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Metro

YouTube incurs wrath of Question 3 opponents after group’s video was removed from site

A young blond woman who goes by the name CoralReefer smiles sweetly into the camera and shows viewers how to smoke marijuana through a gas mask.

A young man, apparently in his teens, dons a sticker that reads “I’m a stoner sticker” and takes a deep hit of what is presumably cannabis.

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“First time’s the charm,” grins a bespectacled woman after she sucks in a long, white plume of smoke from a bong.

These home videos, along with dozens of others like them, have been on YouTube for months, sometimes years, available to anyone who registers on the site and claims to be over 18 years old.

So when opponents of a ballot question that asks Massachusetts voters to allow the medical use of marijuana posted their own 3-minute video on Oct. 30 arguing against the measure, they were shocked to find it gone five days later.

They were greeted instead with an illustration of a blank television and the message, “This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

“A vanilla video like this that sets out a reasonable political position, it’s unprecedented for that to be removed from YouTube in violation of their guidelines,” said John Sofis Sheft, an attorney for the opposition group, Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, which describes itself as a grass-roots organization of concerned parents, public health advocates, and law enforcement officials opposed to the ballot measure, known as Question 3.

The group received an email from YouTube shortly after the video was removed Sunday morning, giving them a chance to appeal the decision. When they did, they received another email the same day, telling them that YouTube was sticking by its initial decision that the video violated the site’s guidelines. YouTube did not specify what was objectionable about the post.

YouTube cites several guidelines for posting videos, including no pornography, copyrighted materials, or gratuitous violence.

“Don’t post videos showing bad stuff like animal abuse, drug abuse, or bomb making,” the guidelines also state. The video-sharing website says it receives 72 hours of new content every hour and relies on viewers to flag objectionable material.

The alliance video features a picture of a teenage boy lighting a marijuana joint, which the group included to underscore its position that the legalization of medical marijuana could lead to more drug abuse and crime, particularly among young people.

If that was YouTube’s reason for taking it down, it is laughable given the number of videos that feature people smoking marijuana, said Heidi Heilman, Alliance president.

“They’re not doing it under the guise of medical marijuana either,” she said. “They’re just smoking bongs.”

In 2011, Massachusetts, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008, had one of the highest rates in the country of high school students reporting ever having used marijuana, at about 43 percent, up slightly since 2007.

But proponents of the question say passing question 3 will bring relief to thousands of patients in chronic pain. The proposed law would allow the medical use of marijuana by patients who have been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV-positive status or AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, or multiple sclerosis.

Under the proposed measure, selling or trafficking of medical marijuana for profit could be punished by up to 5 years in state prison or by 2 1/2 half years in a house of correction.

A Boston Globe poll of 583 likely voters found that 63 percent of respondents backed the question while 28 percent opposed it.

The alliance video had received less than 700 hits by Sunday, but those behind it said support for the opposition was building, citing various newspaper editorials, including in the Globe, that urged voters to say no to Question 3. Heilman said she suspects proponents of the ballot measure of flagging the video out of fear it could get more attention.

“It’s a compelling, powerful video,” she said. “They were watching the groundswell of opposition just grow in the last couple of weeks.”

Though the group members acknowledged that they don’t know for sure who flagged the video — any viewer can raise an objection to a video.

The video was back up Monday just before noon, about an hour after the Globe called and emailed YouTube asking why it was removed.

YouTube released a statement saying that though videos depicting drug abuse are prohibited, there are exceptions when the material posted has an educational or documentary purpose.

“With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call,” according to the statement. “When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.
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