenhand started growing and breeding pot as a teenager, which is why he always has more than enough bud lying around to fill his spectacular creations. By the time he started posting shots of his work online, about five years ago, he had practiced and perfected his technique and equipment such that he can make a smokeable version of pretty much anything. I happened to be in Oregon recently, and met up with Greenhand and his girlfriend Courtney, a lip-pierced photographer who is Instagram famous in her own right. In fact, with 310,000 followers, @shesmokesjoints technically has a bigger audience than @tonygreenhand, though he maintains that his lower count is because his account has been deleted so many times. (The most recent iteration is less than two years old.)
A few years ago, Courtney won a contest through Greenhand's Instagram for a custom pre-roll. He made her a smokeable rose, and when they met up at a High Times event so he could give it to her, sparks flew. Soon after, he moved from Washington to Oregon to be with her, and now they are something of an unstoppable force: forming brand partnerships, running a cannabis seed company, broadcasting their adventures, planning events and looking forward to the day when weed is federally legal.
It was raining on the afternoon we spent together, so the three of us spent a few hours hot-boxing their car, high-school style, in a public parking lot wedged between restaurants downtown. Greenhand rolled joint after joint in the back seat – regularly shaped ones, alas – while cracking jokes and telling stories about all the shifty and fascinating people he's met in his decade as the preferred artist of the marijuana underground.
He told me about how he tries to read every single direct message he receives, and described glowing missives from such far-flung fans as a 10-year-old in Uganda and a 50-year-old in Sweden. I wasn't surprised to hear about the breadth of his appeal — if you live in a place where good weed is hard to come by, seeing Greenhand's work up close on your screen must be akin to spotting a mirage in the desert. But there was something both unexpected and endearing about his commitment to understanding and engaging with his entire fan-base. It also betrayed a work ethic decidedly different from the stereotype of the lazy marijuana user.
Now, like Miranda Sings, Tyler Oakley and many of the biggest social media stars, Greenhand may be about to transcend the medium that made him famous. A couple months ago, he says he shot scenes for an upcoming movie alongside Jonah Hill and Joaquin Phoenix – a movie that has nothing to do with marijuana. He tells me Milk director Gus Van Sant reached out after seeing an article about his work and realizing Greenhand perfectly encapsulated the vibe he'd been envisioning for the role of a laid-back caretaker. "I thought it was going to be really stressful and ended up being more relaxed than I anticipated," Greenhand says. "I hope in the end it turns out alright."
Considering Greenhand forged his own celebrity out of some paper, some pot and a camera, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect audiences will find his unfiltered self immensely appealing. Who knows: there could be art galleries, reality TV, or more movies in his future. But for my own sake, and for that of all my fellow stoned scrollers, I do hope that Greenhand will continue to post shots of his best work online. After all, no one else who produces marijuana-related social media can quite match his talent with papers – or his way of making creations so perfectly packaged for Instagram.