If you had to guess Krissy Perry's job just by looking at her, you might go with something along the lines of “Instagram influencer.” And you wouldn’t be far off: The Ocala, Florida, native now lives in Los Angeles, and Instagrams on an almost daily basis. But instead of just posting outfit-of-the-day photos or shelfies full of beauty products, Perry catalogs other everyday activities, such as hitting a joint while half-submerged in a pool or tenderly pulling from the bong as Rae Sremmurd soundtracks a video clip. Perry, then, is a new breed of Instagram star: the weed influencer.
Perry started posting as @thisiskrissyperry about five years ago, accruing a following of more than 58k. “I never really felt like it's a private thing because I've been a proud pothead. So, when it came to Instagram, it was just natural to keep it un-private. My family, my friends… everybody knows I do it, so it’s not a secret.”
The next step was to figure out a way to monetize her passion—and, luckily for Perry, her photographer boyfriend was more than happy to help. She says since she started posting about her use early—before Broad City aired or anyone assumed Rihanna’s Fenty blotting sheets were actually rolling papers—it was easier for her to stand out. It also probably helps that her ethos for posting on Insta is as chill as you’d expect given the content: “[My boyfriend and I] sit in a room and come up with ideas and make videos or pictures and just come up with funny things to do,” Perry says. Case in point: this post, featuring her playing video games with what appears to be a guy made up entirely of bags of pot. The image was widely re-Grammed, with the original racking up more than 58,000 likes.
And, it can’t be ignored: Perry, like so many other influencers, is an objective knockout. This only lends steam to her aspirational content—who doesn’t want that kind of body or lifestyle? But what separates Perry from all the other beach babes posting to the ‘gram is that she really walks the walk, or, in this case, smokes the weed—a lot of it. She is, then, the epitome of an approachable girl, a girl who “gets it”—a Cool Girl, the kind of girl who used to come to a party with a six-pack but now comes with a packed bowl.
And, speaking of that, cannabis is in the midst of a revolution akin to one that the beer industry experienced some years ago. But in the same way that most Americans aren’t satisfied ordering any old beer anymore, there’s a similar attitude shift regarding weed; there was the analogous quick climb from lowbrow to omnipresent luxury item, from blue-collar back alleys to pinkie-out “sativa makes me sooooo paranoid lol.” There’s budding interest in terpenes, as well as specific strains to treat anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. It’s not so much about “getting high” as getting a specific high; smoking a heavy indica to help manage insomnia is very different than hitting a vape pen loaded with Blue Dream oil before a dinner party. Just like most people don’t just drink as much as they can as fast as they can to get drunk, most people are looking for a nuanced experience with cannabis.
As various state legalizations—and the advent of bespoke accessories and experiences like $2,000 designer ashtrays and all-female weekend retreats—sweep the United States, cannabis has officially reached mainstream status. Without these developments, the world may have never seen Gossamer, a publication with a stylish approach to cannabis culture as it pertains to professionals.
But this is all still a relatively new development; up until recently, people were less open about their cannabis use—and not just because of some remaining stereotypes and stigma. Rather, they were worried how such visibility affected employment or other legal repercussions. Like, you know, serious jail time.
Strangely, new studies show relaxed laws haven’t boosted cannabis popularity so much as simply melted existing stigmas. What that means, though, is that some of those cannabis enthusiasts who got a head start in being public about their use are now raking in recognition—and for many of them, like Perry, actual money.
Jessica Cuebas, a 32-year-old in Los Angeles who currently posts as @pothead.princess and boasts about 123k followers from over five years of activity, says cannabis diverted her from a dangerous pain pill habit. Now, posting about weed earns her around $1,000 a month. Despite her gratitude and a developing personality anchored in cannabis, she was initially nervous about posting about her use on social media. But Cuebas had grown tired of posting typical fodder like food photos, and finally found the nerve to pay homage to the plant that she says saved her life. So she started reaching out to women in the industry she admired for advice on getting off the ground. Some of the women she contacted lived in States where cannabis was illegal at the time, like New York. “She never showed her face. It was always just the weed and her lips,” Cuebas says about an early mentor. “I was just like, ‘I think that's so cool. You're so brave for posting.’”
And there was a bravery element to the whole thing. Cuebas’ first public cannabis account, @blazen420beauty, had accrued 20,000 followers before Instagram shut it down after two years of activity in 2011. “Instagram didn't really want people to be posting cannabis and stuff, so that account got deleted and I had to start all over again,” she says.
Bravery transcends facing potential arrests and the occasional raised eyebrow for many of these women. Mariana Diaz, 29, and Biscayne Boeck, 25, of Miami-based YouTube series Stoner Girl Diary grew up in families who didn’t exactly endorse cannabis use. “Growing up, my parents were always like, ‘Marijuana is the devil, it is the worst thing ever, you smoke weed you're a drug addict,’” Diaz says, whose family lived in Venezuela before the United States. “And then as soon as I started doing the show, and I started educating my parents about the medical use and beneficial uses of marijuana, they started opening up to it.” Her mother now regularly uses CBD.
“We were actually a little bit hesitant, I think, once we first started shooting to actually even put the content out there,” Boeck says.
But the whole point of being public across four seasons is authenticity. “I think we try to be as authentic as possible and try to appeal to girls that are just like us,” Diaz says. They aren’t burnouts, nor are they Claire Danes’ slightly older, philandering food critic character from the first season of Master of None (though that purple vape pen Danes used doesn’t look too off-brand for SGD). The two say that, besides Broad City, they weren’t really seeing themselves and their friends represented in pop culture.
Episodes feature prominent, intentional estrogen. There are bright colors, unicorn imagery, septum rings, pink hair, and episodes with titles like “Girls Roll Better Joints” and “Bongs are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Like with other YouTube influencers, there are big unboxing segments, but instead of lip plumper, it’s weed leaf stickers. This is not Tony Greenhand rolling an elaborate joint that looks like an AK-47. Even the name, “diary,” has a distinctly feminine flair. After all, Stoner Girl Diary stars two female-identifying people who get high, and their audience is more of the same.
Not to mention, they started the show two years ago, before medical cannabis laws passed; even still, smoking cannabis remains illegal in the state of Florida. So, even though Diaz legally uses cannabis to manage her anxiety, the smoke sesh kicking off most episodes is technically against the law.
As such, recruiting traditional spokespeople and getting classic advertising campaigns with celebrities is incredibly tricky. Add to the mix how Forbes called influencers “the golden children of marketing strategies right now,” and the fusion of social media-based marketing movements with cannabis seems obvious.
Social media-based influencers strike an interesting marketing balance, they promise a high return on investments for brands looking for more exposure, and yet they retain authentic authority for shoppers. After all, if it’s just a regular girl who smokes weed—just like you—what would be her incentive for lying? But it’s up to these women using Instagram and YouTube to develop their own personal brands and thus, build credibility among the cannabis community. Not everyone has the backing of a whole team, like Stoner Girl Diary, to develop an aesthetic and, intentional or not, brand style guide.
However, SGD still generates plenty of brand interest. “Biz and Mari are awesome! They defy stoner and gender stereotypes and do a great job of representing the brands they work with in the cannabis industry,” says NugTools CEO, Rob Green, who sent the duo samples of Nuggy, a cannabis multitool to be shown in an episode. “We think both types of marketing are beneficial in their own way. High Times generates impressions and legitimizes the NugTools brand, whereas working with Biz and Mari is an opportunity to work with another new and exciting brand, while also helping us to build a community of NugTools super users."
The believability of these women’s personal brands is their currency. Although they still post the occasional midriff-baring pic, the content is a far cry from the topless bong rips and other hypersexualized gaze of Maxim’s Instagram Weed Queens. However, modesty aside, all of these influencers are objectively attractive women under the age of 35—a facet not lost on their primarily male audiences.
Cuebas says Instagram analytics show the majority of her followers are men between the ages of 25 and 40, mostly residing on the West Coast. “A lot of them hit me up, and they want my number,” she says, noting she tends to only respond to female followers. “When [these men] see all these girls smoking online, they’re like, ‘Oh my god! I never knew girls like you existed!’ They must be living under a rock or something because there’s a lot [of us].” In an unintentional way, many of these accounts, like @pothead.princess, feed into the growing fetishization of stoner girls. I ask Cuebas if her looks are a factor in her rising popularity among a male audience. “I definitely think that helps,” she says.
Cuebas says she sometimes spends up to five hours cruising the app, liking photos, leaving comments, and building a community. “I follow a lot of people,” she says; the actual number is closer to 3,000, about 2 percent of the number of people who follow her. “They just want to feel loved. I leave a lot of comments, I offer my opinion about products that they might like if I see them smoking something else.”
While surely Cuebas’s followers appreciate her various product suggestions, it’s more likely the validation of this new form of celebrity stoking the flame of their fandom. The serotonin blast when someone you admire—further qualified by a big follower count and, yeah, attractiveness—interacts with your personal brand is valid.
