Everything under the sun can be found on YouTube—even cannabis. But recently, people who watch and post weed-related videos to the site began to see a purge. YouTube’s cannabis channels have lost chunks of their content, big sections of their audiences, and—in some cases—a revenue stream. The reasons why are open to speculation, as YouTube has made no statement on the matter. But, hey, you know who’s awesome at stoned speculation? (Points to self, forgets is holding bong, drenches lap. Again.)
Some fun facts about YouTube: It was started waaaaay back in 2005, and by 2014 there were more than 300 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute of every day. It has more than one billion users, nearly a third of all people on the internet. It’s the third-most visited website in the world, is the second largest search engine (Google is number one, and just happens to own YouTube), and receives 15 billion visits per month.
Create your own channel, and by becoming a Google AdSense partner you can earn some money, with YouTube keeping 55 percent of revenue from ads placed at the start of your videos. The program does not allow ad placement onto cannabis channels, which is categorized as “age restricted content.” Instead, channel owners can sell sponsorships and merchandise, and enter into branded content deals.
Cannabis channels are fantastic educational tools for growers and consumers to share strain and grow information, and they’ve also been great for activists, medical caregivers, patients, and, well, stoners. (I learned how to build my first vaporizer out of a fishbowl and a wood burner by watching YouTube.) Channels that have been eliminated by YouTube include the US-based channels Greenbox Grown (13,000 subscribers), That High Couple, (28,000 subscribers), GreenGenes Garden (43,000 subscribers), and Canada’s largest cannabis channel, UrbanRemo (190,000 subscribers). UrbanRemo was one of more than 20 US, EU, and Canadian sites that signed a statement in response to YouTube taking down well-known cannabis channels.
YouTube does provide content guidelines, with violators receiving up to three “strikes,” after which the channel and all its content get permanently erased. Those guidelines include videos which “encourage dangerous or illegal activities” such as “bomb making, choking games, hard drug use, or other acts where serious injury may result.”
But YouTube had allowed various cannabis channels to grow to hundreds of thousands of subscribers before unceremoniously dumping them. So what’s up?
You may recall there was a bit of a kerfuffle a year ago, regarding YouTube not exactly monitoring their content or their ad placements all that well. Ads were showing up that Variety summed up as coming from “American white nationalists, anti-gay preachers, and radical Islamic groups.” (Worst answer ever to the question “Which three people would you invite to a dinner party?”)
YouTube told PepsiCo, Proctor and Gamble, AT&T, and other multinational advertising clients with billions in ad money that they were on it. A few months later, there was another outcry when ads were placed on videos that were attracting the attention and comments of pedophiles. YouTube hired some more content screeners and instituted new algorithms to search out “offensive content.” On April 20, a CNN investigation revealed 300 advertisers, including Amazon, had been placed on channels for “white nationalists, Nazis, pedophilia, conspiracy theories, and North Korean propaganda.”
So YouTube has been struggling with bigger problems, and cannabis may have gotten caught in the crosshairs. The couple behind the deleted channel That High Couple told Leafly, “YouTube can’t make ad revenue from cannabis content... They updated their algorithm to prevent ‘unsuitable’ content from getting ads delivered against their content, and the whole system has been crumbling ever since.”
Kord Tagley of GenesGreen Garden also told Leafly, “It appears that bots are reviewing the appeals, because they’re getting bounced back in a matter of minutes.”
A new start-up, weedtube.com, has offered itself as a cannabis-friendly video sharing platform, while others are using Pornhub to host their work. (Still not cool to open up Pornhub on your laptop, guy on plane next to me. Still not cool.)
But in the meantime, this should be a wake-up call to those generating cannabis video content to protect your work: Upload everything first to your own website, share mad links to it, and protect ya neck instead of counting on big corporations like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram to do it. These entities welcome our presence and money when it’s convenient, but have no affection for cannabis—until it’s descheduled, in which case, they’ll probably pretend to be your new best friend. Until then, don’t get owned by Google any more than you already are.