Arend Richard. Photo Credit: Weedtube
In 2018, Arend Richard’s Youtube channel had over 190,000 subscribers, until the platform unexpectedly deleted his account.
Unfortunately, Richard’s case was not unique. In March 2018, the global video platform “shut down a wide swath of cannabis channels, often with little or no warning,” reports Leafly. However, Richard refused to be silenced. Instead, he teamed up with fellow content creators affected by the Youtube cannabis purge to co-found Weedtube. Weedtube is a video-based social media platform for cannabis creators.
It has since become one of the largest social media platforms in cannabis culture, growing in reach exponentially. Additionally, it is the first video-based social network that provides monetization options to cannabis influencers and offers cannabis companies commercial-style advertising.
Success in Spite of Adversity
Richard’s struggle with online censorship did not end there. In 2021, he helped create #Canna4Climate. The new social movement “encourages the cannabis community to give back on the day between the cannabis appreciation holiday 4/20 and Earth Day on 4/22,” he tells Green Entrepreneur.
No consumption is required. Instead, all people of all ages are motivated to clean up local pollution. As Richard notes, “the mission was also to change the ‘stoner’ narrative rather than promote over-consumption or accompanying behaviors that people perceive as a taboo that is often associated with cannabis.”
However, during the week of #Canna4Climate, Richard’s Instagram experienced far less viewer engagement than normal. His fellow cannabis content creators observed a similar trend. For example, he reports that “MacDizzle (@MacDizzle420, 443k followers) said she received 20k fewer Instagram story views than usual.”
This lack of attention, says Richard, is due to Instagram “shadow banning.”
Shadow banning, he explains is “blocking a user’s profile, posts, or comments from a social media site without their knowledge.”
Specifically, shadow banning hinders viewer engagement and monetization efforts by preventing accounts from appearing on search bars or discover pages. Consequently, it makes it difficult for cannabis creators like Richard to successfully share their content and promote events like #Canna4Climate.
While he continues to deal with such setbacks, he has become a leader in the LGBTQ+ community. He has transformed from the beloved “The Gay Stoner” on Youtube into a cannabis entrepreneur, creative director, and author.
Kicked of his home at age 16 due to his sexuality, Richard refuses to betray his identity, operating as a gay man in the cannabis industry in spite of the obstacles he encounters. Emerald spoke with Richard regarding his emotional and professional journey, highlighting his major achievements as a queer creator.
Emerald Magazine (EM): Let’s start by talking about how you created Weedtube… you raised $15k in three days. How did you do that?
Arend Richard (AR): I was really lucky enough to know quite a few other influencers in the cannabis base who were deleted at the same time. So we just kind of came together and told everybody what we were gonna try to do with Weedtube because everybody was talking about needing a new platform for cannabis content creators. But nobody was really doing anything about it. So I was like, okay, well let’s just be the ones to do something about it […] we were all able to come together and ask our followers for that help. And so just live streaming, social media promotion over 72 hours, we were able to get Weedtube started.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
EM: Tell us about #Canna4Climate?
AR: #Canna4Climate is the first community initiative powered by Weedtube. Since Weedtube is moving towards becoming less of an advertising-centric platform and more of a community-supported platform […] we wanted to use some of that strength to do community empowered things. So #Canna4Climate was our way of giving back to the world around us after 4/20.
[We’re] just going out into the community and cleaning up little areas. For example, I cleaned up the Platt River here in Denver, a small section of it with my sister and brother-in-law. It was wonderful, it was really lovely. Lots of people stopped to thank us. Some people stopped on their bikes that were riding by and stopped to help us pick up trash for a while. We were able to tell them who we were and what we were doing it for, that we were stoners out here trying to give back to the world. The whole goal of it was to try to change the world’s perception of what a stoner is.
EM: Why is it so important to change that perception?
AR: I don’t love to make the comparison between alcohol and cannabis. But when you live in a society where alcohol is such a front-facing, peer-pressured norm of society and socialization, it doesn’t make sense to me when there’s a completely healthier, better recreational option out there for people. So I think the importance of changing the world’s view of what a stoner is just falls in line with the normalization of cannabis and making it a more accessible part of everyday life for everyone.
