By Marissa Wenzke April 9, 2017
On a sleepy street in suburban Pasadena, California, 19-year-old Monika Beuzet is inside her friend’s apartment. A reggae track by Snoop Lion plays as she sits at a desk with her black iPad.
Looking at the screen, her squinted eyes are glazed over, a pinkish hue washes over them. She’s giggling a steady stream of laughter that’s as vibrant as the cotton candy pinks and blues in her hair. Monika’s stoned.
And as her online alter ego GreenWizard, she’s broadcasting it live for the world to see on an app called Toke With — a platform that not only allows this sort of thing but, kind of incredibly, encourages it.
“It’s basically Periscope for potheads,” says Zeus Tipado, 31, a fellow weed-streamer who goes by the username StonedGamer.
Toke With is a relatively new app that’s vying to be the place where stoners gather, where they can “kinda go and just not feel like they’re going to get their accounts shut off … or be chastised,” Zeus says. And for stoners who love the app, it’s not only a place where they don’t feel ashamed, but it also opens up business opportunities. They can become influencers in a world that gets shut out of other social media.
Its design mirrors Periscope, with tiny colorful hearts and people commenting on live broadcasts. But there are also little images of smoke clouds called “tokes” flying around the screen and to sign in, your geolocation must show you are recording in an area where medical marijuana is legal.
On the app, you’ll find the live smoke sessions of people like DabbingGranny, an elderly woman in Colorado with a love for concentrated cannabis and a loyal Instagram following of nearly 300,000. Then there’s PuffPuffPassGirl, a woman in Nova Scotia with a cat named Indica and a devotion to the fattest of bong rips, and more users like StonedLust, PrincessHigh, Herb_Potter, Blaze and Dank.
With 15,000 people on the app right now, it’s still in its infancy. Stoners stream cloudy selfies, write down what strain they’re smoking (there’s a trending strains section) and mingle among accounts for companies marketing cannabis-based products and medical marijuana dispensaries. And all of it happens in a space that was created just for them.
“Stream or watch live weed broadcasts instantly,” its description in the App Store reads. “Learn, laugh, and love while inhaling cannabis content.”
When it comes to weed on the web, there’s already a lot out there. Plenty of apps have been dedicated to the sole purpose of finding the best bud, from Leafly as the Yelp of pot strains to WeedMaps as the reliable store-finder. MassRoots is one of the largest social networks for stoners, while High There, a "social app for meeting cannabis enthusiasts," has a swiping system that makes it feel like Tinder.
So where’s weed to go next? Well, where seemingly everything else on the internet has gone before: livestreaming. That’s where Toke With comes in. After launching in April last year, it is hoping to be the future of the weedstream.
TROLLING THE HERB
Of course, people already do livestream themselves smoking weed. And it happens on pretty mainstream platforms like Periscope. It just doesn’t always go over so well.
“Some people would say ‘Oh, you’re a drug addict,’” Monika says of her Periscope sessions, which have drawn a couple thousand people throughout a roughly hour-long broadcast.
The remarks annoy her, she says, because she's found marijuana more effective for coping with medical conditions than prescription medications. In California, Monika’s legally prescribed the drug as medication for anxiety, depression and chronic pain resulting from injuries she suffered as a dancer in high school.
On Toke With, she says she feels more relaxed. She describes the environment as “peaceful and open-minded,” a place that’s filled with people who love weed as much as she does. And one where she says trolling just doesn’t exist. “They’re not the sort of people who are going to start problems or anything,” she said.
That’s what Toke With is trying to offer its users — a smoking and streaming experience that’s free of the anti-weed trolling they face elsewhere. “The conversations on those mainstream platforms become contentious,” says Miguel Sugay, CEO and cofounder of the app. “That’s not the experience these people are looking for.”
Using Toke With, Monika says she hasn’t seen bullying or sexual harassment — something she’s had to deal with elsewhere. “Like on Periscope, you get some really disgusting comments,” she says. “And I’m like ‘Oh, I’m blocking you right now. That’s horrifying.’” Monika doesn’t think harassment will happen on Toke With in the future, either. “The community isn’t going to tolerate it,” she says. “They’ll call them out instantly.”
On her broadcasts, she shares inside jokes and old stories with a handful of loyal viewers. They talk about things like fragrant cannabis-based oils called terpenes and Secret Sesh, basically an underground farmer’s market for weed in LA.
These days, she prefers streaming on Toke With rather than Periscope, but still occasionally airs herself on the more mainstream platform. There, she can attract thousands of viewers through a roughly hour-long broadcast while in contrast she’ll see pretty modest viewerships of less than a dozen people on Toke With.
Periscope takes a pretty generalized approach to moderating content with substance use. Its community guidelines require that users not post “content that has an unlawful purpose or furthers illegal activity.” Of course, across different states in the U.S., sometimes marijuana use is legal and sometimes it isn’t. But spokesperson Liz Kelley would not comment further to clarify those blurred lines.
Such ambiguities certainly don’t relieve the anxieties of every person who wants to get high online. And that’s because trolls aren’t the only things they worry about.
DON'T FEAR THE REEFER
For one, there’s the reality that your entire social media account could get shut down for showcasing pot.
That may vary from one platform to the next, but the possibility — and fear of it — remains. Even legitimate, legal businesses have had their pages torn down. In September, a review site in Canada called Lift Cannabis lost its entire Instagram account and 11,000 followers for showing photos of legal marijuana from licensed producers.
In Instagram’s community guidelines, it says even legal drug use isn’t allowed. Facebook, for its part, holds community standards that strictly prohibit any content promoting the sale of cannabis (even if it’s happening where the drug is legal). But even users showing marijuana that they’re not selling have been shut down.
And Facebook’s advertising opportunities for the cannabis industry, as you can probably guess, are no more accommodating. “Avoid using images of smoking-related accessories (like bongs and rolling papers),” the Facebook advertising policy reads. “Avoid using images of either recreational or medical marijuana.”
It makes for an online environment where the cannabis industry has trouble even existing.
“Facebook and Instagram were critical for us from a marketing perspective and for keeping in touch with our customers,” Joe Hodas, director of marketing at Colorado-based cannabis products seller Dixie Elixirs, told Fortune. “It really cuts off an arm, so to speak.”
As a result, these businesses find Toke With a much more welcoming, secure place where weed is readily accepted. And of course, so do people like Zeus, or StonedGamer.
In the hills of Los Angeles, at his Highland Park home, Zeus has created a little oasis in honor of his two favorite things. His bedroom is filled with High Times posters, a colorful collection of glassware from pipes to dab rigs, Simpsons memorabilia, and weed-loving swag like trucker hats that say “Play High, Stay High.” An arcade game and flat-screen TV are the few sources of light in the dimly-lit stoner cave.
He chats away after blazing through a sizable blunt. It’s left him baked and firmly planted on the couch, a game of Minecraft blaring on the big-screen TV before him. His eyes are laser-focused on the images of buildings and grass hills passing on the screen, a scene he narrates in great detail. “I built all of this,” he says of his digital creation with pride.
Beyond just getting high and playing video games, Zeus also earns a living hosting tournaments around California for people to do just that. These contests invite people to come get high and then wander into a maze of arcade and video game-playing. Meanwhile, Zeus also writes for Snoop Dogg’s Merry Jane and High Times.
Promoting his endeavors simply isn’t possible on arguably the biggest social platform for gamers: Twitch. Tales of other gamers getting their Twitch accounts deleted for an on-camera bong hit has been enough to keep Zeus off the platform -- a precaution that makes sense considering Twitch’s no-nonsense stance.
“We discourage broadcasting the use of cannabis/marijuana on our services,” Chase, PR director of Twitch, wrote in an email to Mashable. “If doing so violates your local laws, causes you to inflict harm upon yourself, or is a focus of your broadcasts, this type of activity is entirely prohibited.”
FOR THE CANNA-LOVERS AND THE CANNA-CURIOUS
Some of the people airing on Toke With are well-established digital influencers like Insta celeb DabbingGranny. Some are just ordinary people looking for a smoking buddy.
“They know when they tune in, it’s not just going to be us sitting and smoking in front of the camera,” says Cueen, the female half of the duo CingNCueenToke.
She and her boyfriend, Cing, share joint accounts for Toke With and Instagram, and on the weed-streaming app, their page reads “Home of the #8TokeClock,” in honor of their 8 p.m. daily smoking ritual. They’ll post throughout the day, broadcasting adventures like road trips or DIY tips like fashioning a bong out of a dragon fruit.
As they broadcast, Cing and Cueen are trying to show the weed haters the drug doesn’t actually transform you into a couch potato.
“People think that stoners can’t be functional people,” Cueen says, admitting family and friends have looked down on her own use. “For us, we didn’t like that people looked at us and said, ‘Oh, they smoke weed so obviously they’re losers.’”
“We want to kill the lazy stoner stereotype and find people like us,” Cing, her boyfriend, chimes in.
Cueen blows smoke onto her phone where she streams on Toke With
On Toke With, there’s a growing number of people airing their adventures and knowledge about a drug that’s hard to talk about in other places. Just as Vine and YouTube grew a base of their own stars, Toke With hopes to host the internet weed celebs of the future. “The concept of weed influencers hasn’t really gotten the chance to grow,” Toke With’s founder Sugay says. From retailers of cannabis-based extracts to medical marijuana companies, there’s already businesses making the rounds on Toke With.
On the app, Monika says she’s been offered discounts at local dispensaries during her streams, though she’s never taken them up on it. Just that possibility alone, though, is something Sugay says makes the app special. “We’ve never been able to connect with a person like that in real time,” he says.
There’s also the potential viewers Sugay describes as the “canna-curious,” people who want to find out more about weed, whether for medical reasons or just for fun. He hopes Toke With can be a place where those conversations happen.
Medical advice, of course, should come from a doctor. But even just anecdotal information about a certain strain, for instance, can be helpful, according to Jules Netherland, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. With marijuana still a federally illegal drug, classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as just as dangerous as heroin, the research into it is pretty limited.
“It’s very hard for people to get that information,” Netherland says. “If people can connect with one another and share information — [the app] could be valuable in that way ... People who use drugs are often the most knowledgeable.”
For his part, Zeus imagines a world where marijuana is normalized, embraced, and profusely marketed the same way as everything else. “Like stoned painting – why doesn’t that exist?” he asks, shuffling tiny bits of marijuana on a plastic plate with Barack Obama’s face on it.
The users of Toke With are hoping for a more stoned tomorrow. Cing and Cueen have made their devotion to the app permanent with a pair of matching tattoos that include the company’s logo. It’s a decision that might seem strange when those tattoos outlast the app itself.
But it seems to come from a place of genuine excitement – a longheld yearning for a feeling of acceptance they haven’t really found elsewhere on the internet.
“You can sit in front of a camera and do it,” Cueen says of weedstreaming. “I want to show people they don’t need to hide it – they don’t need to be ashamed of it.”