Every day, news headlines characterize cannabis as either a grave social ill or as a miracle panacea that can fix everything ranging from drug addiction to poverty. And it seems like as soon as one study comes out confirming cannabis’s useful properties, another study is published that contradicts the previous one.
How can the general public discern what’s true and what’s false when the mainstream media can’t even sort out basic facts about weed? How are lawmakers, activists, lobbyists — and yes, even the average cannabis consumer — supposed to make sound, informed decisions when discussions addressing legalization are drowned out by constant sensationalist noise?
The solution to this maddening cannabis cacophony may be The Blacklist, a project run by a team of anonymous cannabis activists and advocates who curate news stories that could impact legalization’s trajectory. The Blacklist exists as both a website and as an Instagram account, though its members do not produce any original content. Rather, they collect these stories, blast them on social media, add captions for context (sometimes with a healthy dose of editorializing), then let the cannabis community chime in with individual perspectives, anecdotes, and ideas.
“The actual pioneers, and the actual consumers who’ve been using marijuana forever, they really lost their voice” once corporations began to dominate legalization in the US, The Blacklist told MERRY JANE. “They didn’t get a say in any of it, really.”
“Our goal is to continue to provide a voice for the voiceless and to bring accountability to the regulated industry,” they continued. “That’s really the bottom line. And we do this by pushing information in the correct way.”
The Blacklist originally started in 2017 as a platform for cannabis business leaders to verify the reputations of other cannabis employees and businesses at a time when there really was no way to confirm who was who. Many weed workers and business owners transitioned from the underground market to the legal, licensed industry, meaning their pasts were obscured under the shadow of prohibition. After all, it’s not exactly like you can call up an illicit grower’s old bosses to confirm if they showed up to work on time or didn’t steal any product.
But serving as a digital resume service isn’t what The Blacklist does anymore. Since its inception, the team discovered it could provide far more value to the cannabis community by simply offering a platform for people to discuss the hottest, most controversial topics involving both the so-called “traditional market” and the nascent regulated one. Currently, The Blacklist has over 114,000 followers on its primary Instagram account, which, they say, garners over 20 million impressions per month.
View this post on Instagram
We post the stories the community shares with us. - - Do you have a story you want to share? Visit our website; #linkinbio... hit us in the DM or leave us a message on our voicemail. - - Tell us how we are doing, how you are doing or share a story you want to the community to know. #anonymous #industry #community #news #opinions #blog #theblacklistxyz #helpcleanupourindustry
How did The Blacklist get such a following? A recent example involves the big “marijuana bust” — that actually turned out to be hemp — staged by the NYPD that made headlines on November 3rd. By the next day, a relative of the hemp grower reached out to The Blacklist and explained what actually happened. It took another day or two for the media to catch on and report the bust’s corrected information.
Another example: Two weeks ago, news outlets reported that heroin-laced weed vapes poisoned two teens in West Virginia. It turns out the vapes weren’t “laced” weed vapes at all, but were black market vapes made with heroin and other opioids. The case didn’t even involve cannabis, and The Blacklist cleared that up while the news story was still hot.
To find out how The Blacklist morphed into the watchdog and disruptor that it is today, MERRY JANE spoke with its anonymous founder over the phone about how it operates, why its members choose to stay behind the figurative curtain, and which topics within the cannabis space the media has brutally bungled as of late.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MERRY JANE: Why does the team behind The Blacklist choose to remain anonymous?
The Blacklist: There's power in anonymity, and the power lies in the freedom it grants. In the end, it allows the words to stand by themselves. The Blacklist is a community, and our website and our Instagram account are platforms fueled by the engagement with that community. It’s bigger than just one person. The Blacklist has held major companies, murderers, robbers, and everything in between accountable. Even though the content we post is all user generated, there is an undeniable risk factor involved with what we’re doing.
Ultimately, who we are is not relevant. We simply host the platform. If we reveal our identities, it becomes a discussion, it becomes a debate, it becomes an argument. We keep our opinions completely out of it, and we never use The Blacklist for personal reasons. That keeps the focus on the big issues at hand.
How’d you come up with the idea for this project?
We launched the website in October 2017, and it was built in a way where we could track what people were searching, like keywords. We noticed very quickly that people were not using this site for double-checking people’s reputations, which was the original intention. Instead, they were using the website for our news information. So, it occurred to us that there’s an even bigger gap when it comes to consumer knowledge about products in the market.
Rather than continuing to brand The Blacklist as a platform to expose bad actors, it kind of took on a life of its own, and it became about black market products, people operating in the black market, and pushing the community toward legalization. We’re trying to fill the gap of information that exists between the black market and the regulated market.
