Bess Byers, as usual, has a theory about what really happened.
The woman known online as Cannabess, a Seattle-based cannabis marketer and social-media influencer, has—or had—nearly 100,000 Instagram followers. Sometimes she'll show herself in a grow room holding giant bags full of weed. Other times she'll be deep in the woods, smoke snaking out of her half-open mouth.
In addition to using Instagram to build her marketing agency, Blaise Creative, Byers posts sponsored content, getting paid to pose with various cannabis products, from sticky golden concentrates to leggings stamped with pot leaves. She's her own boss, and she looks at her work as both marketing and as cannabis activism.
Business has been good. She's got a handful of clients and just hired her first employee. But despite her growing profile in the industry, she has a big problem: Instagram keeps shutting her down.
The first time her account was deactivated was in August. Since then, it's been deactivated six more times. Byers has learned each time through a notification from the company informing her that she's violated their terms of service.
"It's been financially stressful," Byers says. "I have campaigns that have been confirmed, but obviously that can't work if I'm locked out of my account."
While Instagram's terms of service don't explicitly say anything about weed, they do say this: "Offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms and illegal or prescription drugs (even if it's legal in your region) is also not allowed." Byers doesn't sell weed; she just posts pictures of it. Moreover, Instagram seems to enforce these rules selectively. Why has she been shut down, but not Leafly or High Times or any number of other pot brands and cannabis influencers?
Byers thinks politics may have something to do with it. She is an outspoken libertarian and something of a conspiracy theorist. She likes guns, is a big believer in small government, and thinks 9/11 was inside job. And so, when her Instagram was deactivated for the seventh time in November, it's not too surprising where her mind went: She suspects there's been a coordinated campaign to mass report her posts, either by competitors in the industry or by people who disagree with her politics.
Is she right or is there something else going on? Instagram has ignored Byers's request for clarification (and they've also ignored The Stranger's request for clarification), so it's hard to know the truth. She is, however, pushing back: She started a petition asking Instagram to end censorship of the cannabis industry, update their terms of service, and provide greater transparency. The petition currently has more than 18,000 signatures.
She organized a protest, which she called #CannabisBlackoutDay, on October 6, the anniversary of the day Instagram was founded. While she doesn't know how many people ultimately participated (it's hard to measure nonengagement), she says that before the blackout of her account, there were more than 750 posts on Instagram promoting the hashtag.
Byers isn't sure what she's going to do next. As of this writing, she's locked out of her main page, @imcannabess, as well as her business accounts. But there's one upside to losing her access. "My screen time has gone way down," she says, "which is good, because I'm focusing on my business. I'm about to lose interest in the app."