In any corner shop or off licence today you will see a selection of rolling papers, both big and small, offering smokers of both tobacco and cannabis a choice of not only size but also brand, thickness of paper and even colour. Small papers are used for tobacco, ‘big skins’ are almost exclusively used for smoking herb. You can now find an extensive range of top tier papers, roaches and smoking accessories on the Greenhaus site.
Growing up I always thought that the government (powers that be) couldn’t care too much about w33d because buying papers, grinders and other assorted smoking equipment was so easy and accepted.
Whilst most shops now carry a wide variety of rolling papers, this wasn’t always the case. There is one particular brand that is synonymous with smoking in The UK, with that brand being Rizla. No matter what the brand of paper, if you ask someone to pass you a Rizla, I am sure they’ll know exactly what you mean. The origins of rolling papers predates even the 16th Century, where most people smoked using a pipe.
Rizla King Size Slim - For many years the only choice for UK cannabis smokers
The invention of rolling papers is still contested, with some people saying they were invented in Spain and others in France, however back in 1532 a Frenchman named Pierre Lacroix traded some of his high quality papers (used as champagne labels) for a bottle of fine champaign. At this point Lacroix realised the commercial potential of a refined, purpose built cigarette paper. During this time papers were largely made from newspapers containing ink, not offering the best smoking experience, however soldiers returning from fighting in Spain (where rolling was already common) had a new demand for hand rolled cigarettes.
Pierre and his family continued to refine the papers, now made without any ink, with his son Phillipe eventually bringing out the first purpose-built rolling papers in 1660. By 1736 the family had bought a mill with the intention of producing papers on a mass scale. By the end of the 16th Century, Napoleon Bonaparte had issued The Lacroix family a licence to produce rolling papers for his troops, boosting their popularity. This history is largely mirrored in Spain, with the first rolling company (Pay-Pay) being established in 1703. The first factory designed specifically for rolling papers, appeared there in 1755 in Alcoy by decree of The Royal Intendancy of Valencia. The town is still well known for its paper production, with this factory still being used today, albeit by a newer big player in the rolling paper market.
Not much had changed for almost 100 years, however in 1886 the introduction of rice based paper had become so influential, that the Lacroix family company would change their name to Rizla+, with riz being the French word for rice and the ending (la) referring to the creator's family name.
At this point papers still looked nothing like what we would recognise today, with no sticky strip to even seal the paper. The only papers available for some time were still small papers, thick cut and designed for cigarette smoking, not what you would want to preserve the delicate taste of your cannabis.
It wasn’t until 1942 that a sticky strip, made from natural gum, was even added to the papers, completing the first true rolling paper, as we would know it. It is no big surprise that Rizla chose to bring their king sized papers (big skins) in 1977, the decade known for liberal views, flower power and open cannabis consumption. It took over 300 years from the creation of the first rolling papers to the king sized papers that we are used to today.
Rizla utilised marketing campaigns at music festivals, appearing with their own branded, music playing vans as early as 1929. They have since hosted their own stages at festivals, and held major sponsorship deals, becoming the Suzuki MotoGP bike for several years. This cemented Rizla as a household name that dominated the UK market and was, for many decades, the only paper of choice for most smokers.
Fast forward to the early 90’s, over in the States, where a new brand was brewing by way of a young entrepreneur called Josh Kesselman. Josh had become fascinated, from an early age, with rolling papers and the well designed books they often came in. Whilst still a niche product in Europe, the variety of brands, styles and even limited edition designs that could be found in the rolling paper books could not be matched in the states. Josh soon found himself posting his unique collection of papers online, whilst trading and searching meticulously for new, rarely seen papers. After receiving an A on a college project, where Josh opened a small smoke shop, selling his European papers at a big markup, he realised the commercial potential of this fascination that had really become a bit of an obsession.
After graduating, Josh looked for a way to open his own store, eventually selling most of his possessions to start his first smoke shop, known as Knuckleheads, in Florida. What Josh didn’t know at the time was that in America, it was actually illegal to sell most smoking paraphernalia, with his store being raided and closed down just a few years after opening, in 1996. The police took everything from his store, except for the smoking papers, which he would find out were the only things he was legally able to sell.
Whilst Josh didn’t receive a prison sentence for his ‘crimes’ he was forced to leave the state, relocating to Phoenix, Arizona, where a cannabis counterculture scene had already emerged. Josh was quickly realising that there was a gap in the market, for easily available, king size rolling papers that were purpose made for cannabis and not tobacco (and the profits would be much higher than reselling his specialist European papers). The dream was finally achieved when Josh connected with a man who had just reopened one of the first ever rolling paper mills in Alcoy, Spain. They created a flavoured paper, known as Juicy Jays, along with a refined, ultra-thin rice paper, which would be called Elements. Still just an emerging market, sales were slow at first, however Josh continued his quest for the ultimate smoking experience, bringing the now world famous, unbleached papers known as Raw to the market in 2005. These were the real game changers.
Josh had risked it all to make this new style of paper, having to order a huge quantity just to convince anyone to actually manufacture it. The global success that we see today was definitely not immediate. Slowly but surely, however Josh would start to infiltrate celebrity smoking circles, passing packs of raws onto well known connoisseurs throughout the country, with the knowledge that people usually don’t smoke alone but in groups, sat in a circle, passing a joint. People would be passed a joint by their friend that would be an infinitely better smoking experience than they were used to and so their popularity started to spread.
In the midst of American cannabis legalisation and a largely more accepted world view of w33d, Josh has been able to develop hundreds of new products, specifically designed to help with the rolling experience (opening rolling up to many who didn’t know how before) or alternatively to preserve the flavour of the product that will eventually be rolled up. Why would you not want to smoke something that tasted better? These products are found in not just specialist smoking shops but general convenience stores worldwide.
Raw founder with a few of his many products
Clearly both smoking and the papers that go hand in hand with it are a constantly developing industry. Over the last 500 years we have seen so many changes to smoking papers, with a massive acceleration in recent times to the now hundreds of different products on offer. It will be very interesting to see what the next few years holds for both rolling papers and cannabis culture as a whole. Find our new range of high quality papers, roaches and smoking accessories here.