WeedTube's Arend Richard on the Threat to Cannabis in Social
Arend Richard is co-founder and creative director of WeedTube, the first-of-its-kind and largest social media platform for cannabis. Following the YouTube cannabis marketing purge in March 2018, Arend was deleted with 190,000 subscribers and teamed up with a like-minded community of influential content creators to launch WeedTube as a safe house for cannabis enthusiasts.
It is also the first video-based social network to provide monetization options to cannabis influencers and to offer cannabis companies commercial-style advertising. Since then, Arend has become an outspoken advocate against censorship of the cannabis industry and promoter of social good for the cannabis community.
We spoke with Arend for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Arend, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born and raised just outside of Denver in a town called Thornton. I still live just outside of Denver.
Your current role in the cannabis industry.
I am the creative director and co-founder of WeedTube. In life, I believe my goal is to change the perception of what it means to be a stoner to the rest of the world who may look at cannabis consumers with a judgmental eye.
Your earliest cannabis memory.
Laughing far too hard at a commercial that instructed the viewer on how to start their own alpaca farm. Like really? Anyone can have their own alpaca farm? Stoned or not… it was funny. Maybe you had to be there.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
The main story I've always shared with the world about my relationship with cannabis is how it helped me medicate with my blood cell disease, mastocytosis, which I was born with. I went from taking 8+ pills per day to regulate my digestive system down to one antihistamine per day.
But aside from that, I'd love to share how cannabis changed the person that I am. Before weed, I would describe myself as "all over the place." Unable to focus on accomplishing even the most basic of tasks. Waking up daily to a depressive mindset without hope or plans for the future. I remember so vividly the frustration that would build within me each morning because I just couldn't make a start towards… anything.
After daily integration of cannabis, I had a newfound drive towards goals I was able to articulate. My creativity went from chaotic and incomplete to centered and filled with follow through. All this being said, cannabis not only helped me be able to live a better life physically, it also helped my mind and outlook transform into something entirely more productive.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
I am a huge fan of the Incredibles brand of edibles made in Colorado. Specifically the mint chocolate bar. A few chunks of that, maybe 30 mg or so, is my key to a wonderful night.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
The biggest challenges are social media censorship and the constant threat of deletion. We started WeedTube for this exact reason. Take me, for example. My YouTube account, The Gay Stoner, was deleted with 190,000 followers and never recovered. Fast forward to today and we're facing the same issues. We planned #Canna4Climate, a cause for good, and Instagram shadow banned our efforts. I have around 38,000 followers on Instagram. I typically average around 4,000 story views—on a bad day.
The week of #Canna4Climate, I couldn't get more than 400 views on my Instagram story. Some of our other leading content creators like MacDizzle received 20,000 fewer Instagram story views than usual. Even licensed businesses are groveling with the biggest platforms to avoid being deleted, hopelessly researching tips on "How your cannabis company can avoid a shutdown" since this has become common practice. As federal legalization looms in the future, we need an online community that encourages healthy discussion on the topic of cannabis so that people can educate themselves.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
I'm quite excited to see more mainstream marketing TO the cannabis community. We are such a large group of consumers, and we've seen certain brands like Taco Bell, Doritos and others hint at the idea of advertising to us, but I think in the future it would do these mainstream brands well to consider us as viable customers.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
Over the years both WeedTube and myself personally have held fundraisers for The Trevor Project, a non-profit that provides crisis support to prevent suicide among LGBTQ+ youth. As someone who was kicked out as a teenager for being gay, the cause is close to my heart. Every Pride Month we hold a fundraiser for the Trevor Project on WeedTube's home page.
A recent project you're proud of.
Just this year I co-created a new project with a wonderful friend and business partner, Ariana Newton, called Canna4Climate. The idea of the event, or day each year it will happen—4/21—was to extend the traditional 4/20 stoner holiday into another day that focused around showing the rest of the world what it truly means to be a "stoner." Going out on 4/21 and cleaning up areas all over the country, and even the world, under the unifying name of cannabis. We were extremely successful—although our efforts were stifled by social media—and we expect to come back even stronger next year.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
The new music put out by my friend and fellow WeedTube content creator Alicia Goku. She is a hip-hop/rap artist who captures the cannabis experience in her music. You can check out her cannabis adventures on her WeedTube channel.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
This is an easy one for me. Laganja Estranja is not only a close personal friend of mine, but she's also an incredible advocate for the cannabis space. There's the obvious reason that she brings a voice for cannabis into queer spaces and pushes for the changing narrative of cannabis perception reform. But also, and more importantly, her role as a trans woman and figurehead in the industry challenges the pervasive "boys club" mentality that I've known to be the norm since entering this industry seven years ago. She's truly an icon, legend and star.
A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.
The movie Connie and Carla comes to mind as the cornerstone of my stoner experience. I remember watching it five nights in a row and laughing like I never had. I highly recommend it! Nothing to do with cannabis… but it'll get some smiles out of you!
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
Who knows? A younger version of me would say that I'd be an openly gay pop star. Similar to the likes of Lil Nas X or Todrick Hall. I went to college for opera performance and singing has always been my favorite expression of art. But, I also have terrible stage fright. Suffice to say I think I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.