How Passion Built a Hempire

Josh Kesselman's journey to build the global giant that is RAW Rolling Papers

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Here at Four PM, we’re always on the lookout for what works and what doesn’t, but there’s something to be said for occasionally throwing the playbook out altogether. 

Josh Kesselman, paper nerd and founder of the renowned RAW rolling papers brand, knows this better than most players in the cannabis space. He’s part of the reason you’re probably smoking unbleached, natural papers right now.

(📸 / Josh Kesselman on the right)

Back in the 1990s in New York City, where Kesselman grew up, there was nothing like that on the market. Brick weed from south of the border was the main cannabis available, and it tasted pretty awful. So the fashion naturally ran to flavored blunt wraps and other paper products that could conceal the harshness. As cannabis improved, though, and “cannasseurs” finally got their hands on something they actually wanted to taste, the need for these products should have gone up in smoke overnight—yet that’s not what happened. 

It was Kesselman’s intense passion for cannabis and relentless focus on quality that led him to develop something he was sure the market genuinely needed: raw hemp papers produced in the artisanal fashion, in the old birthplace of rolling paper manufacturing—Alcoy, Spain. It took a lot of convincing, but in the end Kesselman’s passion overcame the skeptics, and RAW papers were born.

(📸 / Raw)

Kesselman built a hempire not by selling his personality or a lifestyle gimmick but by emphasizing the quality of his papers, what was in it (acacia tree sap for the gumline), and above all what was NOT in it: chalk, chlorine, and a wide range of carcinogens found in competing products. 

RAW was the first brand to prominently feature the vegan-friendly stamp of approval and to really embrace an all-natural brand identity. And the focus has always been on educating the consumer, since no one knows or cares more about the details than Kesselman. Along the way, he has found that sharing his knowledge is better for everybody—an insight that continues to inform his rising-tide-lifts-all-boats mentality to this day.

(📸 / Josh Kesselman)

Obviously, there will always be a certain segment of the market that prefers bleached papers, just as there will always be some demand for lower-shelf cannabis. And that’s all well and good, it’s just not the type of consumer that keeps Kesselman up at night. Not everyone is going to be a cannasseur, and that’s just fine with him. 

Over the years, as big tobacco corporations have offered to buy the brand he built from scratch, Kesselman has posed a simple question that no one has yet been able to answer: “How will this make me even happier than I already am?


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