EM: You got significantly less attention on your social media platforms, particularly Instagram during #Canna4Climate week.
AR: On average, just before the pandemic started, on a bad day I’d have like 4,000 people a day viewing my Instagram story. Then leading up to the #Canna4Climate event […] my Instagram story couldn’t pass 400 viewers. Which is just significant. I went and compared those notes with everyone else that I’m friends with in the industry. Everybody who participated in #Canna4Climate experienced basically the same thing. Meaning unless those people are actually seeking you out every day to find you, they’re not gonna see what you’re posting. That’s the problem with Instagram […]. They’re shadow banning anything that has to do with cannabis unless they’re from the appropriate brands that have paid their way to get the blue verification check mark.
It’s also not a fair standard either — to get verified, […] you need 15-20 articles. You submit them to Instagram and you get a verification check. Weedtube has way more than 20 articles submitted, and I’ve personally done that as well. What it [really] is to get verified is knowing someone behind the scenes who you can pay direct money to that can flip the switch on and then flip another switch that says “okay, we’re not gonna shadowban you.”
EM: Do you have a favorite Weedtube category or feature?
AR: I’m truly so excited about the things that we are working on releasing to people right now. Weedtube before has been a counterpoint to Youtube because that’s what cannabis creators were deleted off of. And that’s what we needed to replace out there. But lately, all other social media [platforms] have started to take a little bit of a harsher stance on cannabis-related things. So our goal with Weedtube in the next six months is to bring out features that incorporate all social media. If you are an Instagrammer and you get deleted from Instagram, our goal ideally would be to have a picture feed, reels, and story options for you as well. Whatever creator from whatever platform gets censored anywhere can find their creative outlet still on the Weedtube.
EM: How do you try to promote diversity as a creative director?
AR: It’s definitely promoting those already organically with us, and making sure that we’re showcasing this full, diverse spectrum of people uploading to Weedtube. I’m so grateful for the different kinds of people on Weedtube.
We also hosted a party called the Glitter Bong Bash, which was the first gay-related party for cannabis consumers […]. I’ve never seen a more diverse group of people. I’d like to think that’s also what you’ll find on the Weedtube. Certainly, as we move forward with marketing efforts and bringing larger creators onto Youtube, I’m going to be definitely mindful of bringing all sorts of different kinds of creators so that the community continues to grow into a multifaceted group of individuals.
EM: You were kicked out of your home at age 16 after you were outed by a close friend. From that moment to now, you’ve become an openly gay entrepreneur in the cannabis industry. How did it influence your success professionally?
AR: I feel really proud of myself. I don’t think I would have strived as hard for success [if] I hadn’t faced all the adversity. I think the Earth is a big enough place that each of us has our own signature thing that we’re supposed to do here for the world. For me, being born as a queer person, knowing what’s it liked to be unloved and disowned and put out on your own as a kid truly because of something you can’t change about yourself. My calling in life has always been and will always be to help LGBTQ people and youth and enable them.
EM: How have you encountered resistance as an openly gay man in the cannabis industry?
AR: When I was on Youtube, I would get at least 10 notifications a day towards the end saying “new comment.” It would just say “f****t.” On top of that, there are companies that to this day won’t work with me. Honestly, that bothers me less than companies that I try to work with and reach out to and they don’t say anything to me. But then when May 25th rolls around, they’re in my inbox saying, “hey, we’d love to work with you on xyz thing.” For Pride for the Weedtube, more than half of my team existing as queer is a challenge within the cannabis industry.
EM: You also wrote a book, Being Found.
AR: Yes I did, it’s a science fiction novel with LGBT themes. I’ve been working on it for six years, and quarantine was the perfect opportunity to wrap it up. The main character identifies as queer, but that’s not what the whole story is about. It’s a normal sci-fi story. But the love story in it just happens to be a gay one. I’m currently working on a second book now. And that’s just my personal creative expression.
EM: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss that we haven’t touched upon?
AR: I’d love to win a Glad award someday. I’d also like to, by the time I’m 50 years old, start a trade school where LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults can learn a vocational trade, [for example] in case they get kicked out of their home.