When YouTube began cracking down on content creators in 2018, many cannabis-related channels were either shut down or repeatedly demonetized (when YouTube makes it impossible for creators to make money from videos). Despite the videos showing nothing harmful, offensive, or dangerous, the content was being purged swiftly, and many creators with large audiences were being erased. The list of reasons YouTube gave for deleting and penalizing content was vague, but the insinuation was that the videos were harmful.
It didn’t matter that the videos were being uploaded legally, with people offering educational or entertainment value about cannabis or hemp. Despite only offering tutorials and other unoffensive content, the videos were disappearing at a rapid pace, and the creators lost thousands and even millions of views. Arend Richard, co-founder of TheWeedTube, says that prior to this elimination, YouTube was home to a thriving cannabis community.
Richard began his channel on YouTube in 2015, and over the next three years gained almost 120,000 subscribers. YouTube has a three-strike rule, but they have no timeframe for those strikes. Richard received six strikes within 24 hours and was given no recourse to appeal. Before his channel was shut down, he originally set out to make a Patreon-like site that would work in conjunction with YouTube channels. He and a group of fellow creators (Co-founders Aaron Woodhead, Amanda Fox, Arend Richard, Brandon Ashburn, Danielle Johnston, Kelly DeLong, Mackenzie McCurry, Ryan Kornblatt and Theodore Maly) decided to switch gears once it became clear there was a desperate need for an alternative for those who were most negatively affected by the elimination.
“We had originally set out to make a Patreon-like site but then changed gears to start a free-to-use, user-generated content site. We set up a GoFundMe and raised more than our goal within 72 hours and launched TheWeedTube.com a few days later on March 1st 2018,” Richard says.
TheWeedTube (TWT) features content like podcasts (under the potcasts label), travel videos, hundreds of stories from patients explaining their cannabis use, and loads of growing and cultivation tutorials, but Richard says that the site isn’t restricted to cannabis. Gaming and fitness, for example, are topics that cater to an adult demographic, so they fit in the scope of TWT’s content guidelines.
“We have more liberal content guidelines than YouTube—think HBO as compared to network television—but we also want our content to be completely positive, so we have community policing to make sure nothing is posted that is offensive, hateful, or violent. It’s a sporadic occurrence but our loyal users have been able to flag anything truly inappropriate right away,” says Richard.
One of the most difficult elements of being a content creator in cannabis is the prohibitive nature on social media platforms. Facebook and Instagram are consistently removing educational and non-profit material they consider offensive because of the mere mention of cannabis, so video-uploading platforms like YouTube were the only safer options. Before what is now known as “The Cannabis Purge,” many educators and patients found a place to host their content, none of it violating the posting guidelines.
Now, anyone mentioning anything cannabis-related faces the risk of losing months of hard work. Brands that show their cannabis or even CBD products—even without any added advertising—are likely to have their accounts cut without notice because the powers that be claim their content offers illicit drugs. The narrative of protecting consumers from drug pushers is really a fight against information, as many of the content creators on TWT can attest.
TWT also created an app, and an event was held on the eve of the launch (on 4/20 of this year) in Los Angeles. In addition to making cannabis content more available to consumers, it allows content creators and influencers to make money with creative freedom.
“Besides providing a protected content hub, TheWeedTube is the first video-based social network to provide monetization options to cannabis influencers and to offer cannabis companies commercial-style advertising. We want to create a safe space for a wide adult audience—both experienced cannabis users and the canna-curious—where cannabis is mainstreamed and destigmatized,” says Richard.