With marijuana now legal in two U.S. states -- and decriminalized and/or available medically throughout at least half of the country -- the enormous marketing opportunity has not been lost on American entrepreneurs. Branden Hampton, who co-owns the handles @Marijuana and @Weedhumor on both Twitter and Instagram, is at the forefront of that potential "green rush."
But if you're picturing a guy who smokes thirty spliffs a day, rolls joints with his toes and bakes out cars to a playlist of alternating Snoop Dogg and Phish tracks, we've got news for you: He claims he's not a smoker. Never mind that his accounts are constantly posting stuff like this...
With a combined audience of over 880,000, Hampton (along with business partner Chris Nunez) both entertains and gives a voice to a movement that he isn't technically a member of -- but he swears it's not just about making a quick buck.
“I haven’t tried it,” Hampton admits, quite matter-of-factly. “I don’t smoke, and [my partner] doesn’t smoke, but I’m definitely a proponent of a free life in which people can do the things that they enjoy as long as they don’t harm other people.”
Hampton, who also founded the incredibly successful lifestyle properties @FlTNESS, @BeautifulSkin and @Notebook (the #1 most engaged brand on Twitter, according to Forbes), has always been an early adopter when it comes to social media.
"I was literally [one of the] first 10,000 people to sign up for MySpace," he says.
From the early days of Twitter, Hampton understood how to create universally relatable, highly retweetable one-liner jokes about current events -- everything from the Super Bowl to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden -- but unlike many other Twitter users, "I was just more extreme and willing to say things that other people weren't."
Companies noticed that Hampton had a magic touch for the (micro) viral. They began approaching him to pay for posts aimed at his followers. In 2011, he quit his job at a marketing firm and began to tweet for a living.
"At that time...I was scared to charge people $75 or $100 because it was just a tweet, right?" Hampton says. "I was just clicking a button. But what I realized [was] I could ask people for a five-figure check for an ad campaign. I'm the modern-day TV channel. I'm the modern-day magazine."
But Hampton and Nunez don't want to monetize the marijuana brands -- just yet, anyway. Whereas @Notebook and their other properties generate revenue from a set amount of advertising space sold every day, @Marijuana and @Weedhumor have almost no ad real estate. Hampton says that he turns down offers all the time, choosing to operate at a net loss as the properties grow, so he can build an online community of people who share a common interest.
"Later, down the road, [we will implement] different strategies to give that community a powerful voice -- from a legal standpoint, and from a moral standpoint," Hampton says. "This particular type of fan is super loyal and engaged, and we know that at some point there will be some financial gain [for us], but we're not explicitly trying to exploit the audience."
Is he just spouting what any stoner would want to hear? Sure, Biggie always warned to "never get high on your own supply" -- but how could a proponent of such a controversial product have never even touched it?! Some might find this as suspicious as a hamburger joint opened by a lifelong vegetarian.
"I just haven't made the jump yet," Hampton insists. "If it were legal 15 years ago, would I have tried it by now? Possibly."
And yet, if you're concerned that this reeks of opportunism, Hampton makes a counterargument: "It proves that you can...help others with something they believe in without actually partaking in that something yourself. If [people] want to smoke, they should be able to smoke. ... I am a believer that people should have the freedom of choice."
He hopes to expand beyond weed jokes and nuggie glamour shots next year by creating a website to function as a central hub for marijuana advocacy. Maybe legalization is a passionate desire on his part, or maybe this is about setting up future payday, or maybe it's both. Either way, thousands of people will keep on sharing the hell out of stuff like this in the meantime: