The word ‘stigma’ originally described a negative mark on someone, like a tattoo or a brand on a criminal or outcast. The term has expanded and now may refer to any sort of disgrace, shame, or poor social standing, whether physical or metaphorical – including the traditional perception of cannabis enthusiasts by some.
But today, cannabis and tattoos are both emerging from the shadows, sometimes together, and turning into badges of pride, as more marijuana fans are using their skin to show their passion and love for this once-illegal plant.
“It is becoming a lot more acceptable, even in Idaho, for people to come into my shop to get weed tattoos,” said Desi Eleazar, co-owner of Altered Society Tattoo Company in Post Falls.
She and fellow owner Kenny Hoffman agree that greater acceptance of cannabis keeps growing, and more people are starting to have enough confidence to get marijuana tattooed on their bodies in visible locations.
“I would love to do more little bud tattoos; I was even thinking about doing a 4/20 flash special,” said Eleazar, who has done a handful of weed tattoos over the years.
Cannabis-themed tattoos were part of the hippie subculture in the 1960s and 1970s, when many found marijuana enhanced their senses and created a peaceful environment for friends and family.
Cannabis tattoos served as a sign of awareness and acceptance towards the underground drug culture and shared a general message of peace, freedom and love. There was probably a bit of rebellion as well in not only getting a tattoo in a strait-laced world, but getting a pot tattoo.
Jeremy Youngman, an artist at Spokane Super Tattoo, says attitudes are changing.
“I have been smoking cannabis since I was 15 years old. In the time period I came from, it was taboo to have a pot leaf tattooed on you,” he said.
Getting a tattoo remains a big commitment; it is a declaration of something you love so much that you want to carry it on your skin for life no matter what society, future bosses and parents might think.
Tattoos have always had many different meanings for every individual and today they’re generally more socially acceptable as an expression of one’s personality and passions, whether it’s a child’s name, a favorite animal or a once illicit herb.
The Youngman family has been in the tattoo business for awhile, opening a studio in the Chicago area in the 1980s before opening Spokane Super Tattoo about five years ago.
“When I came to Spokane, I was surprised at how many young ladies had full sleeves,” said Toni Youngman, 72, who has helped run the family business for 40-plus years.
“Where I come from, people were more conservative. To see that here was just amazing,” she said. “I think people are surprised to see that I have a full body suit being as old as I am.”
Despite statewide legalization and growing acceptance, the Youngmans encourage clients seeking a cannabis tattoo to put some serious thought in before stamping their skin with this type of artwork. There is still stigma that remains here and there.
The same advice is offered at Altered Society.
Eleazar and Hoffman have a responsibility to let clients know exactly what they are getting into. A cannabis-themed tattoo can still reflect negatively in the eyes of certain people. Before starting, a tattoo artist may ask someone’s age, the type of work they do and where the tattoo would be.
Plus, most artists don’t want customers ever regretting their tattoo.
And even if you’re getting a cannabis tattoo, area artists discourage people from getting inked under the influence.
“For clients that have smoked before coming in, I’ve noticed they seem to not want to sit long because it can make you hyperaware of the pain,” Eleazar said. “Smoking is good for internal pains but for external pains, it can make you zero in on it.”
She also promises to do the same.
“I have tattooed stoned, but I really don’t like it. I have noticed I can focus better, but it seems like the tattoo is going by really slow,” Eleazar said, “I would recommend smoking after.”
The Youngman family also noted that certain cannabis strains can get their creativity going for artwork and preparation, but not while on the job itself.
Many cannabis users say cannabis can enhance artwork and creativity, and early research has shown that it increases blood flow to the brain’s frontal lobe where these creative skills are said to be most active.
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