Every big pothead, from Tommy Chong to Wiz Khalifa, starts somewhere, and for many, the first high can be overwhelming. “I first smoked cannabis when I was 16 and I was hanging out with some friends after school,” Angela Mazzanti, the co-host of NBC News Radio KCAA’s Green Talk and one of tattooing's most recognizable models, shares. “We smoked a blunt and I started feeling really weird because it was actually taking effect and I didn’t know what was going on. I remember being so high that I was just staring at myself in the mirror and trying to figure out what was wrong with me at first.”

Photo by Phillip Reardon

Photo by Phillip Reardon

Mazzanti was hooked on the world of cannabis after her first hit, and not long after she found herself in Southern California working as a budtender. This gig allowed her the opportunity to attend cannabis events, a prime place to network with companies and build lasting relationships.

Despite the freedom afforded by the passage of Prop 215, Mazzanti longs for the outlaw days of California’s cannabis industry and notes that legalization has brought big changes. “Personally, I liked it a lot more [then] because mom and pop growers were still able to sell,” Mazzanti says. “It didn’t feel like there was as much competition as there is now and there weren’t as many big businesses diving into the cannabis industry. You knew who the owners of the companies were and could get a lot of products directly from the companies.”

Photo by Phillip Reardon

Photo by Phillip Reardon

With legalization came the issue of taxation, which Mazzanti believes led to many companies falling off the map, as well as furthering the divide between legal and black market operations. “It makes it hard for legal companies to be able to sell their products on the shelf when you can go to your friends who sell weed for a lot less,” Mazzanti explains. “We need to keep in mind that we will be dealing with the black market to some extent.”

Mazzanti recognizes that governmental involvement in the cannabis industry also has its benefits, especially when money raised by taxation flows back into local economies. She also sees the positive aspect of the many laws that have been placed on growers. “I think regulation is important because there are a lot of people growing products that are not up to par,” Mazzanti says. “I’ve learned a lot more about growing this year and discovered that there are a lot of things that can go wrong with your plants—from mold to bugs to pesticides. It’s important to test products and make sure the product is safe, especially if you’re putting it into your body every day.”

Photo by Phillip Reardon

Photo by Phillip Reardon

While legalization has begun to normalize cannabis consumption, Mazzanti believes that many stereotypes continue to impact her work and the industry at large. “The biggest misconception comes from influencers who post a full gram dab or take the biggest bong rip they can,” Mazzanti shares. “While that can be fun to do at the time, I do think it puts a negative stigma on the industry. Everyone is trying to move away from the stereotype of a stoner and show that anyone can use cannabis.” Mazzanti has noticed how these stereotypes impact her on social media, despite cannabis being legal in California. Like many influencers who promote cannabis regularly, she’s experienced brands refusing to work with her or sites like TikTok banning her content entirely. But, Mazzanti will be the first to tell you that the pros of being a cannabis influencer outweigh the cons. “I can’t tell you the last time I paid for weed,” Mazzanti says. “It’s pretty cool being able to smoke on Instagram and get paid for it.”

Mazzanti has witnessed firsthand where cannabis has been, and now her focus is on where the industry is going. Despite the enormous progress the industry has made in recent years, there’s still a long way to go. “I see cannabis being legal throughout all 50 states,” Mazzanti says. “I think they’re using California, Colorado and the other legal states to feel out what works and what doesn’t work. It’s all about perfecting the system and making it normal.” Mazzanti sees a bright future for the cannabis industry and, although it may not be perfect, she couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.

Photo by Phillip Reardon

Photo by Phillip Reardon