High Times magazine's West Coast correspondent Bianca Barnhill presents a smokable lifetime achievement award to Snoop Dogg at the 2013 Cannabis Cup in Denver. (Courtesy of Bianca Barnhill)

Shop Sesh: Busy Bianca Barnhill — activist, HT correspondent, businesswoman

About Shop Sesh: Every month, I’ll visit the curators, artists, builders and designers who enjoy a little kush to help them push boundaries. It just so happens they’re all also doing pretty impressive things to cultivate the creative community in Colorado and beyond. We’ll have a smoke and a chat in the spaces that often inspire them most — their own. If you’d like to request a sesh or have one to recommend, email me here.

Interview with: Bianca Barnhill

Sesh strains: IVXX from Buds & Roses Collective (Bianca); Colorado Gold from Natural Remedies (Katie)

Bianca Barnhill (a.k.a. @MizzBarnhill to her legion of followers on Twitter and Instagram) certainly is “Living the High Life.”I first heard her name during last year’s Cannabis Cup, where she presented Snoop Dogg (then Lion) a lifetime achievement award on behalf of High Times. Following Cup coverage more closely this year, she was all over the IRL and social media scene, manning the official High Times Instagram account for the weekend. Then, in chatting with jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche and hearing Barnhill is a loyal client, I wanted to know more. What I did know: Barnhill is the West Coast Correspondent for High Times, a producer, former model, legalization activist and has been dubbed the “Anna Wintour of Weed.” Coincidentally, The Denver Post ran a story May 16 on women in Colorado working to revamp industry perceptions. Barnhill is one of the originals in the marijuana-reform movement. We had a “Shop Sesh” via phone from her Los Angeles office, which on this day was poolside in Hollywood.

Bianca Barnhill interview
Bianca Barnhill at the 2013 Americans for Safe Access Lobby Day at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Bianca Barnhill)

How did you get the nickname the “Anna Wintour of Weed?”
My friend, shoe designer Brian Atwood! We have known each other since my modeling days. My friends who know me from the fashion world think my work, activism and niche is just fabulous! I am a curator of many stylish things: artists, culture and fashion, so the name totally fits me.

I read Ford scouted you when you were pretty young, right?
Yes, as a teenager. I went on to travel all over the world working for designers like Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani.

Did you start smoking pot during your modeling days?
I tended to stay away from it in my 20s. I smoked a handful of times, but it really wasn’t for me. I had a bad experience and swore I would never use it again.

So, from modeling to becoming the “Pot Priestess” (another nickname)?
When I was 29, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 colorectal cancer. I was fortunate to catch it early and get through it quickly, but I still did chemotherapy. That’s when the problems started. My doctor put me on two medications to deal with the side effects and those two quickly turned into 13. I was in L.A. at this point and saw a friend who hadn’t seen me in a while. She told me how sick I looked and asked if I had tried medical marijuana. This was about six years ago and back then, people thought you had to have something really wrong with you…you know…like cancer. Within six weeks of using medical marijuana, I was off all 13 medications. Being on that many different chemicals, pardon my French, fucks with your psyche.

Medical marijuana: Why Drs. Gupta, Oz and Besser have had a turnaround

Is this how you decided to become a full-time activist?
It is pretty interesting how I ended up here. When I was 13, I had a close family member go to rehab and my family was affected negatively by it. I was so passionate about trying to save other people from going down the same path that I even started an anti-drug campaign while in high school. I was completely against drugs and fell under the spell of propaganda that cannabis would ruin your life. My parents were both staunch Republicans and obviously highly against drugs. But there was a twist in my family. My uncle (who’s also my godfather) has run and represented High Times for the last 40 years. He is a very prominent activist for the legalization of marijuana and drug policy reform. The juxtaposition was confusing and difficult for me.

Were you following in your uncle’s footsteps going to work with High Times?
My uncle is one of my heroes. He is a talented attorney and has created an amazing legacy contributing to radical social change. He has been at the forefront of this movement keeping his friend, Tom Forcade’s (High Times’ founder) dream alive. I come from the mainstream world of fashion, marketing and branding and I wanted to bring a sense of that to this world. After cannabis saved my life – a miracle – I wanted to tell the world. Once I got healthy, I became the West Coast Correspondent and began working on the Medical Cannabis Cups. I knew activism had to be a priority and that I had a voice.

Donatella Versace once said, “Bianca could sell a drowning man water.” A lot of celebrities use cannabis, I knew that if we covered them in the magazine it would draw awareness to the issue. I just put together and creative directed the “Mount Kushmore” cover with Snoop Dogg, BReal, Redman and Method Man. I also write a “Living the High Life” column – everything I do is to help normalize cannabis and the consumer to elevate the stereotype to a bigger audience.

I completely agree. Why do you think there is such a misconception of people who smoke pot – especially as it relates to fashion and style?
I obviously love that world and I’m trying to do my part to erase the stigma. Yes, I’m daily smoker, but I’m also a successful businesswoman.

One with style. 
The stereotype of cannabis users has changed. I wanted to stay away from the pot leaf at first because of the negative “hippy” stigma it has always gotten. I see the leaf now as a symbol of freedom and social awareness with a mainstream hipster culture developing. We’re now seeing designers like Jacquie Aiche incorporating it into very high-end lines. We’re seeing fashion icons like Rihanna literally wearing marijuana on her sleeve, new pot-themed accessories from emerging designers and hemp everywhere. I am going to collaborate with Brian [Atwood] on a stiletto with a pot leaf and have talked with a few other designers about working together. I launched the “Living The HIGH Life” clothing company at the L.A. Cup this year and all proceeds go to the #SparkTheConversation campaign. At the Denver Cup, startup clothing companies took over about one fourth of our booth space.

Did you notice a different vibe in Denver this year compared to last year while you were here for the Cup?
The difference was night and day. In this first event since legalization and to have it fall on 4/20, the tone was so exciting. We saw record-breaking numbers and I personally saw a new level of activism come out of it. I love Colorado and what’s happening there. The market is booming and there are a lot of entrepreneurs and pioneers. Denver is like the “Silicone Valley” of weed.

More Shop Sesh with Bianca Barnhill, talking activism and #SparkTheConversation