For many of these women, the money seems to be a perk to their public personas. Perry, who says she makes about 75 percent of her income through working as a budtender at a Los Angeles dispensary and the rest through promoted posts, posted about her own mental health struggles. In an effort to normalize such discussion, she invited followers to reach out if they needed an open ear. “Surprisingly enough, I got my inbox filled up that day with people wanting to talk about what they're dealing with,” she says. “It's really good, I feel I could keep an open connection with my followers.” Perry notes she’s more apt to interact with female followers rather than her largely male audience since she is in a serious romantic relationship.
Besides an innate knack for resonating material and tone, Perry and Cuebas say hashtags and symbiotic shout-outs help grow an audience. And, for Perry and Cuebas at least, working as budtenders at Los Angeles dispensaries only helps them more deeply understand fellow cannabis patients and the demographic. Plus, such access to huge amounts of herb makes for formidable photo props. (Honestly, I wonder if you can’t upsell sacks after being used in bathtub shoots.)
Though the public appetite and growing fetish for cute young women who use cannabis seems insatiable and there’s plenty of opportunity to capitalize off that, the women I spoke to say they won’t let such temptation make them sell out. “Yeah, that's one thing I feel like we don't just do it… I feel like we're not sellouts in that sense,” Diaz says. “We want to make sure that the products that we are associating with, we like it, and we stand true to them, and we believe in them because we want to be authentic to our fans.”
And those endorsed products expand outside cannabis and related accessories, building more on the femininity aspect to include face masks and more face masks and Botox. This helps drive home the authenticity thing—these women are more than just their cannabis use, and they have the lifestyle product endorsements to prove it.
There’s pressure to adhere to other aspects of influencer culture, sticking to the personal brands building popularity and, in many cases, signing their checks. “I have found myself in situations where we'll go to public places and because they know that we're stoner girls they'll try smoke us out, like a lot,” Diaz says. “And I'll be like, ‘I just smoked a blunt,’ And they're trying to shove another bong down my throat kind of thing and I'm like, ‘I can't right now.’”
Cuebas says she doesn’t at all consider herself an influencer. “I'm just… I'm not the plant. I'm here to just share the information about it,” she says. She wants to use her platform to promote women growers, specifically. “I want to let everyone [who follows me to] know that these are the real people who have knowledge,” she says. “If you want more, better information, I can help you get there, but these are the accounts to follow, these women are strong, and I just want to bring that information for everybody.”
Besides helping to bring the cannabis community’s female users into a more public scope, many of these influencers work to highlight the plant’s medicinal qualities. Perry, Cuebas, and Diaz all use cannabis instead of pills to manage anxiety. With prescribed Xanax, Diaz says, “I personally felt sluggish, I felt like I couldn't get things done, I was always sleepy, I felt like I was on drugs.”
Similarly, they prefer it to alcohol or other drugs for recreational use, as well. It’s a large deviation from the early ‘00s trope of party girls like Paris Hilton sparking up. “I'm not really into alcohol,” Perry says. “I guess if I drank it, it's very occasional and it's a very little amount. I'll do it maybe once a month, and that'll be like a drink at dinner, if anything. I don't know, I don't like the taste of it, and they give me a really bad hangover… I do enjoy recreational marijuana… like throughout the day just to have fun, if my friends are over we'll smoke and listen to music and talk.”
Cuebas sings a similar tune. “I'm a homebody, so I watch a lot of movies… [I] just sit at home with my dog, my little Yorkie.”
Sure, it’s a personal preference, but it’s a responsibility to the cannabis community as a whole, the SGD gals say. ”I think in the beginning, when we first started the show it was about representing female stoners in a positive light, but then it kind of became a little bit more, and I think we realized we had a responsibility to normalize cannabis for the whole community,” Boeck says. Her sentiments echo Cuebas’ concern for spreading education. “We're very educational in nature in our show, and we're the forefront between the stoners that are real stoners and the stoners that are kind of curious about the whole culture. And, I think, it’s just like a glass of wine at the end of the day, there's a lot to be explained on the subject.”
There definitely is, and with these women pushing for feminine visibility in respective accounts, it only aids the cultural shift. And for many, it’s not enough to root one’s identity in cannabis use; their femininity is just as crucial. “I'm not just a stoner, I'm a stoner girl,” Diaz says. “That's very important, to me at least, I like to show it off a lot.”
Maybe female ambassadors are exactly what those still on the fence about cannabis need. “Those who do have other opinions, you can’t change them,” Perry says.
But with the steady, gentle guidance of these influencers—especially those who also work at dispensaries—they could perhaps gather the nerve to reconsider. “[Cannabis] is definitely becoming more girly. I have a lot of patients who might not be comfortable smoking something, but they'll eat some chocolates or a macaroon because they're cute, you know?”