Rolling Papers King, RAW's Josh Kesselman, Lights Up New York's CWCBExpo

RAW’s Josh Kesselman on his competition: "As long as we’re leading the way and they’re behind us, that’s great!" (CelebStoner photo)

If there was one person who stood out at this CWCBExpo at New York's Javits Center from June 5-6 it was RAW papers founder Josh Kesselman. He sat for a fireside chat on the opening day and worked the floor, taking photos with fans and doing interviews like this one the rest of the time.

Born and raised in New York, Kesselman has the look of rock star. He dresses in RAW's colors, black and red. Green Market Report noted his "sparkling blazer, diamond-encrusted watch and $900 Balenciaga sneakers." Before we chatted he showed me a new RAW lighter with a wind-guard and poker. Kesselman also hyped RAW's "phenomenally thin" papers in gold packaging.

It was all in the family for Kesselman, who's father, he recalls, "used to do a magic trick with rolling paper. He would light it on fire, throw it in the air and it would vanish. He had a brand called Marfil. Rice-style papers, beautiful papers. It was the only magic trick he knew. So, for me, rolling papers were magic."

His favorite papers pre-RAW? "Club," the famous glue-freee brand. "Guess who owns Club Modiano now?" he asked during the exclusive CelebStoner interview on June 6. "I make them. I love Club Modiano. I had lots of other brands before RAW. There was Elements I made with my father. There was Juicy Jays, the flavored papers. I had many that failed. Bambu is part of my family's history. The machine that made Bambu papers [in Spain] is now making my papers. I'm hoping some day to puchase the brand."

Josh Kesselman: "It took us a little while, but I think we've made the greatest paper in the history of rolling papers."

Kesselman owned a number of head shops around the country and in 1993 he was asked by a customer if they carried the natural tobacco brand, Spirit. "I had never seen a paper that I was envisioning in my head that I thought it was going to be," he said about the white Spirit papers. He was expecting them to look brown, like whole wheat. "I realized that we humans had never made that. So I decided I have to make it." Thin brown rolling papers, not white and thick. 

"Cigarette papers are full of white ash and other things, things that I don't want to be in something I smoke," Kesselman continued. "I wanted to make a paper that was as natural as natural can be. I was envisioning this paper and I even knew what to call it based on the Big Daddy Kane song, 'Raw.' That's when I had the idea, but I didn't get to do it for a long time. I met an older gentleman from Spain who re-opened one of the oldest rolling paper factories in Spain. It turned out this man and his factory had made Marfil. So we decided we were going to bring back the Marfil, but we couldn't call it Marfil. I called that one Elements. Elements was a decent success. Then I made the flavored papers, Juicy Jays. Each one of these led to RAW. Eventually I finally had enough clout and status in the industry where I could convince one particular mill to make the base I needed for RAW. We made the first of what is now RAW."

Tan-colored rather than white and transluscent, RAW stood out from the pack. "It took us a little while, but I think we've made the greatest paper in the history of rolling papers," Kesselman, 52, charactistically brags. "I think many people in this room would agree. RAW feels right to me. It's the only way I can explain it."

Kesselman credited stoners and celebrities for expanding RAW's reach. "The first celebrity who ever sang about it was Curren$y," he said. "Wiz Khalifa was our first big-name celebrity. He started to sing about it in many songs. That's because he loved the paper so much." RAW's next celebrity endorsement is from TikTok influencer Lyrical Lemonade (a.k.a. Josh and Cole Bennett).

About RAW's copycats, Kesselman had this to say:

"We natually tend to replicate from each other. It's ingrained in us as humans if someone is doing something better we probably in a way should do it that way. My papers are so good they don't have much of a choice. As long as we're leading the way and they're behind us, that's great!"



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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.