That’s really the position that we take now. There are consumers who’ve been buying off the black market for so long — especially when it comes to vaping — and a lot of people are just now learning that many of these dispensaries and popular brands aren’t real companies.
View this post on Instagram
Remember earlier this year when heavy metals... most specifically LEAD was the issue in vape carts. What changed? - - January 2019 @leafly published an article saying “Looks like it’s time to get the heavy metal out of vape carts.” - Yes, the toxic, heavy metal “lead” (chemical symbol Pb) is showing up in lab tests of recreational cannabis products in California. Specifically, those disposable, pen-sized e-cigarette devices dubbed “vaporizer cartridges” or “vape carts.” Since January 1 in California, all legal cannabis vape carts are subject to stringent new testing for heavy metals, including lead. Labs are reporting that some percentage of vape carts are showing a concerning amount of lead. (Jan. 19) - - That’s a problem, because the Centers for Disease Control has found that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. It’s a neurotoxin that can decrease IQ, as well as sicken and kill you. The US and other countries have spent decades throttling lead exposures—banning lead paint, leaded gasoline, and other sources. - - Why Is There Lead in Carts? The Chinese add lead to brass and copper to make the metals more moldable when shaping all types of electronics. - Vape carts can be made of all plastic, or a mix of plastic, metal, and glass. CCELL carts failed tests at 0.6 or 0.7 ppm lead. That’s legal in Washington state, but not in California. The ones that are passing often do so barely—at 0.3 or 0.4 ppm lead. If you want to inhale 100% lead-free vapor, you should abstain from using cartridges until carts with lead-free metal start hitting California shores later this winter. - There is no heavy metals testing on the illicit market, which often sources cheaper carts from China. “Seventy percent-plus of the visible brands are using CCELL. This is something that’s widely affecting the industry” “But it’s only getting popped in California,” because of the state’s strict testing requirements, which are the toughest in the nation. Source @leafly #heavymetals
How is the community, and The Blacklist, evolving today?
We want to use this platform for the greater good, and we eventually want to move away from the black market stuff and more toward the injustices in the legal market itself.
We’re an industry that needs integrity. The mainstream public sees us as a bunch of stoners, and within the community there’s constant infighting. Why are we hurting our own people, in our own circle? You know? It’s just silly.
We spend a lot of time fighting with the wrong people. We should be coming together and going after the really big injustices. We’re hoping that’s what happens. Those are the stories that we like. Stories where we can affect things in a big way and help bring attention to these issues that are going on inside of legal dispensaries, so they’re more accountable for what they’re doing.
You mentioned that The Blacklist’s mission is to fill knowledge gaps between the illicit and regulated markets. Why is filling this knowledge gap critical right now?
It’s critical because of all the misinformation that’s out there. It’s critical because corporate legalization is taking over, and we’ve seen how we’ve seen how well that’s gone [laughs]. The laws are written by a lot of non-pot smokers. The actual pioneers, and the actual consumers who’ve been using marijuana forever, they really lost their voice in all of this. They didn’t get a say in any of it, really.
Our goal is to continue to provide a voice for the voiceless and to bring accountability to the regulated industry. That’s really the bottom line. And we do this by pushing information in the correct way.
Basically, you can’t have it both ways. The genie is out of the bottle. We’re not going back in time. Everybody is eventually going to have to get on board with legalization.
What has media gotten blatantly wrong regarding cannabis lately?
[Laughs] Here’s an example: The story that recently went out about the guy who went to the McDonalds drive thru, who said he drank McDonald’s tea filled with bags of weed and got really high. The mainstream media left out the entire conversation about decarboxylation [activating THC with intense heat], and how his claim is false because cannabis drinks don’t work that way.
The media recently published a story about a woman getting her legs amputated due to a CBD cart. Those headlines were false. The woman was a diabetic and already at high risk for losing her legs. She was using CBD vape as relief for her illness but the headlines ran with CBD caused a woman to lose her legs. The truth is almost always in the comments; not the article itself.
And this whole thing with vaping, with the propaganda surrounding vitamin E acetate, is really annoying. We’re not having the conversation about heavy metals, that these carts have a shelf life, that no one is retesting the carts nine months to a year after they’ve been sitting in stores. There’s just a lack of research, overall.
You don’t believe that vitamin E acetate is causing the vaping health crisis?
We have to see more information that supports it. But right now, there’s literally no lab test proving it’s vitamin E acetate. And if you read the articles, that’s what’s so funny. The headlines have nothing to do with the article itself! It’ll say something like, “The vaping illness is caused by vitamin E acetate,” and then you’ll read further down in the article, and it will say, “Oh, we don’t really know if this is what’s really causing it.”
