Image by Tak Toyoshima
We recently ran an installment of The Tokin’ Truth titled, “CANNA-BLOCK: Facebook rejects ads for weed coverage, but OKs hate speech.” The piece went bonkers, as people everywhere were seemingly amazed that the social media giant is OK with hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan advertising on their site, yet at the same time Facebook refuses to allow advertisements featuring a marijuana leaf or anything of that sort.
With a new year upon us, for the purpose of not only promoting this column but of getting the truth out about cannabis in Mass, we will be using New England’s very own homegrown social media platform, Social High. It’s more important now than ever, what with a governor who, just as this article is going to print, compared cannabis to heroin. All things considered, this week we passed the mic to Social High CEO Scott Bettano …
Have you ever encountered issues with advertising on Facebook?
When we were Weedshare, Facebook blocked all our ads, without exception, from the very beginning. Later after rebranding to Social High, some of our ads have been approved. But if the word “weed” shows up anywhere in the ad, it is rejected. Strangely, the word “cannabis” now seems to get approval.
Is part of your purpose with this app to allow cannabis brands to advertise more freely?
Ads are the whole basis of our revenue model, and we will support all cannabis ads. We have guidelines so ads are done tastefully—for example: no nudity, nothing geared towards minors, etc. We will also offer business pages just as Facebook does. However, we will not limit post reach. I believe if a million people choose to follow you and see your content, they should. It’s ridiculous how you have to pay to boost a post on Facebook just to reach the people who choose to follow your business.
What is the overall purpose of Social High?
Social High is a social media platform. We are similar to Facebook, only focused on the cannabis community. Whereas Leafly, Weedmaps, and others connect patients and enthusiasts with retailers, our focus is helping people connect peer-to-peer. Powered by Leafly, we are providing strain data within the app which allows people to share and talk about their favorite strains, and people can also search for others in their area who may have that strain or [who can] provide a real world review.
What drew you to pursue this?
I came up with the idea in 2013, when medical cannabis got passed in Massachusetts, but I have been involved with the cannabis black market since I smoked my first joint at 15 years old. My friend and I immediately started selling pre-rolled joints at parties on the weekends just so we could smoke for free. When I went off to college, I continued selling dime bags out of my dorm room to scrape together book money. It was around this time I first started to get educated about the medical benefits. My uncle who I was very close with and who had been battling Lymphoma asked me on a ride to school if I smoked. I told him yes, he pulled out a joint, and we started to talk about life. He began to tell me that out of all the treatments, conventional and experimental, that he had been through, he gave the most credit to his use of cannabis and CBD oils for his ability to go into remission multiple times and to lead a fairly normal life. He went on to battle cancer for 15 years, which is a very long time to live with Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma. I was convinced that this plant has healing properties and began to educate myself, although back in the mid-90s there wasn’t nearly as much information available as there is today.
From that point on, I never viewed cannabis as a crime, and continued to dabble in small sales well into my 30s. Even after landing a job in the professional engineering world, I always kept my love for cannabis close. Eventually, consumed by my professional life, I walked away from it altogether, but in 2010 the economy crashed, and I found myself out of work with a son on the way. Around that same time, an old college roommate who had relocated to California tracked me down on Facebook. We spent a few weeks catching up and then he hit me with the proposition of him sending me medical grade cannabis. Things went very well for a while, but in May of 2012 I was raided by the DEA and caught with 15 pounds of medical-grade marijuana.
My case dragged on for close to two years due to the disarray of the New Hampshire District Attorney’s office and their own internal scandals. The lead DA at the time was under FBI investigation for numerous indiscretions, which ended up directly leading to my lightened sentence. Eventually, in 2014 I reported to serve a mandatory 90-day sentence. After that, as a newly single dad on house arrest, I knew I had to find a way to provide for me and the children.
With everyone giving me advice on how to proceed, which mostly consisted of “stay as far away from weed as possible,” I decided to do the exact opposite. I embraced my past and my knowledge of the cannabis community and set out to build Social High. I contacted my partner, our COO Marsh Sutherland, who is a serial tech entrepreneur, and at first he wasn’t convinced there was a large enough audience. However, while I was dealing with my case, Marsh lost his ex-wife to cancer, and relocated back to his home town of Spokane, Washington as a single dad to be near family. There he saw first-hand the impact of legal cannabis, and he was sold.
So in January of 2015, as two single dads—one on house arrest—we began assembling the team to build Social High. In September we launched in IOS—getting Apple approval was a big hurdle in our minds—and we started using the Leafly API to provide strain data. The Android version is new as of December, and we launch the web version in early 2016.
Tell us about the company. Where are you based, and are you hiring?
The company is technically headquartered out of Spokane, where my partner lives, so that we can keep our bank accounts and records in a legal state. However, the majority of the team is here in the Boston area, spread out and working remotely from our respective homes. There are currently six base employees and a few contractors. We anticipate the company getting to revenue in [the first quarter] of 2016, and the goal is to acquire office space and to hire [more] people by the end of the year. We will be looking for a variety of skill sets from developers, to backend engineers, to salespeople and content contributors.
For a long time, I used the pseudonym Mike Cann because I wanted to be in marijuana reform activism but couldn’t afford to risk my job at the time. How does your app help people who are involved with cannabis but who are concerned about employment or child custody?
The stigma you are talking about is the reason I got the idea for Social High. I was browsing Facebook and posting about legalization, but noticed my posts would go virtually untouched. I privately messaged close friends—who I know smoke—asking why they didn’t support what I was doing. The answer was simple—they did support me, but couldn’t publicly out of fear. A lightbulb went off in my head to give people a judgement-free place to talk about what they are passionate about, to connect with others who share their passion, and where they could keep themselves anonymous or use an alias to help alleviate that fear. At the time, Facebook was also on a mission to force people to use their legal names, so the timing seemed perfect as well.
And you seem to be more than just a little open about yourself now as well.
I operate publicly because I have no shame in what I do. However, there are still hurdles today—even on the brink of legalization. Right now, I am still on probation and can’t smoke. However, during my recent court date over custody of the children, I was drug-tested on the spot because my ex-wife’s attorney presented photos of me at the Boston Freedom Rally. My results came up negative because I am not smoking, but it really got me thinking. When I am able to smoke, I’m not the smoke all-day kind of guy. I’m the guy who enjoys a puff at night to help me relax and sleep. I’ve had sleep issues and refuse to us Ambien or whatever else doctors have tried to feed me over the years. So if I smoke before bed, after my children are asleep, how does that in any way affect my ability to be a good father? How many single parents relax with a glass of wine at the end of the night? It made me realize that even if we legalized tomorrow, the fight is far from over.