When Sasha learned her father would be out of work following his cancer treatment, she knew they’d have more time to spend together. They went on hikes and lounged at home as he recovered from a stem-cell transplant since Sasha’s job allows her to pursue her unusual line of work from just about anywhere.
Sasha, who asked to be identified only by her first name, is a professional cannabis influencer — and no, she doesn’t just get paid to smoke marijuana.
She operates out of Providence and uses the name @silencedhippie to create marijuana-related content for 334,000 Instagram followers, 511,000 YouTube subscribers, 57,200 Twitter followers, and 25,900 Twitch followers. And she’s far from the only one capitalizing on the growth of the marijuana market: an Instagram search for the hashtag #cannabisinfluencer returns more than 35,000 results.
Some of those results trace back to Massachusetts-based Jenny Fuore (@jennywakeandbake), Vermont-based Amelia Walker (@nugthugg), and Maine-based Roo (@roogetslifted), who also requested to be identified only by her first name. These influencers tout their personal use of cannabis and highlight different strains, paraphernalia, and products online in part to reduce the stigma associated with cannabis consumption. They all also occasionally team up with cannabis brands for product reviews and promotional content, and some sell merchandise in online shops.
Sasha started @silencedhippie on Twitter in 2012 anonymously as she was pursuing an elementary education degree. It wasn’t until she switched her major to communications a year later that she went public, detailing her medical and recreational usage. She started posting smoke session videos on YouTube from her bedroom so viewers at home could feel as if they were smoking with her.
“I kind of felt like I was a loner stoner at the time, so turning on the camera was a way for me to still share my smoke sessions and just meet more people,” Sasha said. “I’ve been in tears over people telling me that my content makes them feel okay with smoking in the morning so they don’t feel nauseous or to ease their anxiety,”
A Great Barrington native, Fuore joined Instagram in 2015 and YouTube in 2016. She, like Sasha, creates smoke sesh videos for her 24,000 YouTube subscribers, but both have expanded their channels to include sponsored videos for industry brands and lifestyle vlogs. On Instagram, Fuore uses her background in photography to capture still lifes and images of herself smoking. These posts landed her a marketing job at Theory Wellness, a local medical and recreational dispensary.
“I’ve just continued being a creative and an advocate of the cannabis industry,” Fuore said. “I’m trying to show people that there shouldn’t be a stereotype anymore. You don’t have to be a young, hip kid to smoke cannabis. You can be any age and you can use it for any reason.”
Walker echoed that sentiment. She began posting marijuana content on Instagram in 2018 after studying the plant’s agricultural profile at Green Mountain College. Walker’s profile includes everything from posts about local businesses to videos of her hula hooping, shared with her 260,000 followers.
“I try to make people happy. I dance around and I smoke weed,” Walker said. “I try to influence people’s ideas of cannabis users.”
The online marijuana community is largely made up of white influencers. Meanwhile, Black Americans have been disproportionately arrested and jailed for marijuana use and possession across the nation. In Massachusetts, legalization of the plant has presented new challenges for Black business owners looking to secure licenses. Some influencers use their platform to shed light on this inequality. Walker recently advertised an initiative from the Last Prisoner Project, an organization that works to release and expunge the records of people incarcerated on marijuana charges. This month in particular, she has posted resources related to the Black Lives Matter movement as well as bail funds to donate to, as has Roo.
“There’s a lot of Black people and other people of color who are locked up in jail right now for an eighth [of an ounce] when we’ve been growing pounds,” Roo said. “It’s not fair to take up all of this space and not recognize this industry was built off of Black and brown people who have been jailed.”
Advocacy through influencer accounts is not unusual — Sasha has been using her Instagram story to promote the work of Black glassblowers and cannabis professionals daily. Roo began using medical marijuana to manage endometriosis pain around 2012. Now, she uses her account to spread awareness of the condition and posts about happiness and well being to her 10,000 followers.
“Chronic pain, in general, comes with a lot of mental health strain. You don’t feel well for so long — you feel limited,” Roo said. “Cannabis helps to take your mind off of how bad the pain is while also helping you relax and feel a bit better and a bit more okay to be in your body. It gives you that space to take a deep breath, relax, and let your body relax.”
Though legal in many states, including Massachusetts, marijuana has long drawn scrutiny online. Instagram community guidelines, for example, prohibit the purchase and sale of illegal drugs. Roo said her posts have been deleted for tagging a dispensary or grower because it promotes the sale of marijuana per the guidelines.
To get around this, many influencers add disclaimers to their profile bios — Sasha identifies herself as a medical marijuana patient and Walker labels her profile 18+. Despite these precautions, Walker noted her Instagram profile has been suspended three to four times, forcing her to rely on her backup account, @nuggthugg, to continue posting.
“I remember the last time I got deleted, it was right before I hit 100,000 followers,” Walker said. “I work just as hard as a fashion blogger does and I post just as much and then it all gets deleted in one day.”
As recreational marijuana laws proliferate, some influencers have noticed a decrease in oversight from Instagram, though they agree that enforcement of these rules on most platforms is varied.
In 2018, cannabis creators on YouTube faced what has come to be known as the “purge” of cannabis-related content from the platform. Popular creators had videos removed and channels deleted, depleting any income they made from that content.
Sasha and Roo’s channels both fell victim to the “purge.” Roo decided to transition to Instagram content online, while Sasha moved most of her video content to Twitch where she faced no penalty for smoking on camera while chatting with viewers. Roughly 13 months after the initial suspension, Sasha’s channel was reinstated, though now deemed ineligible for monetization and flagged for adult content.
“That’s where I found my voice in the community,” Sasha said. “I think more people would be open to finding the community if they didn’t have it in the back of their mind that legally, this is wrong, even though it’s just a plant.”
Grace Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @GraceMGriffin