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Deleting The Weed: Instagram's Shutdown of Marijuana ­Laced Accounts Is Bad for Business 

Wednesday, Jan 7 2015
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Coral Reefer has no problem posting naked pictures of herself on the internet. Neither do Twitter or Vine, where the 26-year-old Alameda woman and internet celebrity has been posting images of herself and some of her 35,000-plus followers taking dabs or pulling tubes in the nude under the #"nakedbonghits" hashtag.

Beyond her willingness to partake au naturel, there are two reasons why Reefer (an alias; her real name is a guarded secret) was able to quit her job waiting tables two summers ago and focus all her time on her personal brand. One is her deep-seated affection for marijuana, which she consumes in some form every day. The other is her willingness to share her cannabis habit with the many dedicated fans following her on social media. That she's an attractive blonde with a famous feature — type "Coral Reefer" into Google and the word "booty" pops up, along with numerous shots of her rear, identifiable by the matching marijuana leaf tattoos on the back of her thighs — also boosts her profile on every social media network.

But not Instagram. The Facebook-owned photosharing utility deleted her account last month as part of a movement to purge weed accounts. Legal cannabis dispensaries, marijuana-smoking musicians, and normal people with an affinity for snapping and sharing filtered photos of weed have all been removed from the app's roll of 200 million users.

This is a big deal in 2015, when media entrepreneurs' livelihoods depend on their ability to connect to fans, business partners, and customers via social media. "[Instagram] definitely took my career to the next level," says Berner, the San Francisco member of Wiz Khalifa's crew and brand ambassador of the Girl Scout Cookies weed strain, whose account was shuttered in December. "Whenever we have a show, we post about it on Instagram — and it sells out."

Coral Reefer still isn't sure why her account was kicked offline. She claims Instagram won't tell her and the company didn't respond to my email seeking comment. She guesses it could be the partial nudity on her account, including the skin flashed during naked bong rips.

But plenty of other fully clothed cannabis accounts, including the accounts of San Francisco dispensaries Barbary Coast and Grassroots and that of Matt Rize, a maker of ice wax rollups, were also deleted.

Berner was told his account was booted because it promoted drug use "and solicited the sale of marijuana, which is not true," he says. "I don't sell marijuana on my page, nor do I promote drug use."

Indeed, Instagram's terms of service ban nudity as well as the promotion or solicitation of drug use. That would be an easy explanation as to why those accounts were removed from the app's servers. But it would not explain why Instagram's war on weed is both selective and erratic. Many other weed-related accounts, including those aimed to connect cannabis businesses with consumers, such as WeedMaps-owned Marijuana.com's @themarijuana, are still freely posting away.

It's entirely possible that Instagram is just responding to feedback from users. It is extremely easy for anyone to flag an account for terms-of-service violations in the hopes that Instagram will shed it. Some belive that the anti-drug group Narconon is spending its time flagging accounts it doesn't like. Others suspect a turncoat from within the marijuana community's own ranks, guessing that a competing cannabis business is flagging prominent accounts in a fit of jealousy.

As of the new year, Coral was still trying to contact Instagram in an attempt to at the very least get an explanation if she's not able to get her Instagram reinstated. As for @berner415, he's back on, thanks to the intercession of a well-connected friend (he won't say who, just that he's a "well-known recording artist") — but with one notable change.

Less weed.

For Berner, self-censorship of his cannabis lifestyle is a worthwhile trade for keeping Instagram as a promotional platform for his other ventures: his music, his Cookies clothing line and attendant store set to open up in the Haight.

"I went through and deleted a bunch of stuff... I'm calming down on it a lot," he says. "Instagram is valuable to a lot of people... all we can do is respect Instagram's terms."

From now on, whenever he has a dab or bud he wants to share, he's doing it on the "Instagram for marijuana," a new social network hosted on WeedMaps' Marijuana.com. As of the new year, the network most closely resembles a Pinterest, with a collage of images showing dab hits, clouds of smoke, and stoned people. This would differentiate it from MassRoots, the first social network to declare itself the Facebook alternative for the cannabis set upon its launch in 2013.

Not that Instagram would ever be able to remove marijuana from its servers even if it wanted to. There are simply too many posts of buds, bongs, and blunts to count, let alone delete. As for whether a cannabis-centric social network can compete for space on users' phones and attention spans, Berner pledges a big push. In the coming weeks, Marijuana.com's network will hire a team of programmers and rent office space in San Francisco, he says. Maybe they could score Instagram's old digs in South Park.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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