DRUGS

This Stoner Gets Paid $7,000 To Roll Spectacular Joints

Tony Greenhand is blazing new trails through the cannabis world with his elaborate, smokeable art

DRUGS
Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Aug 02, 2016 at 9:00 AM ET

Tony Greenhand was running three hours behind schedule. No matter how hard he tried, the lines he molded onto his hand grenade sculpture—already packed with two ounces of Holy Grail Kush—looked a little uneven.

“I’m a perfectionist on a time crunch,” the 26-year-old had joked before he raced up to Portland, Oregon last month. Greenhand, who turned a knack for joint rolling into a living selling smokeable works of art, had just gotten one of his biggest commissions yet: $7,000 for a small arsenal of large marijuana blunts made to look like weapons.

When he finally pulled into a downtown parking garage, he relaxed a little about the grenade. “It’s OK, I guess, ’cause it’s gonna get smoked,” he said contemplatively, sparking a fat doobie in his Mercedes SUV. The car soon began to hotbox. “Nobody’s really nitpicking.”

Greenhand’s client, a young and ultra-wealthy firearms enthusiast in Florida, had flown out in a private jet to personally collect the joints he had commissioned. In addition to the grenade, there was a 1.5-ounce golden Glock. Then, there was the centerpiece of the consignment—a replica of an AK-47, fashioned from rolling papers and a half-pound of kind bud.

Placing each piece carefully into a cardboard box, Greenhand made his way toward the top floor of the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront. With his long hair, backwards baseball hat, and 150-pound frame, he looked more like a pizza delivery guy than an artist with a grip of sculptures that would make Snoop Dogg swoon.

Greenhand’s wealthy buyer beamed when he saw the guns and the grenade. “The anticipation almost killed me bro,” he said, taking a long pull from a bottle Kettle One vodka. He shook his head in a state of disbelief. A few other people milled about the suite, which was already scarred from an afternoon of hard partying. Soon, hip hop beats and marijuana fumes rippled throughout the room.

Clutching the AK-47, the client’s eyes lit up. “You want to get El Chapo’d right now?”

His friends, a rap crew that included the Bay Area artist A-Wax as well as Rick Ross producer Nonstop Da Hitman, appeared equally enthralled by Greenhand’s work. They spent the next 10 minutes ogling the arsenal. Then, almost instinctively, they grabbed their phones and took turns snapping photos of themselves posing with the weapons—some of which emerged on Instagram within minutes.

The surreal scene didn’t seem to phase Greenhand one bit. Much of his life is every bit as strange these days. “I enjoy it,” he said. “I just try not to enjoy it too much.”

That might be a tall order to Tony Greenhand, who has transformed his gift for rolling ganja into a high art, as well a potent personal brand that’s spreading across Instagram and Snapchat. From a podunk part of Oregon, he turns pot and rolling papers into peacocks and Simpsons characters that are smoked by weed royalty and admired by thousands online.

His ability to mold marijuana has made him into a luminary within the growing cannabis community, a once amorphous subculture that—thanks, in part, to legalization and social media—is now the driving force behind one of the fastest changing social issues of our lifetime. It has also solidified Greenhand’s role as a creative pioneer.

“In a way, what Monet was to Impressionism, Tony is to the art of joint rolling,” said Barry Bard, a cannabis consultant based in Denver, Colorado. “It wouldn’t exist without him.”

More A Marijuana Pro On How To Roll The Perfect Joint

For Greenhand, it’s still hard to fathom that concocting fantastic joints is his full-time job. “It doesn’t even sound real when I say it,” he said, seated at home in Albany, a sleepy town about 70 miles south of Portland. The dank odor of dabs and heady flower enjoyed hourly by Greenhand and his girlfriend, Courtney, who asked that we not publish her last name, lingered in a humid haze. 

The house, which the pair purchased earlier this year from Courtney’s mother, had all the trappings of a millennial stoner lair when Vocativ paid a visit in June. A doorless pantry stood stacked with Cheetos, Sour Patch Kids, and Reese’s Puffs cereal. Trippy weed art adorned a few walls. The living room furnished an assortment Xboxes and pot paraphernalia. Among them: a $3,000 hash oil rig handcrafted by a glass artist in Denver.

On a counter sat a trio of mason jars, each brimming with the butt-ends of run-of-the-mill joints.

“We hand those out to the homeless,” said Courtney, a weed photographer who has 270,000 followers of her own on Instagram. She and Greenhand met at Colorado’s High Times Cannabis Cup in 2014. On their first date, he showed up with a gift—a joint in the shape of a rose.

They’ve been inseparable ever since.

That the two are comfortable—conspicuous even—with their line of work and lifestyle is something that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago. But a lot’s changed in a little time. Legal cannabis is now available for recreational use in four states, including Oregon, and medical use in 20 more. The $7.2 billion marijuana industry in the U.S. could hit $23 billion in sales by 2020, according to Arcview, a market research firm. And even in some states where possession is still illegal, it is becoming decriminalized (though cops made more than 750,000 marijuana arrests in the U.S. in 2014, according to the FBI).

These days, sitcom characters smoke weed on network television shows. Hundreds of YouTube channels, blogs, Twitter handles, and Instagram pages celebrate the majesty of marijuana and the culture that surrounds it. Even the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has written about getting stoned out of her skull in the paper of record. While the the feds still classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin and LSD, the stigma is lifting.

“I’m able to sit down and grind up a quarter-pound or half-pound at a time, mostly because weed is around and people feel comfortable sharing it,” Greenhand said. “For anyone still skeptical, I’ll roll them a Pikachu joint.”

Greenhand’s always been crafty, but his joint game wasn’t always so deft, he admits. He shudders when asked to recall the first one he ever rolled. As a teen toker living in rural Washington state, a friend named Jordan served as their peers’ designated roller. One day, however, Greenhand worked up the nerve to lead the sacred ritual, which clandestinely took place in one of their parent’s garage.

That first doobie was a disaster. Greenhand left too much saliva on the rolling papers. The shape of the joint was hideously deformed.

“I was essentially, at my core, humiliated,” he said, visibly bummed. “I bounced back though.” Greehand got an ounce of weed and spent an entire weekend rolling up every last little nug. By the end of that Sunday, he had mastered the symmetrical, cone-shaped joint.

Greenhand dropped out of high school and later dabbled in the underground weed economy that extends throughout the Pacific Northwest. He worked as a marijuana gardener and a cannabis breeder. With a reputation for perfect rolls, he also became the go-to guy for joints among his grower friends.

Over time, he began to experiment with more elaborate and experimental shapes. His first piece of smokable art was a rocket ship, one that Greenhand now considers “non-spectacular.” Next came little alligator and little dragon joints—all crudely designed. About three years ago, a friend urged to him to publish a photo of a Sherlock Holmes-style pipe he had made on to Reddit, a site Greenhand had never heard of before then.

Marijuana enthusiasts were mesmerized, prompting Greenhand to post more photos of his work.

“I was like, ‘Is this fucking kid for real? What is that shit?'” said Bard, recalling when he first saw Greenhand’s art on Reddit. “It’s like when you smoke some crazy weed for the first time. It was like, ‘Is this really happening? Am I, like, seeing a legitimate joint rolled into flower petals?’ My mind was blown.”

Bard, who soon reached out to Greenhand, wasn’t alone. For big league stoners, the young sculptor’s work was as improbable as it was pathbreaking. Images of his joints quickly spread across the internet. Soon, weed publications from around the country began hitting him up. Newfound fans flooded his inbox with requests for rolls. A business was born.

“Most of my days I sit at home and I roll joints and I smoke them and it’s a good life,” Greenhand said. “Now it seems pretty basic when I say it like that. But I guess there’s more to it.”

At any given time, he now has five or six projects that he juggles simultaneously. Some of his joints, like a taco topped with loose bud and drizzled hash oil, can take less than an hour to finish. Others, such as the half-pound AK-47, took multiple attempts over the course of the week.

Not all of Greenhand’s clients are gilded potheads who show up in private jets, though a growing number of celebrities want his work. He recently wrapped up a portrait sculpture of Tommy Chong, a roll that was commissioned by the comedian and legendary head himself. Greenhand has also created joints for a number of hip hop artists, including B.o.B., The Flatbush Zombies, and B-Real of Cypress Hill. On occasion, a cannabis-related company or trade show will fly him out to a do a demo on site.

But Greenhand will roll a joint for anyone who hits him up on social media, he said, though it can be tricky. He can’t exactly drop a joint in the mail or ship one through UPS. That means clients have to meet him in Oregon. Or they pay to have him come to them. The other option is for Greenhand to send a hollowed out sculpture, which the buyer fills later on.

Clients can provide their own weed, if they want. Otherwise, he will procure the product from local growers, whose high-quality strains run between $150 and $175 an ounce. Fifty bucks an hour is Greenhand’s going rate for labor, though that can change based on the size, scope, and interest he has in the sculpture. Since PayPal and credit card companies aren’t easy-going with cannabis-related companies, he normally only accepts cash, checks, or Bitcoin.

He’s also keen on trades. “I’ve honestly been looking for diamonds like nobody’s business,” he said. “Also exotic animal parts, or fossils, or jarred specimens. Anything spectacular, I’m pretty into.”

Greenhand won’t disclose how much he earns a year rolling joints, but he said it’s enough to “live comfortably.” While his bank knows that he works in the cannabis industry, he tries to only use their services if he needs to cash a check. As for the IRS? Greenhand said that will have to wait until marijuana becomes federally legal.

Still, the vast majority of his fans simply admire his work online. They are a generation of budding young stoners, many in their teens or early 20s, who like to get high and stare in wonder as Greenhand constructs a smokable Spider Man, shows off a replica of Seattle’s Space Needle, or rips a 4-pound joint in the shape of a watermelon. His Instagram page now has 94,000 followers. About 20,000 more visit his Snapchat page daily, he said.

“His following is diehard,” said Alex Theodos, who runs Ocean_Grown, a social media and marketing company based in Pennsylvania. Theodos also started the National Joint League, an event where weed rollers square off head-to-head in regular tournaments. He said that Greenhand’s talent is unrivaled. “People want his autograph. They want to smoke with him. For a lot of folks it’s like meeting a celebrity.”

Whether Greenhand’s work can last as a viable business venture longterm remains to be seen. He admits that the insane popularity of his joints has all but paved the way for competitors. His artistic temperament means that bold, irreverent ideas—such as his vision of rolling a sculpture of Mike Tyson eating an avocado—may trump the opportunity to earn big bucks on something more commercial. Then there is the loose patchwork or state marijuana regulations, coupled with the drug’s federal prohibition, that continues to make much of his work not exactly above board with the law.

These concerns, however, don’t harsh his mellow.

“If I focused on all the crap I wouldn’t get anywhere,” Greenhand said. “At the end of the day, I don’t hurt anybody. Maybe I want to make a 10-pound joint next, OK? Or maybe I’ll make one that weights 15 pounds. It’s going to get smoked either way. And I bet I can smoke it faster than you can find out about it.”