View this post on Instagram
Vitamin E acetate, an ingredient added to THC-based products, has been identified as a “very strong culprit” in the vaping-related lung injuries that have sickened 2,051 people and killed 39, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday. But the agency left open the possibility that other chemicals or toxins could also be causing the severe respiratory ailments. The report is based on finding the vitamin compound in fluid samples taken from the lungs of 29 patients who had the lung disease. “For the first time, we have detected a potential toxin of concern, vitamin E acetate, from biological samples from patients,” with lung damage linked to vaping, Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C., said at a news briefing. The samples, she said, “provided evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury in the lungs.” Samples taken from the patients were also tested for plant oils, petroleum distillates like mineral oil and other potentially harmful substances, which were “notably not detected,” the C.D.C. said. The findings are being published in Friday’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. About 70 percent of the patients are male, 79 percent are younger than 35 and 86 percent say that they have vaped THC. Many of the products used by those who became ill were illicitly obtained, public health experts have said, by patients who bought them from friends or on the street. Source @nytimes #vapegate #vitamine @theblacklistxyz
What positive shifts have you seen with media’s cannabis coverage?
We’ve seen one piece that was done really well. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife produced a video about a farm, Huckleberry Hill in Northern California, and they highlighted the great things this farm has been doing to be environmentally conscious. It’s content like that, when the press actually goes out and interviews a cannabis company, and documents the way that they’re doing things correctly — those are great pieces of content.
It’s frustrating that it’s all fear-mongering headlines pushing against legalization when, in actuality, our country is moving toward legalization. And the news media should support that.
What do you wish people were talking about more?
People should be talking more about how cannabis is helping them medicinally. Listening to the patient and to the consumer who were against marijuana but who have now found relief and a better quality of life through marijuana is incredibly crucial. There’s little scientific consensus that marijuana works for most medical conditions, but there are all of these marijuana users out there who can tell you how it’s helped them. And that’s the best way for us to learn from each other right now.
How do you and your team select which stories to highlight day by day?
There are a few different approaches. Number one is really the ease of the story. Is it easy to post? If someone sends us something in our DM, it makes sense, it’s got a photo, it’s postable, and we don’t have to ask for more information, that’s a given. Those are easy posts.
Another way is someone will bring up a problematic company to us, and then we’ll check our messages the next day and have six other people contact us about that same company. So, it’s looking at trends and breaking news. We look at marijuana news all day long, and we’re looking for headlines that are relevant to the community.
Posts also build on themselves. We’ll post something, and someone will have a question. For instance, we made a post about one company’s pre-rolled joints, and someone commented that they tasted like “blasted trim.” Then several followers asked what blasted trim was, so we try to post additional stories that answer questions our followers asked in the thread.
Trudging through news headlines day after day, and verifying those stories, is practically a full-time job. Does The Blacklist accept donations to keep the project going?
We don’t accept donations because we don’t want people to get the impression that we pay for stories. Our goal to monetize our website — and everyone needs to know how we’re going to do that — is to build solution-based marketing and to work with the ancillary businesses that support the industry as opposed to advertising the cannabis brands themselves.
So, basically you’re looking for sponsors that have a stake in the industry but no stakes in a particular weed company or brand, like LED light suppliers and fertilizer companies?
Exactly. But it’s still a process we’re experimenting with.
View this post on Instagram
Do you have a story you want to share? Visit our website; #linkinbio... hit us in the DM or leave us a message on our voicemail. - - Tell us how we are doing, how you are doing or share a story you want to the community to know. #anonymous #industry #community #news #opinions #blog #theblacklistxyz #dabstagram #dankmemes #secretsesh #stonergirl #sourdiesel #cannabiscommunity #cannabisculture #helpcleanupourindustry
If someone wants to get a story to you, what’s the best way to do that?
Instagram is really just a marketing tool for the website. People send us content through our Instagram DMs all the time. The problem with that: Instagram is not a secure platform. Sending us information through Instagram doesn’t guarantee that you will remain anonymous. It’s really important to us that our followers feel safe. We’ll always respect their privacy. But, if they go to The Blacklist website, there’s no login or email required. They can just post up their story and share it. But afterward, they can contact us on Instagram to let us know that they posted to the website.
Does The Blacklist have any future plans for expansion, new content, anything like that?
The future plan for The Blacklist is to continue to evolve with the industry. Saying that we have a set end goal is kind of premature, because the cannabis industry is in such turmoil; it’s like trying to drop an anchor to the bottom of the ocean during a violent storm. So, we’ll just change with the industry and see where it takes us.
Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter