Josh Kesselman of Raw Rolling Papers: The High Times Interview

Early on, Josh Kesselman sensed a void in the rolling-paper market. The former smoke-shop owner and collector of papers realized there wasn’t a truly natural option for consumers. In 2005, Kesselmam founded Raw, an all-natural “vegan” rolling paper. Under his guidance, Raw has become one of the most recognized and trusted rolling-paper brands in the world. In this exclusive interview, Kesselman discusses the secret to his success as a rolling-paper kingpin, the importance of innovation in entrepreneurship and the incredible charity work that has become his passion.

Most people know Raw Papers—it’s my favorite rolling paper. It’s a major part of a lot of people’s lives.

Thank you.

Take us back to before you started the company. How did you get involved in the industry?

Okay, I’ve got to give you the supershort version because you won’t give me hours to sit here and talk. And I would do it! For me, it all began as a kid here in New York City and my dad doing a magic trick with his rolling paper. That was the only magic trick he knew, and that [made] me fall in love with rolling papers—like a true infatuation. I became a collector of them. That’s all I really wanted to get into was rolling paper.

I loved them. I had the biggest collection, I think, in the world at the time. It was a hobby. It was my passion.

So when I was in college, I scrounged up enough money to open up a tiny little head shop in Gainesville, FL, where I began trading with the other collectors to bring in cool papers from Europe, a lot of the old, cool shit. That brought me into the actual industry, where I’m importing papers into America and selling them. And then the actual idea for Raw, I was at my store and I brought in whatever anybody asked for. A dude asked me to bring in this natural cigarette, and at the time this was a big deal. We’re talking, like, ’93. He was like, “Oh my God, you’ve got to get these, they’re amazing! You got to bring them in!” So I say, “Of course.” I brought them in for him, and he comes in, opens it up and gives me a smoke. And he pulls it out, and I already know paper. I know a lot about paper at this point, and I’m expecting them to be like a natural brown [color]. I’m expecting it to be this beautiful thing because he’s been telling me, “It’s so natural!” And he pulls it out, and it just looks like a regular fucking Marlboro. And I was so disappointed. So right then was when I realized that all paper was essentially white. Why was that? Why are we still making this shit? So that led me down the road to Raw.

You’re talking about bleach, right? Rolling papers are bleached with actual bleach?

Some papers are bleached with actual bleach. A lot of times what you’re seeing when you see a white paper, you’re seeing chalk, like the chalk dust from when you were in school. The biggest paper companies out there add chalk to their papers because it gives you what we call a bogus white ash, so that as the paper burns down you see white, and you think, “Oh my God, it’s such good quality!” You don’t realize you’re literally smoking chalk dust.

Now, you know that that’s going to impact the flavor and other attributes, and if you’re a purist like me the last thing you want to be doing is smoking chalk dust. They do it even on their brown papers. They …

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